Genebanks and farmers

As they cooperate with seed companies, the gene banks do not feel responsible for distribution of seeds to their prime users, the peasants. Thus, the peasant is not taken as a stakeholder of the plant breeding and the seed conservation and production. But, as the choice of seeds influences the type of agriculture, of landscape, of environment and of food, it is hypocritical not letting this choice, this right to the peasants. It is essential to put the peasants in the heart of seed conservation and to esteem the social role of seeds: they allow people to produce food, to share knowledge and traditions, and to be independent from any corporate dependence.

That’s according to Lena Haun, Agrobiodiversity Campaigner Intern at Eco Ruralis, after talking to genebanks in France and Romania. But with all due respect, I find it very hard to believe the premise that “gene banks do not feel responsible for distribution of seeds to their prime users, the peasants.” Want an example? Here’s Dave Ellis from the genebank of the International Potato Center:

For example, we found in our collection potato cultivars that were collected in the last 30 to 40 years in Peru’s Sacred Valley, and gave those varieties back to the communities that live in the Parque de la Papa, close to Cusco. Now they are growing and testing them again. This is really important, as the Sacred Valley is one place in the world where we have documented evidence of the need for flexibility in potato cultivation due to a rapidly changing climate.

I think Dave feels responsible for distribution of potato diversity from the CIP genebank to its prime users, the peasants. Don’t you? So do the partners involved in Bioversity’s Seeds for Needs initiative,1 for example. And every national genebank manager I’ve ever spoken to, for that matter.

Sure, genebanks collaborate with seed companies. And what’s wrong with that, if farmers end up with more, better choices? Anyway, they also collaborate with public sector plant breeders. And work directly with farmers in many, many cases. They could probably do it more. But to say that genebanks don’t feel a responsibility for making the diversity they maintain available to farming communities is just plain wrong.

  1. Being showcased these days in Paris at #CFCC15. []

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