The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the precarity of a genetically narrow seed system owned and controlled by a few corporations. It has also massively boosted the global movement for seed sovereignty in the UK, Ireland and beyond…
This new article, originally published in The Guardian, tells the story of seed and COVID-19, and features Gaia’s Seed Sovereignty Programme.
Seeds need to be brought back into public ownership, rather than belonging to a small group of agrochemical companies, say campaigners, after a year in which seed-swapping and saving has reached new heights of popularity.
From March onwards, when the pandemic hit the UK, seed producers and seed banks across the country were overwhelmed with demand. Organisations such as the Seed Cooperative, Vital Seeds and Irish Seed Savers saw a sharp surge in orders, 600% in some cases.
David Price, managing director of the Seed Cooperative, says this rise in sales could be attributed to new and returning small-scale growers responding to empty supermarket shelves and spending more time in green spaces. And commercial growers were also inundated with orders for organic, locally produced food.
This has in turn drawn attention to the seed saving movement, which has been quietly growing in the UK for some time. Made up of growers of all types – from farms, small allotments, back gardens and even school playgrounds – these individuals and groups are linked through formal and informal networks. Swaps can simply mean a friend exchanging some tomato seeds for radishes, or participating in larger events such as Seedy Sunday, the UK’s biggest and longest running seed swap held in Brighton every February.
Many British consumers feel disconnected from the processes of food production, says Megan Perry of the Sustainable Food Trust. But, argues Helene Schulze, who co-directs London Freedom Seedbank and also works on the Seed Sovereignty Programme of the UK and Ireland, seed saving allows everyone to be involved in the food system. “People crave connection,” says Price. “They want connection with other people and connection with the planet, and growing and saving seed is a way of getting both.”