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The politics and control of seeds by corporations

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‘Development’ in agriculture by the mechanization of agrarian systems did not only make agriculture dependent on machines but, with time and technological development, has gradually been successful in reigning over every agricultural input.
As the first link to our agricultural and food system, the seed becomes one of the most inevitable inputs to do farming. A seed’s reproducibility that makes it biological but its cultural significance makes it more than just a life form. Thus, seeds do not remain merely biological entities but social, cultural, political entities that are mediated by all forces that are or are not a part of the food system.
Increasingly, farming is becoming industrial. Agribusiness might have its own pros to offer but when the ‘seed’ becomes the commodity, farmers are the worst sufferers. It is the cosmology of the people itself that is threatened with seeds being under corporate control, especially transnational corporations. Almost 75% of the genetic diversity of the crop species has been lost around the globe because of the production, circulation, and marketing of only a few crop varieties.
It is responsible for a number of losses:
Loss of agro-biodiversity.
Loss of various traditional, nutritious, locally adapted crop varieties and seeds.
Loss of tradition of seed saving, swapping, re-sowing thus affecting farmer-farmer ties
Loss of traditional knowledge associated with indigenous crops and its on-farm innovation.
If we can understand how important food is for each living being, we can relate to how important seeds are for farming communities. We tend to overlook the cultural associations the urban communities also share directly with the seeds. The sacredness attached to the seed can be observed in how seeds are used in rituals and festivals.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, a physicist, ecologist and founder of Bija Satyagraha (Navdanya Organization) remarks that “When you control food, you control society.” It is then difficult to imagine a society to survive, with its privately owned food regime.
Saving seeds, sharing and exchanging them can help us throttle the seed dictatorship that has been imposed on us and our farmers. In my view, if each seed can give rise to a hundred more, then freeing the seed should be the first step by the government, to substantively help the farmers and thereby achieve the goal of doubling farmer’s income by 2022.
It is the pro-corporate laws and policies which have led to an increase in corporate control over a free resource, such as seeds. The arsenal of the private cartel and of legal institutions prevents the farmers from the multiplying, exchanging or sharing seeds.
Seed industries have been merging together to gain more control and generate more profit by cutting down competition. Six companies Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Monsanto along with Bayer AG control about 63% of the world commercial seed market. So, the future for seed democracy lies in the various acts of seed saving, seed swapping, and opening up of locally administered seed conservation banks as a response to the imperialism of the seed network.
The growing dependence of the farmers on the markets also makes it difficult for the farmers to completely outlaw connection with the private players. The end to seed dictatorship can be achieved when each farmer has a seed bank on his farm, says Vijay Jardhari, a farmer, social activist and the founder of the Beej Bachao Andolan.
High Yielding Variety seeds and GMO’s (genetically modified seeds) are increasingly spreading to the remotest of areas with the promise of feeding the world. What gets slid under the carpet is that the corporate mechanism makes the providers of food captive consumers and jails the free resource of traditional seed.
Saving seeds from the hands of transnational corporations can help the existing agro biodiversity survive. In India, a multitude of native varieties of many seeds is flood-resistant, drought-resistant, climate change-resilient, etc. Many of these have been lost and some are critically endangered due to private companies, which are taking over the seed sector. They are distributing only a few selected varieties of technologically modified seeds and contributing to monoculturation of landscape which makes the future of farmers bleak.
Saving seeds is a fight to save seed democracy, the food system, the soil, biodiversity and most importantly, it marks the revival of agriculture.

Shivika ManchandaShivika Manchanda is pursuing her Masters in Sociology from Ambedkar University, Delhi. After completing her graduation in Physics from Delhi University, her curiosity to understand the dynamics of the society pushed her towards Sociology. She defines herself as a traveler in her own city and is an avid explorer of spaces, food cultures and cultural practices.

Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.

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