Seed is the base of all life. Recognizing this obvious fact, farmers for well over a hundred generations and for several thousand years cared for seeds, respected seeds, and helped to promote a great diversity of seeds. Hence they had different seeds for different needs, for different weather conditions, for different kinds of land and soil. Diverse varieties of seeds of mixed crop were grown and there were well-though out rotations, providing protection from pests and helping to maintain balance of nutrients in soil.
Above all, these seeds were for sharing and the benefits of the special innovativeness and protective abilities of several farmers would spill over freely to other, benefits of seed strengths of one community would reach others so that the world became very rich in terms of seed diversity over several generations, manifesting the wisdom and careful work of millions of farmers.
However a few decades back a new view of seeds started emerging and then very soon, surprisingly, it started dominating the seed scene. This was partly the vision of the thief and the robber. According to this new vision the rich diversity of seeds which had resulted from the public-spirited great work and sharing of over a hundred generations of farmers was now to be displaced from the fields of farmers, where it was well-protected, and stolen and kept closely guarded in a few closed places, away from open sharing, to be used for the profit and domination of a few.
So this was partly the thinking of the ruthless robber and partly the thinking of the cunning capitalist, the two combing very cleverly as a number of selfish scientists and technocrats joined big multinational companies which sought relentlessly to dominate the control of seeds. They have succeeded hugely in gaining control of more and more of what is now called the most profitable seeds business. These neo-colonial forces have found new ways of controlling and profiting from farmers and farming which even their colonial predecessors could not find. Essentially robbers and invaders at heart, these persons and their organizations can sometimes be found donning cloaks of development or even philanthropy.
Not to talk of ordinary farmers and local guardians of seeds, even eminent scientists who tried to stand as national guardians of seeds were simply blown away from their positions as the conquerors went around displacing traditional diverse traditional seeds from farms and removing inconvenient persons from research institutions. Soon word went round that henceforth only what pleased the conquerors will be called agricultural development. As tens of thousands of traditional crop varieties, the result of the work , care and wisdom of several generations, were lost to farmers and disappeared from their fields, this was celebrated as the green revolution.
Visiting some Himalayan villages from time to time, I marveled at the beautiful system of growing a dozen or more millets, legumes, spices and other food crops together. These diverse crops grown from farmers own seeds were selected in such a way as to complement each other—one would support a creeper , another would grow better under the shade of the other, one would provide nutrients to soil taken away by another, and all would contribute well to the wholesome nutritious tasty food of hill villagers. But then one day I started hearing that some visiting scientists had started recommending the removal of this great mixed traditional farming system , which made excellent use of relatively less fertile hill land to grow a diversity of food at very low cost in self-reliant ways, by calling this a backward system so that soybean monoculture could be spread here. There was a stiff resistance at least in the villages I was visiting but giving official obstinacy this change may have been imposed elsewhere. But this is just one example of what has been happening in vast parts of the world as traditional mixed cropping farming and carefully thought out rotations have been uprooted and together with them many diverse varieties of various crops grown for centuries have been lost in such great hurry that there was even no time to comprehend the significance and great value of what was being lost.
In fact the robber conquerors would have liked to complete their work of controlling the seeds of the world to an even greater extent, but then voices of resistance started coming up and there was growing evidence of the folly of what they were trying to do. We can only hope that the entire conqueror-robber quest of controlling the seeds of the world can still be checked and farmers of the world can still reclaim their vast diversity of seeds and crop varieties, their great mixed farming systems and rotations, all in a free system of sharing and benefiting all of humankind. It is robbers and invaders on the one hand versus the farmers and all others ( not just human beings but also earthworms, bees, butterflies and all forms of life) on the other. Surely we all together should be able to defeat the invaders.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth For Children and Man Over Machine.