Planting Seeds in Crisis

Food and seed sovereignty in uncertain times

As governments of more and more countries introduce various kinds of lockdowns (1) during the ongoing virus “pandemic” (1), we appear to be experiencing what many would say is an unprecedented global “crisis” (see for example 2). This article will explore the opportunities inherent in such a situation, in particular with regard to food and seed sovereignty and, ultimately, the sovereignty of our own lives.



What is crisis?

There are many theories about the origins of the Coronavirus and the curiously strong grip its presence has on media and governments worldwide (3, 4, 5). For example, that the virus was made possible by factory farming (3) or our current mistreatment of farm animals (4). Or the theory postulated right here on Permaculture News by Nirmala Nair that perhaps it could be “a symptom of dwindling microbial biota – a result of the past 50 years of accelerated industrial food production, processing and movement of food around the world?” (5)

Regardless of the actual origin, at any time, the influence of media and government propaganda is something to be aware of. This seems a particularly important moment to be aware of news and actions aimed at inducing emotions such as fear and panic, and to provide a counterpoint of calm, reflection on wider issues, and compassion.

With this in mind, let’s look at the etymology of the word ‘crisis’. Though often used in a negative context, we can see that the roots of this word come from the Greek for “decide, judge” (6). A time of crisis, therefore, can be seen as a time for making decisions – for becoming aware of the choices we face as a species and a planet and to decide on a course of action. Though decisions could be scary to some, this time can be seen as an opportunity for us to decide, individually and socially, how we actually wish to be living our lives.



Opportunities for sovereignty

Author and seed rights advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva recently wrote in response to the Corona Virus, “we must create #locallivingeconomies that Gandhi called #Swadeshi” (7).

Swadeshi comes from the Sanskrit language and has been translated as “of one’s own country” (8). The Swadeshi movement during Gandhi’s lifetime at the turn of the 19th century was aimed at creating resilience and self-sufficiency of the Indian population as a way of non-violently resisting the colonial British government, by boycotting British goods and services and encouraging those created within India (and what is now Bangladesh) (9).


Gandhi Statue Chennai


Since Gandhi’s time Swadeshi has probably undergone various interpretations. In modern times it has been reinterpreted as an economic theory by E.F Schumacher (see for example 10) and more recently by Resurgence editor (11) and author Satish Kumar (see for example 12, 13). As Kumar puts it,


“Local economy is for everybody…Swadeshi does not accept the idea of ownership. In Swadeshi, we do not own nature….Swadeshi says, we are not in ownership, we are in relationship.” (13)



“Declaration of dependence”

The subtitle to Kumar’s book on the subject is “A Declaration of Dependence” and this concept of being “in relationship” seems key to our survival as a species and possibly the survival of many other species as well. If we can truly put into practice the idea that we are connected, not just abstractly but on a physical level, to other beings in our ecosystem, we can find ways to use the resources around us which are in balance with, rather than destructive towards, those other beings.

Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay


To fully realise this on an individual level it may be necessary to utilise psychological practices such as psychosynthesis (see for example 14), green psychology (see for example 15) and ecopsychology (see for example 16). On a social level, Swadeshi can be seen as represented in the practice of sovereignty. Sovereignty is a little different to self-sufficiency as it recognises links and relationships. A self-sufficient household may produce all its food and shelter needs within that household; a sovereign one would be a node of a widening network of community links, representing exchange of products, ideas and other values.



Swadeshi in practice – saving seeds…

Many groups, organisations and individuals around the globe have been quietly putting into practice these concepts of sovereignty, even while there still remain ‘systems’ which could support us alternatively. Now, perhaps, we are living in a time of global opportunity to share these practices further.

Vandana Shiva is the founder of Navdanya (17), an India-based non-governmental organisation providing education and support, mainly for farmers or those interested in growing their own food, in seed saving, biodiversity and other subjects. The organisation has “established 111 Community Seed Banks (CSBs) in 17 States across India” (17) and has its own seed bank in Dehradun, Uttarakhand State, where they preserve seeds of hundreds of different varieties of common Indian crops, as well as teaching about seed saving to anyone who wishes to learn (18).

As I have explored in other articles (see for example 19, 20), if you can save your own seeds and develop strains which are adapted to the particular environment you live in, you have a degree of independence from the industrialised food system, as well as increasing biodiversity in your area. Navdanya can be seen as helping to establish seed and therefore food sovereignty all over India.



…and teaching people how to grow

For those who are not already trained farmers, there are groups out there who can help with the beginnings of reaching food sovereignty. For example, Edible Routes (21), which is also Indian and based in New Delhi, helps people living in urban areas utilise their balconies or rooftops, or even reclaim empty plots, and change them into permaculture gardens, often as part of a community project. In response to recommendations that we do not socialise much in these times, Edible Routes now offers video-call consultations for those wanting help with starting out on their own food sovereignty journeys (22).


Sovereignty can be more than one kind of seeds

If you are in a position of already having achieved Sawadeshi in the form of food or seed sovereignty to some extent, now could be a good moment to reach out and share your techniques with those who wish to develop this on a practical level. Equally, if you have some space and time with which to start growing your own food for the first time, this time could be seen as an excellent opportunity to begin.

However, even if you are in a position where you do not produce your own food and are not interested in doing so at this time, Sawedeshi is still an important thing to consider. For millennia, human beings have been changing our environment, often in a destructive way. In this time of global stillness and crisis, some of the destructive patterns of old can be changed. We can use this time to make our own decisions and plant invisible seeds: seeds of conscious habit-changing; of community-building; of independence and strength.




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  2. Mostyn, S; Mcleod, T. “Coronavirus is a human crisis beyond most of our scariest dreams – we will need to restart our society”. The Guardian, 4/4/20. – retrieved 6/4/20
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  4. Lymbery, P, 2020. “Why Protecting People Means Protecting Animals Too”. Philip Lymbery, 26/3/20. – retrieved 6/4/20
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  7. Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashva) on Twitter, 29/3/20. – retrieved 6/4/20
  8. Metta Center for Non Violence, 2020. “Swadeshi”. – retrieved 6/4/20
  9. MK Gandhi, 2020. “Gandhi’s vision of Swadeshi”. – retrieved 6/4/20
  10. Schumacher, EF, 1966 (original publication). “Buddhist Economics”. Available in full at the Schumacher Centre: – retrieved 6/4/20
  11. Resurgence Magazine, 2020. “Our Team”. – retrieved 6/4/20
  12. Kumar, S, 2002. You Are, Therefore I Am: A Declaration of Dependence. Green Books: Thrissur, India.
  13. Kumar, S, 2011. Excerpt from “Gandhi and Globalization” course at Navdanya Farm. Available on Soundcloud: – retrieved 6/4/20
  14. Firman, J; Gila, A, 2002. Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. SUNY Press: New York City, USA.
  15. Metzner, R, 1999. Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth. Park Street Press: South Paris, USA.
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  17. Navdanya, 2020. “Navdanya: An Overview”. – retrieved 6/4/20
  18. Navdanya, 2020. “Bija Vidyapeeth – Earth University”. – retrieved 6/4/20
  19. Ashwanden, C, 2014. “Seed Saving Part 1: Seedy Issues”. Permaculture News, 18/10/14. – retrieved 6/4/20
  20. Ashwanden, C, 2015. “Seed Saving for Beginners”. Abundance Dance Garden, 28/3/15. – retrieved 6/4/20
  21. Facebook, 2020. “Edible Routes”. – retrieved 6/4/20
  22. Edible Routes, 2020. “Need Help Starting Your Kitchen Garden?” On Facebook, 1/4/20. – retrieved 6/4/20

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth). Born in London, I am very interested in peace and community and have a degree in Peace Studies. I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and my Permaculture Teaching Certificate in 2018 at Aranya in India. For me, permaculture is about so much more than garden design; I am mainly interested in applying ‘human permaculture’ as a complement to peace practices. In particular, I like to look at how human permaculture can be applied through psychology, communication and education techniques. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. With my husband, I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia and encountered many permaculture and community projects. I have lived in various situations, from squatted land to intentional communities, as well as more ‘normal’ places, in the UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and sometimes run dance meditation workshops. Currently, I live in the Andalucian mountains.

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