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Seeds find a way

Jeremy’s latest newsletter is out, and has a nice piece on disobedience of the rules of the EU’s Common Catalogue.

Little seed has its say

The motto of the European Union on agricultural diversity, especially with regard to seeds, has long been Everything Not Permitted Is Forbidden. That is to say, only varieties registered in the Common Catalogue are permitted to be placed on the market, all others cannot be sold. We’ve seen glimmers of hope over the past couple of decades as the EU tries to loosen these restrictions for purposes of conservation or to support smaller-scale growers, but nothing really substantive.

One of the umbrella organisations campaigning for people to have the freedom to plant whatever varieties they want is Let’s Liberate Diversity, a coalition of like-minded organisations that actually gets EU funding to campaign against the EU. All of which is a long introduction to a recent article from a Swedish activist that offers an interesting perspective on the current state of play and the “different degrees of disobedience to the EU”.

Sivert Stiernebro recounts his experience at a hearing in Sweden on proposed new seed regulations and makes this telling point:

It’s apparent that the legislation proposal has been carefully thought through to cover all types of plant reproductive materials and uses. A variety that doesn’t qualify for the official list can be registered as a “conservation variety”; but even if it falls outside the framework, there exists category after category of ‘special rules’. However all seeds must enter the system—a kind of population registry for plants. It could provide an opportunity for more varieties to become legal. But it could also become hopelessly expensive and cumbersome to handle unusual seed varieties. Registration and control fees could be a more effective barrier than explicit bans, which would arouse every gardener’s spirit of protest!

The part I truly do not understand — and Stiernebro doesn’t either — is why there even needs to be a single system for all seeds at all scales. Sivert writes about “conflicting interests”; where, truly, is the conflict between a farmer growing, say, 200 hectares of peas to be picked and frozen within the hour and an organic grower who wants to supply fresh peas for as long a season as possible? Or a gardener with a bad back who wants tall growing peas that they don’t have to stoop to pick”?

And speaking of lost vegetable varieties (slick, eh?) kudos to David Shields, whose new book The Ark of Taste has been shortlisted for a James Beard awards. Shields has done sterling work to help recover older varieties that were thought to have been lost, among them Cocke’s Prolific Corn, Sea Island White Flint Corn, and the Bradford Watermelon.

Nibbles: VACS, FAO forgotten foods, African roots, Hopi corn, Adivasis rice, Sustainable farming, Llama history, Vicuña sweaters, Portuguese cattle, Mexico genebank, NZ genebank, Bat pollination, Eat This Newsletter, WEF

  1. More on the US push for opportunity crops.
  2. Oh look there’s a whole compendium on African opportunity crops from FAO.
  3. Many of them are roots and tubers.
  4. For the Hopi, maize is an opportunity crop.
  5. For the Adivasis, it’s rice.
  6. And more along the same lines from Odisha.
  7. Llamas were an opportunity for lots of people down the ages.
  8. …and still are, for some.
  9. Portugal eschews llamas for an ancient cattle breed.
  10. I bet Mexico’s genebank offers some amazing opportunities.
  11. And New Zealand’s too.
  12. Let’s not forget bats. Yes, bats.
  13. Jeremy’s latest newsletter tackles turmeric, pepper and sweet potatoes, among other things.
  14. And the best way to frame all of the above is that the World Economic Forum wants governments to ban people from growing their own food because that causes climate change.