Friday, February 29, 2008 on the opening of a Global Seed Repository

Dot Earth Entry in the New York Times on the opening of the The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.

Here's what had to say
Thousands of accessions have died in storage, as many have been rendered useless for lack of basic information about the seeds, and countless others have lost their unique characteristics or have been genetically contaminated during periodic grow-outs. This has happened throughout the ex situ system, not just in gene banks of developing countries. So the issue is not about being for or against gene banks, it is about the sole reliance on one conservation strategy that, in itself, has a lot of inherent problems.

The deeper problem with the single focus on ex situ seed storage, that the Svalbard Vault reinforces, is that it is fundamentally unjust. It takes seeds of unique plant varieties away from the farmers and communities who originally created, selected, protected and shared those seeds and makes them inaccessible to them. The logic is that as people’s traditional varieties get replaced by newer ones from research labs -– seeds that are supposed to provide higher yields to feed a growing population – the old ones have to be put away as “raw material” for future plant breeding. This system forgets that farmers are the world’s original, and ongoing, plant breeders.

I gave a talk at the Australasian Cultural Studies conference in Dec 2007 on a related subject. In "Are Seeds Software" I spoke of the importance of use as a guarantor of continued diversity and the backyard gardener as an important site of conservation. I will post a link when the paper is published.

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