Saving Seed - Part 2


In the first part I dealt with the way we can save seeds from plants, by carefully paying attention to what happens during their entire cycle. In this part, I want to talk about saving seed - from seed companies. And I mean that in the literal sense: we need to understand the way the seed companies control farmers, and thus how they control what we eat.

If you want seed for your garden, and you buy what is available in the usual garden shop, you basically support the large, multinational seed companies.

Saving (as in "rescue" or just avoiding) seed from the companies that try to genetically manipulate (and patent) is a first crucial step. I have also previously talked about F1 hybrids, that do not breed true. F1 hybrids are not GMOs, but if you try to save seed from F1 hybrids, you don't know what the outcome will be in the following generations (technically speaking, the F1 seeds come from "inbred" lines of parent plants). The reason seed companies spend so much on GMOs and F1 hybrids is obvious: this is how they make money.

Here are 3 good reasons from wikipedia why F1 hybrids are not so great for biological diversity:

  • The main advantage of F1 hybrids in agriculture is also their drawback. When F1 cultivars are used for the breeding of a new generation, their offspring (F2 generation) will vary greatly from one another. Some of the F2 generation will be high in homozygous genes, as found in the weaker parental generation, and these will have a depression in yield and lack the hybrid vigour. From the point of view of a commercial seed producer which does not wish its customers to produce their own seed, this genetic assortment is a desired characteristic.
  • Both inbreeding and crossing the lines requires a lot of work, which translates into a much higher seed cost. In general, the higher yield offsets this disadvantage.
  • F1 hybrids mature at the same time when raised under the same environmental conditions. This is of interest for modern farmers, because all ripen at the same time and can be harvested by machine. Traditional varieties are often more useful to gardeners because they crop over a longer period of time, avoiding gluts and food shortages.
Small seed companies that focus on a larger variety of natural seeds from heirloom vegetables are facing an uphill battle to reach consumers. Here in Japan, I have previously mentioned two small seed companies, if you want to support organic agriculture and biological diversity:

Tane no Mori (Organic seed, heirloom varieties)
Noguchi Seed Part 1 and Part 2 (Unusual, traditional Japanese varieties)

But for most farmers here, the go-to seed company will be either Sakata or Takii. As you can see from their websites, both Sakata and Takii have a long history and are generally highly regarded by farmers. These are huge operations with large sales departments. Since there is no commercial farming of GMOs in Japan, they don't do GMOs, like many of the other top seed companies on the global market, especially Monsanto. Sakata was in the news recently for its plans to sell more F1 hybrids in India:

Sakata Seed Corp. is betting that rising demand for its disease-resistant hybrid "F1" seeds will help the company triple its market share in India. The seed wholesaler accounts for about 1 percent to 3 percent of the F1 and "open pollinated" vegetable seed market in India, and plans to increase it to 10 percent by 2018, according to Chief Executive Officer Hiroshi Sakata. That would place the company in the top five vegetable seed wholesalers in India.

By moving farmers away from traditional seed saving pratices, seed companies can profit. Sounds simple but it has huge implications for food security and food sovereignty. This can be very risky as more of a country's food supply will become reliant on imported seeds, and trade flows based on monetary exchange rather than sharing seeds as is traditionally the case. It can also have a huge influence on the diet in regions of the world where people have managed well on local foods.

This is data from a report by ETC Group, called Who Owns Nature?

The World's Top 10 Seed Companies

Company - 2007 seed sales (US$ millions) - % of global proprietary seed market

1.Monsanto (US) - $4,964m - 23%
2.DuPont (US) - $3,300m - 15%
3.Syngenta (Switzerland) - $2,018m - 9%
4.Groupe Limagrain (France) - $1,226m - 6%
5.Land O' Lakes (US) - $917m - 4%
6.KWS AG (Germany) - $702m - 3%
7.Bayer Crop Science (Germany) - $524m - 2%
8.Sakata (Japan) - $396m - <2%
9.DLF-Trifolium (Denmark) - $391m - <2%
10.Takii (Japan) - $347m - <2%

Source: ETC Group

The top 10 seed companies account for $14,785 million - or two-thirds (67%) of the global proprietary seed market.

The world's largest seed company, Monsanto, accounts for almost one-quarter (23%) of the global proprietary seed market.

The top 3 companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta) together account for $10,282 million, or 47% of the worldwide proprietary seed market.

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