Mon, 24/11/2008 – Michel Fanton
The recent ABC documentary ‘Seed Hunters’ [1] presented some fascinating scenes from the weird world of plant-based patent prospecting.
In the 60-min doco, we are introduced to Dr Ken Street, a veteran scientist and part of new breed of bio-prospectors dubbed Seed Hunters, suggesting capture and exploitation.
Dr Ken is such a friendly and likeable plant collector. We follow him to exotic locations such as remote Tajikistan farming villages where he calmly collects rare seeds from farmers with no access to the modern world of science. To watch Dr Ken at work in these remnant reserves of biodiversity, we could be forgiven to think all is safe and well.
But by the end of the doco, you might begin to suspect this is nothing more than genteel piracy.
However our research here at Seed Savers reveals that two Australian government agencies, in the early 2000s the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (AGRIC) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), decided to apply for intellectual property monopolies on two chickpea varieties. These seeds were originally collected from farmers in India and Pakistan by botanists (seed hunters) just like the gentle Dr Ken.
Once collected, the seeds are held in international seed banks, ‘for security and safety.’ But of course these government administered seed banks also provide sample seeds to any “qualified researcher” that requests them. What happens next? The researchers, such as those working for the GRDC and AGRIC walk across the street to the patent office. If they are the first ones in the door, they can apply for a patent on these seeds that have been bred over thousands of generations by indigenous farmers. Outrageous.
We wonder whether the farmers who so generously shared their ancestral seeds with nice Dr Ken realised that they were destined for the breeder labs to extract genes and transfer ownership to multinational seed corporations? Did they ever imagine that their seeds might come back on day to them reborn as a patented and protected seed variety making it illegal for themselves to save?
Fortunately in the case of the chickpea, word got out and under intense public pressure the government agencies dropped their claims. But this is an exceptional case: around the world more and more of these so-called seed hunters are successfully poaching the genetic heritage of the world’s most advanced farming cultures.
We believe there is an alternative seed saving philosophy that prevents the poaching of the world’s precious diversity reserves.
Our own recently released documentary, ‘Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi’ [2] is a 57 minute film shot in 11 countries and made for Pacific audiences that celebrates traditional foods and the plants they grow from. The film introduces the tribal farmers who save seeds and stand at the source of humanity’s diverse food heritage. Please have a look at our two-minute trailer.
If you watch our documentary in full, at the end of the rolling credits there is a statement that says it all: ‘no seed have been removed in the making of this film’. This is because we don’t hunt for seed but organize with tribal communities to make their crop inventories and keep their crop diversity alive.
Have your say: visit the ABC website and let them know how you feel, and then come to our site and learn a different way.
If you want to make a public viewing of our doco you can get it from our website and pay with the secure Paypal.
[1] ABC: Seed Hunter Trailer-
[2] Seed Savers- Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi�:

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