Last year I read a story from Iraq that was said to have occurred in 2004 when US occupation made deals with transnational seed companies to bring in seeds for Iraqi farmers to purchase - making it illegal to grow and save their own seeds. Skimming one article does not provide the necessary understanding of what occurred. However... googling Iraq and the seed companies I found many stories covering this in far more detail. ... I hope to have quoted from a reliable source below. NB Apologies for the text in this post - it was not possible to correct it!
Grain farmers in Iraq
Given Iraq was part of the region I recall learning of at school as the Cradle of Civilisation the fact of this ancient culture having such an intervention placed on it struck me as critically shocking.
This excerpt from Celsius.com tells something of the story;
With economic overhaul intended to legalize the Iraqi state’s dependency on foreign corporations came CPA Order 81. Beyond economic implications, this order also houses huge potential for environmental degradation in Iraq. Order 81, according to a jointly issued report from Focus on the Global South and GRAIN, has “made it illegal for Iraqi farmers to re-use seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law.”
While it does not make illegal Iraqis’ use of traditional seed stocks they have already saved, in reality the paired devastation of drought and the war in the region may make holding onto these stored seeds more difficult. As time passes and these seeds disappear, Order 81’s intentions will manifest; a new seed market will emerge in Iraq in which every cropping season Iraqi farmers must purchase seeds from transnational corporations like Monsanto.
Reading this article below and one on the Russian Nikolai Vavilov here at Diversity for Life recalls the post I added on the Vavilov institute in Russia last week. Seed Banks have their critics... and Im sure the people who work in them are highly aware of their limitations. Research on this topic seems to point to the need for conservation at all levels of society and community as being necessary... not one without the other.
Challenges today would seem to be too great to rely on any one method. The floods and devastation in Pakistan emphasise how great the vulnerability can be. Homes and lives lost....and with that no doubt the capacity of people to grow food and feed their families will prove to be dramatically affected for a significant time to come. Local seed saving initiatives by individuals and in communities are also likely to have been washed away.
As research for Homage to the Seedproceeds I am constantly reminded that the realm of botany, plants, seeds in 2010 is not what is was decades ago let alone centuries ago.
Colonisation and slavery were tied up with the great age of discovery of the world's botanical bounty. Australia's troubling history in relation to indigenous people and the early convict settlements is not always recalled when we pour over the wonders we associate with Joseph Banks and co.
Contemporary issues are so complex and sobering that one can hardly remain a gardening enthusiast or gourmand without acknowledging the complexities that come with this realm. These enthusiasms are a privilege best acknowledged when so much is at risk. Below is an inspiring story I wished to share.
Mrs. Sanaa Abdul Wahab Al-Sheikh
by ADMIN on JULY 6, 2010
Mrs. Sanaa Abdul Wahab Al-Sheikh joined the Iraqi national genebank in Abu Ghraib in 1988. “This is when I discovered what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. By 1994, Mrs. Sanaa´s hard work had paid off and she was promoted to the position of Head of Plant Genetic Resources. Aware of the growing tensions in the country, Mrs. Sanaa decided to take some precautions to ensure that the material conserved in the Abu Ghraib genebank would be kept safe in the event of war. “I took the most important accessions to my house and hid them in my fridge. I also buried accessions in the office garden. I prepared sealed bags of accessions and buried them in a hole and then covered the hole with grass and plants to ensure that they were well hidden.”
“During the war, things were very difficult. There was no fuel and no electricity, making it difficult for me to get to the office and to do my work, but I kept on going anyway. Then on the 9th April 2003, the security situation deteriorated to such an extent that I was forced to stay home for a whole week,” recounted Mrs. Sanaa.
When Mrs. Sanaa returned to the office a week later on foot, she was stunned to find that the genebank had been looted and destroyed. “I cried so much when I saw what they had done,” she recalled. “The first thing I did was rush to check that the accessions were still safely buried in the garden.” Fortunately they were, and Mrs. Sanaa made sure that they were safely hidden by covering them with more plants and grass.
By 2004, the State Board for Seed Testing and Certification began works to reconstruct the genebank. Mrs. Sanaa scoured farmers fields around the country collecting hundreds of accessions to rebuild the collection. Along with about a thousand accessions she had saved from the old collection, these now make up the new collection at the Iraqi national genebank at Abu Ghraib, where Mrs. Sanaa continues to work today.