Kimbrell on seed saving and seed banks
Seed Saving and Seed Banks
By Andrew Kimbrell
My first experience with the perils of large scale seed banks was the scandal that erupted over the Fort Collins collection in the mid 1980s. Journalists had published stories dramatically detailing the grossly negligent manner in which deposits to the seed bank were treated. Numerous seed deposits were spilling out onto the floors of the facility, the facility was woefully understaffed, there was no testing of the seed and a virtually complete failure of required regeneration — in short a seed saving disaster. A legal petition by my organization to rectify the decision seemed to get the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) attention. But when no real action resulted we litigated. I was a very active member of that legal team. As such I reviewed much of the material in the case that documented USDA’s complete disregard for the safety and integrity of the seeds under its care.
This has been one of the bases for CFS’ longstanding concerns about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Not surprisingly these fears have recently been justified. In December 2010 NordGen, the entity overseeing Svalbard, fired its Director Jessica Kathle. Some at NordGen believed that she was a “scapegoat” for the seed bank’s well known problems including continuing deficits, significant understaffing, and failure to do routine tests on the deposited seed to determine viability.
There is however yet another important concern about Svalbard. The Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), which supports the operational costs of Svalbard, has received almost $30 million dollars in support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Global Diversity Trust, “Funding Status 1-1-2011.” http://www.croptrust.org/main/funds.php)This is by far the largest support of any non-governmental entity. As is well known, the Gates Foundation has very close working ties to Monsanto. The Gates Foundation invested $23 million in Monsanto in 2010 to help the company through some financial woes, and has been a determined supporter of spreading Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops throughout the developing world. In 2006 the Gates Foundation hired Rob Horsch, a former Monsanto Vice President and a key scientist involved in the creation of the company’s Round Up Ready crops in the 1980s, as their Senior Program Officer for their International Agriculture Development Program. This Monsanto connection to Svalbard is very troubling as the corporation owns almost a quarter of all the world’s commercial seeds and is the world’s leader in the genetic engineering of crops and the patenting of plant genetics (including plant genes, cells and seeds). Monsanto has also had a decade long history of persecuting and prosecuting thousands of farmers for saving seeds.