Seed Saving and GMO


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Seed saving is possibly one of the oldest gardening pastimes. Before industrialization took over the world, farmers the world over would plant a crop, lovingly tend this crop and harvest it. A portion of the harvest was always set aside for the following years planting. In doing this year after year, plant varieties would adapt to the specific microclimate that it was planted in. This process created unique and robust varieties that were able to withstand the environmental and pest pressures that were annually exerted on them.

With the advent of modern agriculture (Post 1950) what has happened is that factory farms, and large scale monoculture has lead to a decrease in the abundant food crop varieties that used to be planted. Now, where there used to be hundreds of smaller family run farms, planting hundreds if not thousands of different crop varieties. Factory farms literally plant only one or at most a few varieties of a single crop. The devastation to the environment is apparent with large scale soil erosion and reduction in topsoil as well as the loss of critical soil biodiversity.

With the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMO), the plight of the farmer has gotten even worse. Now farmers will need to sign a contract with seed houses promising not to save seed and replant it. Even worse, a ‘Terminator’ gene has been developed that will ensure that harvested seed has no genetic viability. What does that say for the health ‘benefits’ of supposedly superior GMO varieties? Living food is the healthiest food.

One of the side effects of GMO is a problem called pollen drift. In mielie (corn) fields pollen drift can take pollen from a GMO variety onto a traditional open pollinated variety and thus ‘infect’ the traditional variety with GMO genes. What then happens (and it has) is that the GMO Seed House can then take the owner of the traditional variety to court for infringing on their patent rights. The same can apply to any crop where insects, or wind pollination can easily transfer pollen from GMO to traditional open pollinated crop varieties. What happens is that the seed saving farmer is prejudiced by the large GMO seed house, as he is no longer able to save a portion of his crop for the following years planting. He now has to go and buy new seed, but guess what? Traditional varieties are no longer stocked by the seeds houses, he can only buy hybrid and GMO varieties.

An additional problem with GMO in South Africa is that there is no transparency that gives you the consumer prior knowledge of what food stuffs are contaminated with GMO. A very good wager that can be taken is that every person in South Africa consumes a GMO derived food group on at least a weekly basis, for some it is literally a daily occurrence. We as South Africans are not being given a choice as to what we would like to eat.

Whats in my Garden?

This week we have had some lovely rain, what a blessing. Last sunday a neighbour helps us to cut firebreaks on our property and on tuesday we found that the tractor had broken the tap off the gate-valve that switches the water flow from the water tank (for household water) to the big vegetable patch. Fortunately it was broken in the open to the tank position. However, we were unable to water the big garden, until the rain came. YES!!!

This weekend I’ll fix the tap, but at least the wheat has had a good watering.

As for the rest of the garden, we are slowly clearing out the finished veggies, and the pigs are getting them. We added a whole lot of heirloom tomato seeds to our collection this week from a heirloom veggie growing friend in Somerset West, as well as some stunning Blue Inca Corn from another friend in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Most of the varieties will only be available for the 2010 growing season, however there are enough seeds of some of the varieties for this coming season.

The Edible Quote

The seed waits for its garden or ground where it will be sown.

Zulu Proverb