Seed has a history as long as the human beings claim for themselves. The human history started with planting seeds and cultivating soon on a larger scale. Seed was the source that helped human existence thus leading to this level of population and expansion.
Most of us are unaware of the reality that the food (either plant or animal source) we eat these days is not the same as our ancestors used few decades ago. The genetics of almost every crop has been changed either by breeding or manipulation through genetic engineering. Havent you thought the wheat that we eat today is the same as the first man, on Earth, had eaten? The answer will be astonishingly “NO” and you can never find the flour of that actual wheat variety in any super store. The wheat in that period was haploid (2n) i.e. with 14 chromosomes. Now all the wheat varieties grown commercially are tetraploid (6n) i.e. they have 42 chromosomes. These types of mysterious manipulations have led us to the present condition where you see a number of unknown diseases prevailing in every corner of the world.
These days, even you will not be able to find the variety that your grandparents used to grow when they were young. Like all developed nations, every farmer in the developing countries is facing competition and prefers to buy seeds that are produced by breeders. Hybrids are the favourite ones among the “commercial seed companies”.
Evolution did play its role and continue everywhere in the world as it is an inevitable natural process. No one could deny the process of evolution. But all problems start when humans intervene and enhance the process of evolution to go on at rapid rates. The same thing happened with the seed business. They enhanced the process of evolution through artificial means either by bombardment of rays on seeds or through crossings done in labs and controlled environments.
Seed has become a powerful commodity since the commercialization process begun. It has nothing to do with feeding the world, rather to make money year after year from the same farmers. Diversification has also affected by the emergence and strong holdings of seed industry.
A few centuries ago, every part of the world where human population existed, they tend to collect and store seed. The same seed was sown season after season. Seeds have also been associated with cultures everywhere. Seeds have spiritual meaning to the farming and rural communities. All traditions and cultures are related to the seeds, especially those communities that have farmers in majority. At that time, farmers not only produced food to feed the hunger but also with the highest level of quality existed in that food. The level of intelligence in seeds also increases when the natural process of evolution exists rather than the artificial and modern techniques that modify and adds specific characters of our own choice in the seeds.
The natural evolution process is slow and the process was enhanced by a number of times by those giants companies who evolved seeds at their own. The aim of those big giants is not to produce a seed that is better for farmers but to produce a seed that creates monopoly of that specific brand or company in the market.
When the world talks about sustainability of crops, the focus must also be towards the sustainability of the seeds that produce the crops. Farming community dislikes the crops that yields low, but it does not certainly mean that hybrid seeds are liked by farmers.
Lets start with a fact: Why hybrid seed development is being emphasized by seed giants rather than developing varieties?
Varieties are those plant species that maintain their genetic characteristics for a longer period of time. Farmers can re-use the seeds obtained after harvesting the fields for the next season to get the same yield. But the development of hybrids has led the seed market in a different way. Farmers have to buy the seed from the companies every season. And, if they sow the seeds obtained after harvesting the field, the crop yield will dramatically reduce. And so is the profit related to it.
Seed companies need profits and will never ever do anything for which farmers get benefit. The real fact is that all the seeds giants have invested billions of dollars in producing the seed that is not able to sustain its genetic characters. All hybrids lose the genetic characteristics in just one generation. So, farmers have to buy new seed season after season from the companies.
Had the billion dollar industry spent the same amount of money in improving and developing new varieties, it could have a better impact on sustainability of the genetic characters of the things we eat.
Agriculture is also like all traditions that we adopt what is passed on to us. If the same conditions prevailed and we did not change our way to plant and use seeds, our generations will eat the food that will be genetically different from what we ate today in our meals.
PRESERVE TRADITION, PRESERVE AGRICULTURE…!!!
The writer is associated with the Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>