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Spreading Seeds

The seed regulation proposal from the European Union (1, 2), which could have severely disrupted the biodiversity of the entire continent and ultimately the planet (3), was dismissed in March (4); recognised as the bad idea so many thought it was.

Regardless of your opinions on the EU, the fact that the act was proposed in the first place shows the power of a well-organised international network, and the significance of such networks in today’s political landscape.

Spreading democracy

The proposal may be politically dead for now but the fact that it was a possibility is a telling sign of the political culture we are living in. Luckily, as shown by the scrapping of the regulation, it is clear that not everyone believes that seeds should be treated as a commodity. Indeed, it seems to be becoming more and more apparent that there are groups everywhere who are acting as though we should be respecting ourselves, our planet and the food that we eat; making it more and more obvious that proposals such as the seed regulation are not just politically dead for now, but absolutely detrimental to a healthy planet.

All over the world, regulations are already in place to restrict the number of seed varieties which are allowed on the market; for example the TRIPS Agreement, in place in all World Trade Organisation member states (159 countries), which allows for patents to be obtained for genetic material (5). This has resulted in some cases of large seed companies copyrighting a variety of seed so that even if farmers have been growing using that variety for many years they have to buy the seed from the company (see for example 6), as well as farmers being taken to court for having their crops cross-pollinated with seeds which have been patented (see for example 6).

Accepting life as something to be bought and sold?

When control is being sought for the very essence of life it seems clear that the need for another direction is urgent. Seeds are not simply something for farmers to think about; if the regulations were to be followed strictly the world over the amount of bio-diversity would fall dramatically. Even legitimate seed banks are not safe. Kokopelli, a French seed bank who collect and distribute heritage seeds, was last year taken to court by seed company Graines Baumaux SAS for what Baumaux called “unfair competition” (7). The complaint of Baumaux was that Kokopelli had not registered their seed varieties with the EU, which they claimed was a legal obligation. Kokopelli, however, took the case to the European Court of Justice with the argument that not only was it counter-productive to register their seeds as the varieties which they produce rely on being resilient and adaptable, and therefore do not conform with the EU standards on regularity, but that it was their fundamental right to be distributing these seeds (7, 8). The outcome of the case raised many issues, and the overall judgement was not particularly favourable to Kokopelli (9); but one decisive victory was the declaration that:

The prohibition against the sale of seed of varieties that are not demonstrably distinct, stable and sufficiently uniform and, where appropriate, of satisfactory value for cultivation and use… is invalid as it breaches the principle of proportionality, the freedom to conduct a business … the free movement of goods … and the principle of equal treatment. — Advocate General, 19/01/12 (8)

This month Kokopelli held the International Seed Days at their site in Mas d’Azul, France; a festival bringing together organisations from throughout Europe and indeed the world. Unfortunately I was not able to attend, but amongst those who did were Dr. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, an internationally known and outspoken campaigner for food sovereignty (10). At the other end of the spectrum were a group who are strengthening ties in the seed community at a very grass-roots level: the International Solidarity Caravan for Seed Freedom (11).

Travelling with the seeds of ideas

The Caravan’s mission was to link between two of the largest seed exchange festivals on the continent: Peliti Seed Festival in Greece on April 26 and Kokopelli’s International Seed Days which began on May 2. In order to get from the first to the second, the caravan made its way overland, stopping to hold workshops and educational talks on the subject of seeds on the way (11).

The caravan’s recognition that it is ordinary people who are helping rekindle respect for the importance of seeds seems to be reflected in the upcoming documentary, Seed Act (12), which explores the stories of many different individuals and groups and how they are all, in their own small way, contributing to utilising seeds effectively.

The Caravan and the documentary are both a means of telling peoples’ stories and of helping us to feel more connected in our own small acts of seed sovereignty every day. The strengthening and recognition of these connections is in many ways as powerful as the campaigning itself. As the Campaign for Seed Sovereignty put it,

…the Parliament gave ear to the many hundreds of thousands of people from many European countries which signed since April 2013 diverse petitions against the Commission’s proposal. Alone our petition “seed diversity under threat“ got some 150,000 supporters in 12 different languages. — Campaign for Seed Sovereignty, 2014 (4)

We can keep joining together

Today saw the release of a statement (13) from 120 campaign groups across Europe calling for a radical re-thinking of the way we interact with ourselves and our environment by calling for a rejection of the trade negotiations between the US and European Union, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP (14). The negotiations are in their fifth round (14), and today’s statement is a good example of the effectiveness which collaboration and organisation can have. The statement claims that the TTIP would affect:

…food safety, digital rights, social and labour standards and environmental protection. (12)

… and the groups involved are together calling for much of the agreement to be changed or dropped.

The Pan-European TTIP Statement, the International Solidarity Caravan for Seed Freedom and festivals such as the International Seed Days all show the power and strength in creating networks between people. In the world of permaculture this is happening as well; with events such as the European Permaculture Convergence in Bulgaria (15) this July, and the International Permaculture Convergence 2015 (16) set to bring together groups from a wide diversity of permaculture-related projects to strengthen ties and accelerate the creative production of solutions. And since permaculture can probably be related to pretty much anything, well…that’s a lot of solutions!

Seeds can make us all happy

The seed proposal was opposed by many different groups with a huge diversity of opinions and methods; from Bio-Dynamic farms to community allotments and from seed banks to medicinal gardens. Sometimes these methods and opinions may seem to clash; but just as in a natural eco-system, the whole can come together to help maintain the harmonious abundance which is possible for everyone. It seems the key is inclusivity: regardless of whether or not another group shares exactly the same vision as you, it is still helpful to accept and grow with them if you do share some ways of thinking.

The EU’s rejection of the proposal has shown us that the only power comes from ourselves; so why not work towards strengthening these links? It is fantastic that such a large organisation as the EU is beginning to move away from the commodification of life, which may well be exemplified more following today’s elections (May 22). If you are voting and know that your candidate is in favour of seed and food sovereignty, by all means show your support for them. But even if they do not get in, it does not seem helpful to wait until our elected representatives come around to our way of thinking.

Growing Change

So wherever you are, why not find out about your nearest network, and help to strengthen it? One great tool for this is the ‘Seed Freedom Map’ (17); an interactive map which you can use to find and add food and seed sovereignty actions all over the world. Or if you think you cannot find one, perhaps a way of encouraging the creation of one would be to go and find people who are engaged in similar work to you, and listen to their stories.

At the very least, you are bound to make a friend or two. And maybe even save some seeds along the way….

References

  1. Gable, Ben. “All About the New EU Seed Law”. Real Seed Catalogue, 2014. https://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedlaw2.html – retrieved 21/5/14
  2. European Commission. “Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL On the production and making available on the market of plant reproductive material (plant reproductive material law)”. Brussels: 6/5/2013.
  3. Haworth, Charlotte. “European Seed Law: a Threat to Biodiversity Everywhere”. Permaculture News, 10/2/104. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2014/02/10/european-seed-law-potential-threat-biodiversity-everywhere
  4. Campaign for Seed Sovereignty, 2014. “The Commissions proposal for a seed regulation is politically dead”. https://www.seed-sovereignty.org/EN – retrieved 21/5/14
  5. "WTO TRIPS implementation". International Intellectual Property Alliance. https://www.iipa.com/trips.html – retrieved 21/5/14
  6. Global Agriculture, 2014. “Seeds and patents on Life”. https://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/seeds-and-patents-on-life.html – retrieved 21/5/14
  7. Elzas, Sarah. “French Seed Bank Continues Illegal Seed Trade”. RFI, 17/9.13. https://www.english.rfi.fr/france/20130917-seeds-law-biodiversity – retrieved 21/5/14
  8. CJEU – C-59/11. “Opinion of Advocate General – Association Kokopelli v Graines Baumaux SAS”. European Court of Justice, 19/01/2012. https://infoportal.fra.europa.eu/InfoPortal/caselawFrontEndAccess.do?id=610 – retrieved 21/5/14
  9. CJEU – C-59/11. “Judgment of the Court (Third Chamber) of 12 July 2012 (reference for a preliminary ruling from the Cour d’appel de Nancy – France) – Association Kokopelli v Graines Baumaux SAS”. European Court of Justice, 19/01/2012. – retrieved 21/5/14
  10. Seed Freedom, 2014. “Seeds of Love”. https://seedfreedom.in – retrieved 21/5/14
  11. Navdanya blog, 2014. “International Solidarity Caravan for Seed Freedom”. https://www.navdanya.org/blog/?p=983 – retrieved 21/5/14
  12. Cargo Collective, 2014. “SEED ACT”. https://cargocollective.com/liquen/SEED-ACT – retrieved 21/5/14
  13. Dearden, John; Kaucher, Linda; Hilary, Nick. “Pan-European TTIP Statement”, 21/5/2014.
  14. European Commission, 2014. “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”. https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip – retrieved 21/5/14
  15. European Permaculture Convergence, 2014. “Welcome Home”. https://www.eupc.eu – retrieved 21/5/14
  16. Permaculture Association, 2014. “IPC-UK International Permaculture Convergence”. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/IPCUK – retrieved 21/5/2014
  17. Zeemaps, 2014. “Seed Freedom Map.” https://www.zeemaps.com/view?group=643436&x=11.261549&y=43.776536&z=1 – retrieved 21/5/14

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth) I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and since then have been traveling the world learning about and practicing permaculture. Born in London, I've lived in a number of places in England, Spain, the Basque Country, and Italy. My mum lives in Leipzig (Germany) so I've spent some time there. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and have recently become interested in dance meditation. Currently, I live in Thailand in a Forest Buddhism community school, so you can expect lots of tropical permaculture related articles in future.

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