Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Seed saving gets political

Activities like this – saving seed to plant next year with enough over to share with friends and neighbours – could soon be literally illegal. Technically, in Portugal it already is. Sitting here stripping seed from the dried seed heads of various plants that have been hanging up drying in paper bags recycled from the padaria, I’ve found myself thinking about this often.

The basic human rights to air, water, food, shelter, are being progressively hijacked and turned into revenue streams for multinational corporations. First they did it with shelter. Then water. Now it’s food and medicinal plants.

And if the corporate profit-machine could think of a way to suck all the air out of the atmosphere and sell it back to us in tanks (with all manner of fancy-sounding purification processes and exotic premium sources – ‘Alpine fresh’, ‘Tropical sea shore’ – and designer breathing-apparatus in this season’s colours to make sure we buy a new set at least every year), no doubt they would.

Despite the fact that this misappropriation of food plants and restriction of choice constitutes a violation in fundamental human rights whichever way you look at it, it’s happening quietly in legislatures world-wide. Before people are even aware of it, the right to grow and share their own food has been turned into a government-authorised privilege that can be summarily revoked. Even saving your own seed from heirloom varieties and sharing that seed with your neighbours and friends will become illegal in some places.

And in tandem with this, more and more patents are being approved on ‘developments’ in plant and animal breeding that, on closer examination, are no such thing.

Think I’m scaremongering? Don’t think it could happen where you live? Think again … if your government is a signatory to Codex Alimentarius, it already is. Will it succeed? Well, that’s up to you and me. If we do nothing, it will.

Rather than it being illegal to save and grow your own seeds, what’s of doubtful legality is the process by which this became ‘law’ in the first place. Even if technically lawful, morally and ethically it’s nothing of the kind. Laws devised and enacted-by-proxy by self-serving unaccountable commercial interests are not worthy of that designation.

It is, of course, impossible to ignore how consistent these tactics are with the modus operandi of the giant agrotech companies Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and DuPont. During the last decade or so, with genetically modified crops meeting increasing public resistance, these 5 companies have between them bought around 200 conventional seed companies and now completely dominate the global seed market. Since most of them are also developing ‘terminator technology‘, the capability to produce plants with sterile seeds (requiring growers to purchase new seeds from them every planting season) and so-called ‘junkie’ plants (ones whose growth and maturation is tied to the application of certain proprietary chemicals) it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to point to where this is all leading. For these companies, it’s just business as usual.

Seed industry ownership

Back in 1999, they were forced to bow to intense global pressure and issue undertakings not to develop and sell terminator technology, but it’s now plain they were lying and merely biding their time until the furore died down and they could get supportive legislation in through the back door. This is the process that’s now underway in our legislatures.

Gandhi comes to mind … “Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless or, which is the same thing, corrupt.”

See also …
Campanha Europeia pelas Sementes Livres
No Patents on Seeds

Next Post

Previous Post


  1. martyn June 5, 2012

    Spot on Wendy.

    Real seeds will likely be the alternative ‘currency’ during the consumer economy meltdown, with the alternative cooperative economics of ‘grow, save, share’.

    Anyone in their right mind, who has the slightest dignity, who places the least value on their humanity, who cares one iota for the future lives of our children and grandchildren must resist this tyranny, or commit our species to extinction.

    Awareness and solidarity are our greatest tools.

    (as for the air, i’ve thought about that too. i’m waiting for the ‘air cleansing tax’ to get thought up. i won’t be buying into that one either.)


  2. Quinta do Vale June 5, 2012

    Thanks Martyn. Personally I would like to see seeds kept out of currency-like transactions. It is a beautiful thing to give and receive saved seed. It represents so much: the care and nurture given to the plants that produced the seed, the very personal nature of their selection, the knowledge that’s available about them from the grower, the sharing of nature’s abundance which is always freely given … A seed represents the potential for self-sufficiency. To me, keeping something like this a gift is part of the glue that keeps communities communities. Or rebuilds broken communities …

    I recently came across this blog post, which is quite informative and food for thought.

  3. martyn June 5, 2012

    Hi Wendy

    I completely agree. What i meant by ‘currency’ (and hence the commas) is that while holes are being blown in the deck, we’ll be keeping each other afloat by sharing seeds.

    The mentality to trade (i.e. profit) will with time be replaced by the will to freely give. And what better thing to give, for all the reasons you say, than seeds. They represent life itself. The infinite potential in them is one with the same in each of us!

    Where is your project?

  4. Quinta do Vale June 5, 2012

    Glad we’re on the same page! We’re here.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2023 Permaculturing in Portugal

Theme by Anders Norén