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Seeds for Sustainable Agriculture

Written by Ramon T. Ayco, Sr. Edited by Rogelio Rustico G. Teves, agriculturist; and Ely M. Santos February 2012

The Project Development Institute, through its program on Sustainable Agriculture, is deeply committed to the use and development of local seeds as the seed is the most basic input in agriculture being the source of a plant. Sustainable Agriculture is the practice of farming using principles of ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. It has been defined as "an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last over the long term. Sustainable Agriculture is doing away with inorganic fertilizers and pesticides like herbicides and insecticides because these chemicals kill earthworms and microbes, the makers of natural fertilizers. Not using chemicals will allow these natural makers of organic fertilizers to thrive which in turn will help us regain the yield and sustainability of our land, with minimal cost. Moreover, extensive use of these chemical fertilizers and pesticides has been linked to pollution and serious health problems. In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. Local and Improved Seeds Organically grown crops provide the seed requirement for Sustainable Agriculture. The local and indigenous seeds are what are referred to as heirloom seeds -- seeds that have been faithfully reproduced and handed down from generation to generation, these seeds have unmatched richness of flavor, nutritional benefit, and resistance to diseases and tolerance to adverse weather conditions like droughts. These seeds have a long history, and may have been plants that were grown by your great-great grandparents. A plant is considered to be an heirloom if it is an open-pollinated cultivar that is over 50 years old. If you raised a plant, and kept its seeds and replanted them every year for 50 years, you would have an heirloom plant. "Open-pollination" ensures that the plant will reproduce itself true to form, so that the new plant will looks just like the parent plant. When heirloom gardeners refer to open-pollination, they mean that a particular cultivar can be grown from seed and will come back "true to type." In other words, the next generation will look just like its parent.

Now, however, there are more and more vegetables that will not come back "true to type." For example, plant nearly any hybrid tomato, and save the seeds. Then plant it again in the next planting season and see what happens. The seed may not even germinate, since it may be sterile. If it does sprout, the young plants will probably not have many of the characteristics of the parent plant, nor will it look anything like the plant you got the seeds from. While hybrids have many outstanding qualities, the ability to reproduce themselves is not one of them. Heirloom plants have developed resistance to certain pests and diseases and are hardier and healthier than hybrids. Their original genetic material is intact and the plants' unique reproductive and immune information has been preserved. Heirloom fruits and vegetables have stronger flavors, and come in many different and unique colors, sizes, and shapes. Organic seed production follow the principles of ecological farming such as conservation of biodiversity, protection of natural soil fertility, recycling, natural resource conservation, appropriate pest management and maintenance of genetic resources and cultivars. Banned are practices that lead to accumulation of heavy metals and other pollutants. Basic slag, rock phosphate and sewage sludge have high heavy metal content and other unwanted substances and thus are not allowed. Management of manure and crop rotations are encouraged. Non-synthetic mineral fertilizers (i.e., supplements and other brought-in fertilizers of biological origin) are not considered replacements for nutrient. Hybrid and Genetically Modified Seeds Hybrid seeds are seeds that have actually been bred for commercial growers. When you order seeds from most seed suppliers, this is what you are getting. Plants are bred to resist certain diseases or pesticides. A hybridized plant is the result of a cross between two varieties of plant. When seeds are taken from the cross-pollinated plant, these seeds cannot reproduce the parent plant, but will revert back to one of the parent plants. Hybridization has caused loss in color, flavor, and adaptability. Not to mention the thousands of plants that have been lost to us forever because of the monopolization of big seed companies like Monsanto and others. Modern hybridizations not only do not reproduce the original plants faithfully, but the new plants may be unable to adapt to changes in the environment. Hybrid plants do not have the same strength, vigor, or immunity against disease that Heirloom plants have. Seeds that have been changed genetically to resist the application of herbicides become sterile and cannot reproduce themselves. Planting only genetically modified seeds can lead to serious problems. First, relying solely on modified seeds and neglecting to preserve genuine heirloom seeds, presents the very real possibility of our multitudes of plant varieties becoming extinct, due to lack of conservation and use. Second, modified seeds are incapable of reproducing themselves faithfully, so if they are the only seeds being used, there is no way of saving them for planting next year!! Especially if they are modified seeds with "terminator genes" -- then they are incapable of being grown again. If we have let all our local varieties of crops become extinct, what are we going to plant? Many

thousands of plant varieties have now become extinct. For example, how many kinds of rices do you think there used to be at one time? Over 3,000!!! Now there are only a couple of varieties planted in the fields. The situation is the same with other kinds of food plants and fruits. There are not very many local varieties left. Commercial growers who only grow hybrid crops run the risk of a fungus or plant disease destroying their whole crop, as the plant may not be resistant to all diseases, but only what they were engineered to be resistant such as herbicides (Round-UP). Because of this, there is the risk that weeds sprayed with herbicides could develop resistance and produce monster weeds that can seriously compete with crops and thus reduce its yield. GM Foods, Harmful and Dangerous More and more scientists are attesting to the fact that genetically modified (GM) crops produce foods that are harmful and dangerous. In a recent study posted in the website of Institute for Responsible Technology, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) reported that Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods. Before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to allow GMOs into food without labeling, FDA scientists had repeatedly warned that GM foods can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged long-term safety studies, but were ignored. Since then, findings include:

Thousands of sheep, buffalo, and goats in India died after grazing on Bt cotton plants Mice eating GM corn for the long term had fewer, and smaller, babies More than half the babies of mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks, and were smaller Testicle cells of mice and rats on a GM soy change significantly By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies Rodents fed GM corn and soy showed immune system responses and signs of toxicity Cooked GM soy contains as much as 7-times the amount of a known soy allergen Soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced The stomach lining of rats fed GM potatoes showed excessive cell growth, a condition that may lead to cancer. Studies showed organ lesions, altered liver and pancreas cells, changed enzyme levels, etc.

Unlike safety evaluations for drugs, there are no human clinical trials of GM foods. The only published human feeding experiment revealed that the genetic material inserted into GM soy transfers into bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. This means that

long after we stop eating GM foods, we may still have their GM proteins produced continuously inside us. This could mean:

If the antibiotic gene inserted into most GM crops were to transfer, it could create super diseases, resistant to antibiotics If the gene that creates Bt-toxin in GM corn were to transfer, it might turn our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories.

Although no studies have evaluated if antibiotic or Bt-toxin genes transfer, that is one of the key problems. The safety assessments are too superficial to even identify most of the potential dangers from GMOs. Seed Monopoly The seed is the most important input in agriculture; it is the beginning or source of a plant. Its practical purpose is for the propagation and multiplication of crops. As such, a seed is any planting material, whether true seed (i.e., product of fertilization) or not. Therefore the one who controls the seed controls agriculture. Traditional agriculture knowledge and systems have a scientific basis, and over generations, farmers have perfected their practices in all aspects of agriculture including developing new crop varieties by closely following natural practices. But if there is one thing farmers have not done themselves, it is developing new varieties through artificial or induced means. Indeed, producing new varieties through genetic manipulation has for long been the sole preserve of agricultural research institutions and agro-chemical companies that have placed a veil of secrecy over the technology under the pretext of it being scientifically strict and technically difficult. This absolute control over seed research and multiplication has allowed them to totally dominate the market imposing an alien, high-input, monoculture-predominant agriculture. Seed industry concentration has resulted from major pesticide manufacturers like Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Dow monopolizing the worlds seed supply, with several negative impacts: 1) Use of genetic engineering to make pesticide-promoting GM crops, harming the environment; 2) Reduction/elimination of conventional seeds, giving farmers little choice but to buy GM seeds; 3) Astronomical prices for GM seeds and the pesticides used with them which burden farmers financially; 4) Monsantos patents on seeds permit prosecution of farmers for seedsaving; and 5) Monsanto strong-arm tactics with ever fewer remaining independent seed companies further reduce farmers seed choices and enforce the companys stranglehold on seeds. Biotech companies like Monsanto force growers to sign a technology use agreement when growing their patented GM crops which stipulates, among other things that farmers cannot save the seeds produced from their GM harvest. Before, farmers were able to save their own seed and even sell it to other farmers without fear of legal prosecution. But now, since companies like Monsanto have been granted patents on seed, they have the right to sue farmers for saving this seed, either intentionally or unintentionally due to genetic pollution caused by pollen drift or other causes. Monsanto alone has threatened untold thousands of farmers with litigation,

collected patent fees from large numbers of farmers and taken more than a hundred to court. These persecutions and prosecutions have led to farmers paying tens of millions of dollars to the company.

References: 1. Sustainable Agriculture; Wikipedia 2. Organic Seed As Basis For Sustainable Agriculture by Pamela G Fernandez ; Philippine Journal of Crop Science 2001 3. Genetically Modified Foods, Are they Safe?; website of Institute for Responsible Technology 4. What is Sustainable Agriculture?; website of Sustainable Table 5. Heirloom Seeds: The Importance of Planting and Preserving Genetically True Seeds For The Future; website of Hub Pages


Coffee and banana seedlings in Kaybanban, San Jose, Del Monte, Bulacan.

Aetas planting upland rice in Kinaragan, Limay, Bataan.

The photos above show planting of 1,000 fruit bearing trees in an Agrarian Reform Community in Margot, Angeles, Pampanga through the joint effort of PDI, LGU and peasants organizations. Photo below shows coffee seedlings in said area.

Seedling Nurseries in Botolan, Zambales

Seedlings of rice, mango, pineapple, and cassava in Laur, Nueva Ecija

Vegetables (left up and below), rice (up right) and seaweeds (below right) in Coron, Palawan