Fighting Seed Hegemony

For anyone familiar with the heavy-handed sales approach that Monsanto takes with farmers around the world, this seemingly unrelated clip of Prince Ea discussing a hypothetical class-action lawsuit against the entire American public education system will likely invite a slew of apt comparisons between the two highly contentious issues. The rapper-activist’s basic premise is that it’s impossible to educate and evaluate all students using the same core curriculum and standardizes testing. Which is exactly what the No Child Left Behind Act, along with a variety of other measures enacted since then, aspires to do, all under the banner of elevating the struggling students (a term that’s code for entire schools, cities, and areas of the massive country) by making sure they’re getting the same educational opportunities as more “advanced” students.

The fatal flaw in this line of thinking, as Prince Ea points out, is that expecting every child to succeed within this system is not merely naive, it’s downright ludicrous. Decades of research have indicated that individual children learn in vastly different ways. Some are practice-oriented; some respond best to oral instruction, some to written; and some do best in more creative environments that reduce programmatic boundaries. And even an individual student might learn one subject best one way and another in a different way—the point is that it’s essentially impossible to apply a national educational standard, in terms of practice and student-assessment, and expect to succeed everywhere.

This, of course, is where individual educators come in to play. They understand the curriculum and the expectations of the evaluations (i.e. standardized tests) and work with individual students to help them, in a variety of creative ways, to meet those standards of “success.” These educators understand the need to adapt, to take context into consideration, to mold their approach to the needs of the individual students. Sounding familiar yet?

With Monsanto, we are seeing an equally, if not more aggressive push towards uniform adaptation of a singular approach. We’re talking about seeds, and specifically about Monsanto’s insistence on pushing identical seeds to farmers around the world. They tout higher yields, pest resistance, plant durability in the face of drought or flood conditions, higher nutrition (and thus market demand), and so on and so on—basically all of the things a farmer wants to hear. At least in the abstract, that is. What they’re failing to address is the multitude of environmental (and ethical) factors that come into play on individual farms and in individual communities. Just as children learn differently, farm ecosystems behave differently, and no amount of forced homogeneity—whether in terms of practice or seed usage—will ever change that environment in anything but a destructive manner.

Monsanto’s motivating factor is pure corporate greed. Think about it this way: to create one new seed, to tweak its DNA over years—whether by direct genetic modification or other means—involves years of testing, assessing results, and further tweaking, all of which costs millions of dollars per seed. Multiply that cost over the various species groups for which they sell seeds (tomatoes, potatoes, rice, etc), and there’s no denying that this is an incredibly expensive business. So to cut costs, to maximize profits, they’ve decided that one seed per species is enough, and that this one seed can be used anywhere in the world, in any environment, by any farmer, using any practice. To invest even more money into geographically and environmentally adapted seeds would drive them out of business. Thus, rather than admit that their products aren’t the global panacea that they would have us believe they’ve created, they spin their marketing materials to try to force this one-world solution, and its cost-efficiency, on farmers everywhere, ignoring obvious flaws to their approach and the potentials for crop failure, ruined livelihoods, and environmental destruction.

So what’s to be done? Other than the obvious attack against this seed hegemony, by which we mean boycotting Monsanto products and lobbying for stricter regulations to prevent their seeds and the resulting products from entering the marketplace, there must be a proactive solution as well. Fortunately for those who have already committed their lives to farming ethically and responsibly, much like the devoted educators working directly with students, there are practices already being used that can be studied for potential enhancement, as well as new insights, based on research and experience, that can be adapted for specific farms, crops, and seasons, all working in concert to take advantage of strengths in the local ecosystem while strengthening it at the same time. These include obvious things like soil quality, rainfall, livestock, and—most importantly when challenging Monsanto—seed diversity, the true measure of a thriving farm within a thriving ecosystem. Beyond that, as an attempt to chip away at Monsanto’s 26% market share in terms of global seed sales—a number that should horrify you when you consider what it means in terms of seed homogenization—these good practices need to be shared and celebrated, offered as models, as learning tools, so that they can spread and become the norm, rather than the exception.

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