Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? I mean, where it really comes from, not from the market, or the farmer and the farm, but from a seed. Trillions of these tiny little seeds are the cornerstone of human life, providing nutritious food for the billions of p
Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? I mean, where it really comes from, not from the market, or the farmer and the farm, but from a seed. Trillions of these tiny little seeds are the cornerstone of human life, providing nutritious food for the billions of people on Earth. So, where does a seed come from and how do farmers get them? While these questions may sound pretty simple, their answers are in fact quite complex.
So, to start: where do seeds come from? The simple answer is from plants. When a plant matures, it reproduces and creates a seed. For example, flowering plants make flowers to attract pollinators. The pollen from pollinators contains sperm cells, which leave the pollen and fertilize the eggs located deep inside the flower. The fertilized eggs become the fruit of the plant, whether that be a tomato or an apple. So, this fruit contains the seeds: when you cut through an apple it has seeds in the middle. The fruit either falls to the ground and the seeds enter the soil as the fruit decomposes, or the fruit is eaten by an animal and the seeds are spread via the animal. Once the seeds enter the soil, if the conditions are right and the soil is fertile, a new plant will grow and the cycle will repeat. As humans developed agriculture, seeds were bred and shared openly between farmers, community members, and governments. Often, farmers would grow a crop and collect and save the seeds for the years to come in a practice called seed saving.
However in order to produce enough food to feed our ever growing population, modern-day technology has complicated the whole process. This complication occurred after World War II, when agricultural scientists produced hybrid seeds or genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds. These seeds differed from the previously discussed seeds in that they were (and are) bred for certain characteristics, namely increased yield, nitrogen uptake, resistance to pesticides, and shelf life. These seeds can take up to 30 years to develop and are patented, meaning that farmers can no longer practice the seed saving techniques that they have for generations. Rather, farmers must purchase these seeds every year. When these GMO seeds were introduced into the market in the mid 1900s in the U.S., they became extremely popular because they required less labor, enabling many to move to more urban areas.
The production and distribution of GMO seeds was one key aspect of the Green Revolution, which began in the mid 1960s. The Green Revolution refers to a massive transformation in the way that people grow food, and ultimately resulted in the prevalence of “conventional” agricultural practices that we see today. (cite). Similarly, since the Green Revolution, Earth has lost 75% of agricultural biodiversity. Today, over 90% of food comes from only 15 plant and 8 animal species, and wheat, rice, and corn alone make up more than half of the plant-based food consumed globally. (cite). This loss has occurred for a few reasons, but can in part be attributed to the dominance of GMO seeds in the marketplace, as these are often the only choice for famers. This dominance essentially gives large seed breeders complete control over what is grown, reducing biodiversity.
Interestingly, not all countries have continued to enable this Green Revolution to saturate their markets and transform their agriculture. Ecuador, for example, banned GMOs in 2008. Although there has been a constant battle between activists trying to keep GMO seeds out of Ecuador and seed giants trying to bring them in, the agricultural ban on GMO seeds holds. The chocho plant used in Mikuna’s products is not a GMO seed, but rather a seed that has been bred for ideal traits. When Mikuna first started growing chocho, we received seeds from the Ecuadorian government, and since then we have collected seeds from our fields to expand our growing capacity. As we continue to cultivate chocho, Mikuna employs seed saving techniques to secure our seeds for the next year's crops.
Similarly, seed saving techniques have been revived in recent years and have birthed a movement for seed sovereignty. Seed sovereignty refers to “the farmer’s right to breed and exchange diverse open source seeds which can be saved and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled by emerging seed giants.” In a world full of conventional agriculture in which seeds must be purchased year after year from seed giants this may sound revolutionary, but if you look at how plants create seeds and how humans cultivated seeds for centuries you will see that this is no revolutionary act, rather it is a return to basics. Plants produce seeds, seeds can be collected, saved, and reused. Seeds are not owned and subject to intellectual property rights or patents, seeds are just seeds. Not a money making machine or a way to create capital but a way to nourish ourselves and provide for a community. Seeds enable us to both cultivate food and re-cultivate a direct relationship with nature.
Seed Sovereignty is now a global movement, with leaders such as Dr. Vandana Shiva advocating for the revival of seed saving techniques. Over 20 years ago, Dr. Shiva created Navdanya, a “movement for Earth Democracy,” that works to protect India’s biodiversity based food heritage via seed saving. She created The Navdanya Biodiversity Farm to serve as a learning and research center. Dr. Shiva’s work has resulted in the conservation of more than 3,000 rice varieties from across India, 75 varieties of wheat, and hundreds of other plant species.
Navdanya has initiated and inspired many community based seed banks, where seeds are preserved and shared. (cite) Similarly, organizations such as La Via Campesina (the international peasants movement) and Seed Sovereignty (a UK based organization) are working to increase local seed saving, improve farmworker rights, and help farmers end their reliance on GMO seeds and toxic pesticides.
So, where does your food come from? The market, yes; the farm and the farmer; yes, a seed? Yes! With the growing movement for seed sovereignty and the regenerative organic movement, we hope that more and more of your food will come from seeds that are not subject to the whims of big corporations but rather come from previous generations of crops. Look out for the Non-GMO Project Certification, foods with this certification are grown from seeds that have not been genetically modified and are not patented. Our chocho consumers may rest assured that our seeds are not being held captive by a big corporation, but rather are seeds of knowledge, growth, and indigenous heritage that have long been part of Ecuadorian culture and cuisine.