Food & Seed

Food and Seed Sovereignty

Around the world agriculture has gone to large genetically engineered mono crops. Subsistence farming has been lost to this. This is largely due to trade agreements with the World Trade Organization with which small and poor countries enter into loan agreements. The agreements force the poor nations to produce crops for the wealthier nations. Profit is the bottom line so these countries are encouraged to work with Large Chemical Corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill who supply Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Genetically Engineered (GE) Seeds and the chemical pesticides and herbicides that the seeds are dependent on. The GE crops have a greater yield during the 1st few years until other plants and pests become immune to the chemicals.

Over the last few decades since people have seen the effects of the Green Revolution—a movement which industrialized farming under the guise of curing world hunger in third world countries—people have begun to react to the industrial model of agriculture. Some have protested in their home countries and others have protested at the WTO meetings, which plays a large role in the global economy.

Food is our most basic tie to the land. It has always defined our place and us as being from that place. People’s palates become accustomed to a food; our bodies begin to live better with the foods that are grown where we are. Other people associate foods with places such as Green and Red Chili from NM or Okra and Black Eyed peas from the Southern US.

With this industrial farming system we have an over abundance of foods which have to be sold or traded away from the growing areas. Subsistence farming has faded away as the pace of our modern convenience driven society dominates. We are spoiled in being able to eat bananas and citrus fruits in the middle of the winter in Minnesota, while the traditional crops and methods of saving food and seeds are being lost.


Seeds come before the food. They are precious more precious than gold, as gold cannot bear fruits. Ethno Biologist Miguel Santistevan explained that years ago we treated the seeds as the most valuable member of our families, as they determined whether we lived or died. He also explained how traditional seeds adapt to an area. It has a genetic memory, which tells it how to deal with a certain area’s cold, or heat, or lack of water. It takes years of growing and natural selection and farmer’s selection for the seeds to adapt and for the strong to live.

Traditional farmers around the world have saved the strongest seeds from their crops to plant the next year marrying different traits from similar plants. The use of GMOs has halted that process. Some GE plants because they are hybridized cannot be saved but some are simply patented. Because the seeds are developed with Biotechnology they can legally no longer be saved. There are problems with this as crops are grown in uncontained areas where bees and butterflies don’t bother with patenting law they share different pollens or the wind might blow seeds from trucks hauling a farmers harvest. A technology that the chemical companies are working to patent at the moment is a terminator gene that will end the life cycle of a seed and protect the large corporations from patenting infringement. Currently Monsanto has an annual budget of 10million dollars employing 75 people who’s sole purpose is to investigate and prosecute farmers who they feel have stolen their technology. The courts generally lean in favor of the large chemical companies.

In India trade programs have encourage farmers to use Hybridized and GE cotton seeds since the opening of the country to trade liberalization in 1997. Dr. Vandana Shiva, Physics and Food and Seed Sovereignty activist explained in a December 2006 interview with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman that a new phenomenon has taken place since this time as more than 40,000 farmer’s have committed suicide due to their dependence on seeds which cannot be saved due to patents and hybridization. Another affect on developing countries through trade deals is the unloading of subsidized items such as soy oil onto the Indian market. The oil was traditionally never used in the country. India was the capital of edible oils such as mustard, linseed and sesame seed however, since the liberalization of trade and opening of the domestic market to foreign interests 70% of the oil consumed is soy oil. People who traditionally grew mustard seed in states such as Rajasthan cannot sell their mustard seed. This has not only affected culture but it’s affecting the health of the people.

Food and Seed Sovereignty

People around the world have begun to educate the public about the industrialized food system. They have worked to counter some of the laws that the agro giants are bringing into nations and states around the world. The reason for doing this isn’t only for health, as the affects of GMOs on people are still unknown, or to support a local economy, as the industrial system supports the chemical companies, or even for food security as the mass importation of food from other countries or regions makes every community vulnerable when drought, blight, or transportation problems occur. People have gotten involved with Seed Sovereignty because many seeds that farmers use are heirlooms, they’ve been saved for generations so they have a direct connection to the culture.

It seems hard to imagine that culture does still exist in different indigenous communities as well as land based communities around the world. These seeds have allowed the people to live and thrive the seeds and food have a place in ceremony and spiritual practice. For this reason communities have decided to stand up to the chemical companies. They do not wish to allow these precious heirlooms to be contaminated or to allow these chemical companies to be 1st in making laws to protect their seeds. Which has happened around the country, between suing farmers for patent infringement, and as seen in the 2007 Farm Bill Chemical Corporations tried to protect themselves from communities such as in California and Arkansas banning GMOs in their area.

The seeds survival is therefore connected to cultural survival. The generations of care that people have given to the seeds and that the seeds have given to the people would be lost.

In an interview for “The Shift of Land” Activist, Journalist and Politician Winona La Duke explained that the White Earth Ojibwe Reservation in Minnesota along with other groups worked to protect the wild rice, that grows on the reservation and was apart of their migration story and the treaty the defines the reservation. They went to the state legislature showing that the wild rice is a natural resource and should be protected. It was passed and the tribe will be notified whenever Genetically Engineered Rice is grown in the country.

In Northern New Mexico the Pueblos have a certain relationship with the Corn, the Beans, the Squash and chili and many other seeds that the Pobladores (Mestizo settlers) brought with them under the Spanish crown 400 years ago. These seeds have been saved in the 2 communities for generations. When looking at the age of the Pueblos with structures over 1000 years old, it’s amazing to imagine the generations of people and of those seeds that the ancestors handed down to the people of today.

In an interview for the Shift of Land Louie Hena explained that the Traditional Native American Farmers Association and the NM Acequia Association have been working together to educate the State Legislature on the GE crops in order to protect traditional crops. They were met with great opposition from the many in the South Eastern part of the state where they grow GE cotton and other crops. 

In the end they passed the Senate Joint Memorial 38 and House Memorial 84 in the 2007 State of New Mexico Legislature, a Memorial that recognizes the importance of indigenous agricultural and native seeds to the food security of New Mexico as well as recognizing farmers’ rights to keep their seeds free from GE contamination.

Alternatives to the Agro Industrial System were discussed during my interviews for the Radio Series with Cerro Vista Farm’s Daniel Carmona who runs a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) allowing the community to either work for food that’s grown in the Cerro NM farm. He also sells at the Taos Farmers Market. Pati Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand of Taos County Economic Development Cooperation explained how their organization has worked to maintain a local food economy with a Commercial Community Kitchen and a Mobile Slaughter Unit. Other options are in your own backyard garden.