The global seed commons and corporate seed mergers
by Rowen White
I have been seeing people sharing the news that there has been another devastating merger between corporate global giants who seek further consolidation in the industrial food system as it relates to the global seed commons.
“The Justice Department will allow two notorious agrichemical corporations, Bayer and Monsanto, to merge, according to reports published earlier this week. Despite strong voices of opposition from grassroots advocates across the country and investigations by state Attorneys General, the over $60 billion merger was approved after Bayer agreed to sell off select sectors to another competitor, BASF. The merger will make Bayer the largest seed and pesticide company in the world. While lining the pockets of C-suite executives, farmers will be hurt by decreased competition and greater costs, which will ultimately affect consumer prices for food.
Although the Justice Department secured agreements on divestment, there were no deals made on how the new company will operate. In a number of sectors, including vegetable seeds, and GE row crops like alfalfa, canola, corn, soybean, and wheat, the new company, which many have dubbed “Baysanto,” will have an overwhelming majority of worldwide market share. Not only will this reduce the availability of traditional and non-GE seed varieties, it will permit the new company to increase costs to farmers, giving them few and likely no alternatives in many cases.
These problems are compounding themselves, as the Bayer-Monsanto merger is only the latest in a series of mega-mergers that have upended the agrichemical industry. Dow and DuPont merged in 2017, with plans to separate the new conglomerate into three different companies, one being a nearly $20 billion pure-play agriculture corporation that integrates the companies’ seed and pesticide sectors. In 2016, the Chinese state-owned pesticide company ChemChina merged with Swiss chemical giant Syngenta, a deal valued at roughly $43 billion.
The “big six” often referenced by health and consumer advocates — Bayer, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, and BASF — has now shrunk to four. According to a poll taken earlier this year, 93% of farmers are concerned about the Bayer-Monsanto merger, with specific issues related to the new company’s ability to control farmer data, push products on farmers, and increase chemical dependency on farms.” -Beyond Pesticides, April 12, 2018
“Whatever happens to the seed affects the web of Life. When see is living and regenerative and diverse, it feeds pollinators, the soil organisms, and the animals including humans. When seed is non-renewable, bred for chemicals or genetically engineered with toxic or Roundup Ready genes, diversity disappears…biodiversity and cultural diversity go hand-in-hand. When culture is eroded, biodiversity is eroded. When control over seed becomes big business, diversity disappears ever faster. Diversity is a product of care, connection and cultural pride. The mango breeders wanted to give us the best taste, the best quality. The tribals and peasants who gave us rice diversity wanted to develop a rice for lactating mothers, a rice for babies, a rice for old people. They wanted to have rices that survive droughts and floods and cyclones, so they evolved climate resilient rices. In the Himalaya, different rices are needed for different altitudes and different slopes. The intimacy and care that go with belonging to a place and a community allows diversity to flourish. Conserving and growing diversity comes as naturally as breathing….We are what we eat. When we are careless with food we are careless with ourselves. Will we wake up only when the last peasant and the last seed disappears? Or will we turn to the sacred duty of protecting our Sacred Seeds.” -Vandana Shiva, Sacred Seed
As an indigenous woman who has been blessed by the resilient perspective of a descendant of ancestors who survived unspeakable terrors and loss of land and life, I always seek the positive solutions-oriented approach to any problem. I have not chosen the path of ignorance, however intense the world may seem in these times we find ourselves in, I have to keep myself abreast of what is happening on the global food and seed trade because once you know what is happening, you can’t turn a blind eye.
I have been contemplating quietly on my response to this merger to share with you all. I wanted to wait until I could settle some of the feelings I had so I could speak and share from a place of center. Honestly, some days I am filled with rage, which I work diligently at composting into rich soil to nourish the resistance efforts to renew our sacred agreements with our seeds. Someday I am overcome with a grief so palpable that it is nearly paralyzing that we have allowed the sacred and reverent relationships to collectively atrophy in our food systems to the point that most people have nearly forgotten their agreements. This wellspring of grief and tears has watered over the last couple of decades a rich and diverse garden of ancestral and heritage seeds that help me find my way through the weight of sadness that all the relationships our ancestors cultivated are hard to find, leaving chasms and lacunas of memory that we somehow know in our hearts is missing. They have been the most unconventional teachers, these humble seeds, reminding me that all that seems lost truly isn’t..just laying dormant until the time is right for them to return to the earth
From the Bureau of Linguistic Reality, I found this gem of a word which helped me frame this thought.
Definition: A seed that due to social trauma stays consciously dormant not out of oppression, but rather due to a deep intuition which senses not to seed until it finds itself in a fertile, fecund environment.
Origin: Ash Arder, Detroit, Michigan + Heidi Quante, California, November 2017.
Quiescent (Latin) meaning ‘being still’, from the Latin verb quies ‘quiet’ meaning marked by inactivity or repose.
Seed (Old English sǣd, of Germanic origin Saat) meaning a flowering plant’s unit of reproduction, capable of developing into another plant. A propagative plant structure (such as a spore or small dry fruit).
It was once said, “ They tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were seeds.” All the generations of people who came before us, who in their own ways prayed for the sprouting of our deeply connected life-ways again. I return with my beautiful children in hand to the traditional earth-based traditions of our people, the first in many generations in my bloodlines to follow the sacred ceremonial calendar, renewing time-honored relationships with all around us; eating our traditional foods and caring for their seeds. Those ancestors prayed for us, in many ways….in diverse tongues and in small humble everyday ceremonies of patting babies to sleep, stirring the cooking pot and sitting in the shade of an oak tree to make a basket; rowing such baskets across the mighty rivers to market..in the songs that honored the births and the deaths, the planting and the harvests…these prayers of our ancestors, in their own special ways, sowed seeds of resilience and vitality that they knew would take a few generations of laying dormant in the dark soil of our hearts, carried down through our blood memory in the rivers of our mothers sweet womb water that is held in our spines, our veins, our marrow.
Seven generations or more, these seeds of prayers were tucked into the safety of the soil of our underground mycelia of cultural and ancestral memory. Tucked deep into the earth that is our own bodies, connected through tributaries of rivers of bloodlines… These seeds are finally sprouting, in their own time..the seeds enduring the scarification and weathering of decades of struggles and challenges, and also the spirit fire of our mothers and grandmothers tenacity for ensuring that our lifeways stay alive amidst the confusion.
What they endured so that we could be here alive today, tending these shiny faced green sprouts of life, that they so diligently tucked into the safety of dark soils, hidden from hungry and greedy hands until generations later they could emerge with renewed vigor and vibrancy. It was such scarification that has given the prayers the courage to sprout into our lives. We are their wildest dreams sprouting and coming to life. They tried to bury us…
This global corporate merger is a reflection of the nature of the larger industrial food complex. As Vandana Shiva so eloquently reminded us above that the reality of corporate seed takeover is a symptom of a much larger cultural syndrome. It is a symptom of what happens when we abdicate our relationship to our seeds to others. Don’t get me wrong, many of us, indigenous and farming people from around the globe didn’t just complacently give up our rights to care and steward our ancestral seeds…no it has been a violent transition, people robbed of their rights by large corporate campaigns to disconnect people from their seeds, or manipulated into thinking that progressive change to new hybrid varieties will ease the workload or increase the yield. The colonization inherent in this cancer of the global industrial food takeover is a staggering force which continues to this very day disrupt and sever time-honored relationships to seeds and ancestral lands.
Some have forgotten the joy and deep nourishment of these time-honored relationships as families left the land for the cities in search of an illusion of a life where things would be easier, leaving caches of seeds behind which yearn for human hands and seedsongs, instead of the cold hum of a seed vault freezer or a dusty pantry farmhouse shelf.
This is a syndrome of a larger cultural amnesia, where the original agreements we all have in our blood and bones have been so calcified that most people forget the simple treasure that nearly every bite of food we eat ( however processed and packaged) comes to us because of the generosity of a seed. We all have a role to play in dismantling this. Into imagining a new world where seeds are honored for the very life-giving force they offer us everyday..where the reciprocal relationship we have with them is honored and not forgotten. We are all bound into this beautiful agreement with our plant relatives. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
I stand humbly in awe alongside some of the most passionate and visionary humans on the planet, the seed people. Collectively we are imagining and dreaming a new way forward. We stand on the shoulders of so many countless generations who kept seeds and culture alive amidst incredible adversities..who dared to dream a vision and action plan of a new world we know is possible. Creating beautiful and diverse resilient expressions of cultivating seed literacy and reweaving reverent seed culture. This circle of humans standing up to care for our Seeds is growing. We stand in solidarity with a growing resistance to the global seed takeover; The Seed Satyagraha is a circle that is diverse as the seeds that we are carrying down from our ancestors; we are farmers, seedkeepers, singers, artists, writers, activists, midwives, teachers, mothers and fathers, lawyers, advocates, public speakers, clanmothers, faithkeepers, community organizers and leaders. All of these people are islands of coherance that anchor me and inspire me to continue to work diligently in the seed freedom movement.
“When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos have the capacity to lift the entire system to a higher order.” — Ilya Prigogine.
I don’t know who I would be in this world without these hopeful humans, my teachers, mentors and friends, who are sowing seeds of resistance and reconciliation that will help nourish us deeply as we tend the intergenerational garden of a new food system that is rooted in care, love, relationship and diverse culture. This is part of the rematriation of love and care in our food system.
“Rematriation; This term describes an instance where land, air, water, animals, plants, ideas and ways of doing things and living are purposefully returned to their original natural context — their mother, the great Female Holy Wild. Like the repatriation of prisoners after years of war or millennia of unwilling slavery in service to an unconscious civilization, exploited and depleted for their wild vitality, any attempt to ‘rematriate’ them back to the Holy in Nature is the beginning of cultural sanity and healing” ( Martin Prechtel, The Unlikely Peace of Cuchamaquic)
May we continue to make this learning experience an embodied prayer for such emergent change. Which includes facing up to the grief-filled uncomfortable parts of the world we find ourselves inhabiting right now. And not being paralyzed in our grief and anger, but transforming the spectrum of these emotions into embodied action; being courageous to take embodied action to the dream and creative imagination of the healing just food system we all know is possible. We all have our unique roles, we all have to carry some weight. And remembering that this work is intergenerational, and will continue to grow from the seeds of hope that we plant in our daily action and work towards this emerging vision.
Can we promise to not forget that Bayer invested in the Holocaust? Can we promise to not forget our brothers and sisters in India and other places who are so desperate in the face of the fallout of the Green Revolution tactics that they are taking their own lives? Can we promise not to forget these shadowy sides of the larger industrial food system that were literally birthed from ammunitions of war. What is the balm for this intensity of this reckoning? How do we find our way back to a sane and culturally intact food system that honors the seeds and food plants and all of the grand family of relations around us that so generously feed us every day? We cannot continue to forget the seeds, forgo our relationships that are an inherent part of a holistic and healthy and just food system.
There is a way to compost these past failures. What does the resistance look like? It is a fertile resistance, roots in human relationships, in love and care, in being willing to de-center ourselves and offer leadership to indigenous and culturally intact people who have a clear remembrance of what a holistic food system looks and tastes like. What is your unique contribution to this Seed Satyagraha, to this fertile and growing movement to carry seeds and stories back into our lives again?
Lately, my spirits have been buoyed by the immensity of a book called “ Emergent Strategy” by adrienne maree brown. I encourage all of you to go and pick yourself up a copy. She is brilliant and her perspective helps soften the tension of what we all feel when we look at the global landscape and political environment we currently reside in. She says:
“ We see the future cast over this devastating present moment.”…. “I am certainly not the first or only person who forgot how to imagine. I’m not sure when I forgot, but it had something to do with the numbing effect of constant media, with its hyper-branding and tip-of-the-iceberg bad news. And working too much, not having time to read or to let my mind wander, feeling I was too important to rely on magic. My work has primarily been as a facilitator. I help others envision, plan, and create viable futures for humanity. I call my work “organizational healing” as opposed to “strategic planning.” It takes faith, time and creativity to do this sort of change work. So this forgetfulness was a minor tragedy. I live in the post-apocalyptic shape-shifting city known as Detroit. Most of my work supports communities around the country that are directly impacted by the changing climate and our racialized economic system. It can feel like we are constantly being further disenfranchised. As a facilitator, I often witness groups with a severely limited capacity to imagine. Where we need to be generating viable futures, instead we often displace imagination with longing or nostalgia. As I get older, the future becomes less clear and more frightening — the planet is in danger and I am a citizen of the country most responsible for environmental, economic, and military distress worldwide. I too sometimes feel a yearning for a past moment in movement history. And yet even in moments of great revolution, there were hierarchies in place that would disempower people who looked, sounded or loved like me. I’ve found myself on the edge of hopelessness in my movement work, slowly devastated by the ways we treat each other when we can’t see a way forward. Fortunately, I’m not the first or only person who has been invited back into the spellbinding realm of expansive thinking, visionary speculation, and emergent strategy…Walidah Imarisha coined the term “visionary fiction” to describe fiction that seeks to create a just future while making use of speculative writing genres. She and I have been holding collective sci-fi/speculative writing workshops as a political activity, and we’re editing a community-funded anthology of original work called Octavia’s Brood…
I’ve also been holding sessions to examine Butler’s work through the lens of emergent strategy — one that rejects linear victory-oriented planning and embraces adaptive, interdependent, intentional leadership that creates possibility and is stronger for being decentralized. One of our Detroit elders, Grace Lee Boggs, has taught us that we must “transform ourselves to transform the world.” -Adrienna Maree Brown, Yes Magazine
Can we overcome and transform the western cultural syndrome of proprietary seed matrix and the syndrome of restriction of seed rights and the syndrome of exploitation being at the very heart of our global seed commons? Yes we can. There is so much to be done to continue to nourish this movement. One of the most hopeful and potent forms of activism in these times is to plant and seed and save it for future generations.
This news of Monsanto and Bayer merging doesn’t surprise me, as we know the mindset of those who wish to control the world. Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State once said:
“Control oil and you control nations, control food and you control the people.”
What can we do in these times? How can we weave ourselves into this fertile and nourishing imagining of a new world sprouting from the compost pile of these scraps of these transitioning industrial food system?
Join the Seed Satyagraha, which is the CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE TO END SEED-SLAVERY.
You don’t have to be a farmer or a seedkeeper. There are many ways we can increase seed literacy in our lives that will help heal this syndrome.
“We do not recognise any laws, created by corporate interests, that interfere in our duty to save and share good seed so that the generations to come are as fortunate as we have been in receiving these gifts of diversity and nourishment.
We will not obey, or recognise any law that criminalises our time-tested seeds.
This is our Seed Satyagraha:
We have reverence for seeds we have received from nature and centuries of farmers’ breeding.
We do not recognise seed to be a corporate invention, therefore, we do not recognise patents on seed and life.
We will support our local seed libraries as sources of fertile and open source seed.
We do not recognise any laws, created by corporate interests, that interfere in our duty to save and share good seed so that the generations to come are as fortunate as we have been in receiving these gifts of diversity and nourishment.
We will not obey, or recognise any law that criminalises our time-tested seeds.
This is our Seed Satyagraha
From good seed comes good food.
We do not recognise tasteless, nutritionally-empty, toxic commodities as food.
For us food is, as it has always been, natural, organic, nourishing, healthy and safe,
We refuse to accept an agriculture system based on poisons as safe.
We refuse to let another bee die.
We do not recognise the unscientific fallacy of “Substantial Equivalence” of Genetically Modified food with non GMO food.
We refuse to accept Industrial Agriculture as a solution to the climate crisis because we know it is one of the causes. We also know that Organic Farming and living soils hold the key to solving the Climate Crisis.
We will grow organic food everywhere-on our farms, our gardens, our balconies, our terraces.
We will eat organic, in our kitchens, our cafeterias, our schools and offices.
Our Gardens will be sites of Satyagraha.”
What is the one way you will participate in this Seed Satyagraha movement? Please share with me in the comments below. Together we will rise.
I make renewed commitment through my hands, my heart, my voice and my mind to make my life an honoring song for all those who came before and all those whose faces and names I will not know, who grant me courage cultivate this garden of work that makes me rise in the morning with re-invigorated purpose for those yet to come. May we leave them with good nourishing food to eat and the embodied wisdom of how to prepare meals with love, and beautiful stories to fall asleep to, and clean water to drink, and a deeper understanding of relationship and connectivity that will assist them as they make a similar commitment to their descendants. We do not forget the threads that connect us, that weave us together on the grand loom of time.
Let us not forget that which makes us great, that which gives us our Life. As the broken hearted people lash out in their loneliness, in their misconception of disconnection, let us weave them back into wholeness with our breath and our song, and our prayer. May we call upon those alchemical beings who live inside the earth beneath our feet, who receive the death and decay, the tears and the pain and return it to earth to be ground and composted into renewed life; Rich earthy loam from which the dreams of our ancestors unfurl into shiny speckled beans and smiles and prayers from the lips of our grandchildren who know no hunger.
Water that seed planted deep inside the earth that is your own body, a tiny seed that sings an achingly beautiful song of remembrance, resistance, resilience, redemption, reconciliation. It was this powerful seed song that kept our grandmothers upright, who whispered to them to get up amidst the sorrow to do what needed to be done to tend the earth and feed the children. It was these melodies that guided our grandfathers under the sea of stars as they made their way into new lands to protect the young. This map is written in the seeds, and the stars and the waters and the Earth….this song is now your heart beating fiercely in promise to uphold the agreements to feed the Sacred hungers of Time.
Perhaps you will feel inspired to join us…find a community seed initiative in your home community or region by joining this Community Seed Network… If you want to join a community of goodhearted people from around the globe who are joining the collective imagining of a new emerging reverent seed culture. Part of this movement is educating ourselves and surrounding ourselves with others who are those islands of coherance as we transition into this new emergent culture. I hope you will join both our Women’s Permaculture Design Course and our Seed Seva Seasonal Mentorship to join in the movement to restore these vibrant relationships with our food that nourishes us daily.