Will co-opting the appeal of online dating services be enough to secure crop diversity the world over?
Screengrab via Global Seed Network
You may not think often about seeds, but maybe you should. In the past century, diversity in the worldwide seed population has dropped dramatically—by more than 75 percent—and roughly 59 percent of all seeds may soon be the intellectual property of just three agrochemical corporations: Bayer-Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta, and Dow-DuPont.
For more than two decades, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) has been engaged in a battle to preserve and expand seed diversity the world over. Now, the non-profit advocacy group has decided to launch a unique tool called the Global Seed Network with the aim of bringing together independent farmers with non-commercial seeds—think of it as a dating service for seeds and farmers. In fact, the GSN was created to provide an experience just like Match.com's to encourage young farmers to find and hook up with a diverse range of seeds that are likely not available for purchase from the big agrochemical companies.
We recently asked Rebecca Spector, the west coast director of CFS and the project director of Global Seed Network, to tell us more about how their new seed-saving service works.
MUNCHIES: What is the Global Seed Network and how did the endeavor came about?Rebecca Spector: GSN is a free, peer-to-peer online network for seed savers to share seeds. Seed diversity is inseparable from food security, food sovereignty, adapting to a changing climate, and preserving cultural and ancestral knowledge. CFS has been challenging the corporate control of our seed supply for many years. During this work, the importance of an independent and open sourced seed supply became clear. The goal of GSN is to connect individuals across the country, and ultimately the world, to share their seeds and take back control of our food supply. It's an entirely free platform that doesn't require any membership fees to access and is available to anyone with an internet connection. The more and the broader we can share rare and heirloom seed varieties, the more success we will have in saving and propagating seed diversity around the world.
Can you explain why seed saving is so important at this moment?
Right now, the vast majority of seeds in the US are owned and controlled by a handful of chemical corporations—including Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, DuPont, and Syngenta—who own more than 60 percent of the world's seed supply. These corporations have turned seeds into a corporate commodity. They are rapidly genetically engineering, patenting, and controlling seeds, often to the detriment of farmers' economic security, food safety, and environmental sustainability, not to mention that these same companies also manufacture pesticides and herbicides, like RoundUp, and in turn genetically engineer their seeds to withstand high doses of these chemicals. This leads to a cycle that results in increased pesticide use, threatening the livelihoods of family farmers, killing wildlife and pollinators, and endangering the global supply of seeds and our future.
How is your website similar to Match.com's?
As in Match.com, GSN users create a profile and can "match" with other seed savers to share seeds. Users upload seeds they have to share and can then search for other users' seeds. When you find seeds you like, you can "request" the seed from another user and then the GSN connects the two users to coordinate over email. Plus, when you use the "Advanced Search" function, there are a number of criteria you can input to narrow your search, including "climate region." So, when users post seeds, they can identify the climate region or seed production or collection and we have 15 different climate regions available to choose from. Especially as climate zones begin to shift in the face of climate change, similar climate regions may be geographically further apart. We also have search features for growing conditions and soil types, disease and pest resistance, and ZIP code.
Compared to other seed sharing services, GSN allows for the sharing of seeds across the entire globe. Why is that so important?
The loss of seed diversity isn't specific to the US. There were approximately 30,000 rice varieties in India prior to the Green Revolution and today there only about 10 varieties grown. To that end, the GSN serves a universal need to protect and amplify seed diversity. During the next website upgrade we hope to have legal resources available to encourage seed sharing with a number of countries around the world.
How do you think the Trump administration's policies will affect the spread of monocrop culture?
In his first 100 days, the Trump Administration has indicated that they value corporate profits over human, community, or environmental health. Climate-change denier Scott Pruitt is leading the EPA; factory farm aficionado Sonny Perdue is in charge of the USDA. Many signs indicate that the administration intends to greenlight many GMO crops, pesticides, and chemicals, make easier regulatory review processes intended to protect against consequences of these chemicals, dismantle the national organic standards, and more. Moreover, the Farm Bill is up for renewal in 2018. It will take daily vigilance and preparation by CFS, and partner organizations, to combat the administration's efforts to thwart the progress we've made in the last 20 years to build a biodiverse, local, organic, and regenerative food system.
How many seed varieties are currently available on GSN and how many do you hope to have within a year's time?
There are currently almost 100 seeds posed on the website. The GSN officially launched on April 26 to our members and the public, and we're now asking everyone to help make the site a success by growing the user base and posting their seeds to share!
Thanks for speaking with us, Rebecca.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.