In a recent issue The New Yorker profiles a scientist who is developing a global cryobank for plant seeds - to be stored in a vault in the cold of an island off the Arctic coast of Norway. The seeds are stored country by country and each country may only have access to its own. While Monsanto, ADM, and rest of the Big Ag oligarchy shy away from allowing patent hybrids to be even that far out of their control, certainly the governmental powers that be are buying into the idea.
As for the work of the people, Gary Paul Nabhan of Native Seed/SEARCH gets a brief mention as an ethnobotanist; no word of Ecology Action or Bountiful Gardens, Alan Chadwick or Michael Pollan. There is apparently lots of room left for individual action - seeds in a deep freeze may preserve the future of our planet's biodiversity about as well as coal has.... so go plant some heirlooms of your own and share them with the living.
Annals of Agriculture
Sowing for Apocalypse
The quest for a global seed bank.
by John Seabrook August 27, 2007
John Seabrook, "Sowing for Apocalypse," The New Yorker, August 27, 2007, p. 60
ANNALS OF AGRICULTURE about seeds, seed banks, and the genetic modification of crops. Writer accompanies Cary Fowler to the Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry in St. Petersburg, Russia. Fowler, the director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, was in St. Petersburg to gather contributions for the world’s first global seed bank, which is being built in Svalbard, Norway and is scheduled to open in February, 2008. Briefly discusses the history of agriculture, which began about 8000 B. C. in Mesopotamia, and the preservation of seeds by early civilizations. Tells about Nikolai Vavilov, the founder of the Russian seed institute and the first man to think of creating a global seed bank. Vavilov fell afoul of Stalin and died in a Siberian labor camp. Writer mentions the destruction of the national seed banks of Iraq and Afghanistan during the U. S.-led invasions. Seed banks in countries such as Honduras and the Philippines have recently been lost to natural disasters. Most national agricultural banks contain the seeds of crops grown in that country. The American national seed bank is in Fort Collins, Colorado. Explains the basic principles of seed storage: low humidity and cold temperatures are essential. Tells about Fowler, who grew up in Memphis and became interested in seeds while working on a magazine article about the disappearance of family farms in the South. Describes his battle with two forms of cancer. Surviving cancer motivated Fowler to become more involved in seed preservation efforts because he believed he hadn’t contributed constructively to society. Writer describes the development of hybrid crops by companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, the first private seed company. By 1945, hybrid corn amounted to ninety per cent of the corn planted in the U. S. Tells about the green revolution, the process by which American-made hybrid seeds were sent around the world. While the hybrid crops allowed farmers to increase their yields, they also planted an American-style agrarian capitalism in developing nations. The backlash to the green revolution was led by writers and activists such as Pat Mooney and Jack Harlan, who warned that the adoption of hybrid seeds might cause traditional crop varieties to become extinct. Discusses the role played by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in negotiating international agreements regarding the sale and use of seeds. American agricultural corporations had successfully patented their hybrid seeds, many of which had been taken from developing countries, whose farmers were now forced to pay for the seeds they originally helped cultivate. Tells about the controversy over genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.s). Writer accompanies Fowler to Svalbard to inspect the site of the global seed vault, which is also where the Nordic Gene Bank is housed.