Teacher mentoring

Malawi: Progress on a Shoe String, November 25, 2012

Anything is possible if you have clean, safe drinking water

Anything is possible if you have clean, safe drinking water

A new variety apple budded on to a local rootstock

A new variety apple budded on to a local rootstock

Duncan going on his bike to fit a new pump

Duncan going on his bike to fit a new pump

A happy woman

Mary: Creating an interest in books, everywhere she goes


Carrying water


Pumping is so easy with the Canzee pump. Ask any 4 year old!

Ecaiweni Conference on Micro Credit

Language barrier: What’s that.
Mary working with a women’s Self Help group, in their village on their plans


I had two contrasting contacts that made an impact on me last week. The first was an email wondering whether we had finished with Malawi, or were we still in business and the other was a contact regarding our gathering for volunteers from the past seven years in Malawi.

I suppose it’s not surprising that someone may think of our early demise, because many small organisations like us do what they can, and leave. We now spend a little less than half our lives in Mzuzu, we make no great fuss about what we do when we are at home, and our fundraising is low key and almost underground.

Early this year we revamped our board with a more formal structure and now we have Dr Ann Burnell, Professor Emeritus in Biology NUIM, as Chair, Pierce Maher, Dr Maria Corrigan, Ciarán O’Leary, acting head of the School of Computing, DIT, Kevin St, Liam Stuart, Caitriona Coyne, John Waters, Irish Times, Elaine Bolger, Roseanne Curtin, Mary and myself. Since we are a 100% voluntary organisation we have found that this arrangement lightens the load on us a bit. Voluntary, in W4Z always means no remuneration; everyone pays for travel, accommodation and all the costs of their involvement. There are no expenses of any kind or allowances paid by the charity, to anyone except the wages of our Malawi employees. We, as the founders, also pay all other expenses so that 100% of all public donations get all the way to our projects in Malawi and Zambia.

You could say that the gathering last Friday night last was our seventh Birthday, since it is seven years since we headed into the unknown, to a dot in the hills of Northern Malawi to meet a unique and amazing man: Br Aidan Clohessy, Head of St John of God Services in Mzuzu, to stay with him for two weeks and now 25 visits later we have the hospitality, wisdom, experience, advice and sound solid good sense of a Tipperary man who started from scratch, about 19 years ago, and has built up a first World Service, including a Health Science University. In typical fashion, he attributes it all to the Grace of God. In his interview with John Waters, on the night, he related; that success in Malawi began by his piggybacking on the Diocese of Mzuzu and St John’s Hospital and that W4Z have succeeded as a result of doing the same with SJOG. “It’s a good way to ensure success” he said. When asked to elaborate, he said that you must have determination and heart and W4Z is built on those virtues.

We are so happy that he came, with Provincial Br Lawrence, to cut the birthday cake (Donated by our local Superquinn). Of course he got a great welcome from all our volunteers who know him and all he has achieved in Malawi.

The various displays showed some of what we are now doing in Malawi and generated much surprise and delight, particularly for those who came to volunteer in the earlier years.

News for 2012 to date:


WATER: Our factory has manufactured over 450 pumps, this year and between Malawi and Zambia, we estimate that well over 100,000 villagers will have clean, safe drinking water, by year’s end. We also have a more formal training programme, in pump maintenance, for village women, who are burdened with the task of locating and hauling water on their heads, often from long distances. We are also doing trials on a new pump, a modifies version of our current one, for pumping up-hill and for filling tanks


PRIMARY EDUCATION: In our fourth year of teacher mentoring. Our programme now impacts over 25,000 students in two zones in the Northern region, working with the District Education Manager (DEM) and the inspectorate. It is designed and implemented by excellent practitioners from Ireland using the Malawi Curriculum and is set for rapid expansion as some top Malawian teachers have been trained to be trainers. They’ve got a little lift and they are ON-IT. For the future, the DEM and some excellent school heads are of retirement age and coming to work for us.


PRESCHOOLS We now support 21 rural schools, mainly by training caregivers, and showing them how to make and use locally-made teaching aids. In terms of building schools, the community must make and build bricks and do all the labour, and when the reach roof level, W4Z supply only the roofing material and 3 bags of cement for the floor. This arrangement ensures community ownership.



We now have four farms.

Farm 1: Here we do research and demonstration with about 100 plants, using OP seeds, No artificial fertilizer or chemical pesticides. We save seeds and have greenhouses to produce over 10,000 fruit tree seedlings each year, and a multitude of other trees.

Farm 2: This we use to produce seeds of four tree types, all nitrogen fixing, one for nutrient extraction (Musango), one used for pest control (Tephrosia), and two fast growing for forage (Sespania and Glicidia).

This will enable us to supply these seeds to about 250 local farmers and also to a Seed Company in Lilongwe

Farm 3: This is a 3 hectare, citrus grove but it is also used for herb growing and researching forgotten African plants.

Farm 4: This is a depleted wilderness for research. A 20 year old man, Kondwani, with his wife and child will live here, improve the soil with agro-forestry, green manure, pigs, a cow, long crop rotation and conservation tillage in a planned eight year ad(venture) to see what can be achieved without  Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and the rest. We hope that this will be a model for the future


We also have a rural birthing centre, which doubles as a health centre and a location for many and varied meetings

We support clubs for grandparents rearing grandchildren and home based care for HIV/AIDS sufferers, in the areas where we work

We have a fund for hospital medicines and baby clothes for maternity wards, in Mzuzu Central Hospital and Mzuzu Clinic. We also supply transport for the medics for their monthly clinics.

We work with secondary schools and the two third level institutions.

We have a project enabling girls to go to Secondary Schools, a few school libraries and even one on the farm.

We have Adult education programmes and one for school gardens.

We work with women’s Self Help clusters and also have a 23 acre

co-operative, commercial, model farm for women, where we work with the Ministry for Agriculture, Agroforestry and the Traditional Authorities. Here Wells for Zoë bought the land and will resell it to the women over a four year period. We bought it in April, 2012 and already 25% has been repaid ahead of schedule. This is a very new concept (shares and women’s ownership) to rural Malawi and has created much interest from many sectors.

We have a bee keeping project with almost 100 hives and a market for honey

We supported a young nursing student, who will graduate in December and come to work with us.

We have a charity shop in Smithfield run by volunteers

All this happens without taxpayers’ money or any assistance from Irish Aid, but with great help from family, friends, supporters and volunteers, always with passion and a second hand shoestring budget.

Lusangazi Sustainable farm - Velvet Bean

A Simple Fix for Farming

October 19, 2012, 1:05 pm
A Simple Fix for Farming
By MARK BITTMAN (New York Times)

I will always remember when I first read the following article. We were flying in to Kharthoum Airport while the pilot was pointing out fires and explosion of tanks on our first choice glide path!!. The explosions were all in my head though as we had just began our first steps on conservation/sustainable tillage a few days earlier, and we had a little affirmation that we were exactly on the right path.

Since we began farming in Malawi, I was convinced of a better way and so we have used no artificial fertilizer or chemical pesticides on our farms for the past six years, while promoting green manures, rotation, ground cover and retaining residues, with minimum disturbance of the soil. All around us they burned everything, built up depleted acid soils and were generally seduced by the (dubious) science of the foreign “experts”. While the gurus of foreign nations and the onslaught of the foreign NGO brigade peddled genetically modified seed and noxious chemicals, we plodded along and tried to research what grew and how to match the pests!

On this last trip we find that our neighbours are copying what we do and even the Ministry people are advising farmers to grow and use “our” plants for pest control!!!!

Anyway, this articles excites me, but I certainly realise that the farming world has little notion of turning. Only the general public can decide how the future of farming will look by making their choices.


IT’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use – if it wants to.

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

In short, there was only upside – and no downside at all – associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States.

No one expects Iowa corn and soybean farmers to turn this thing around tomorrow, but one might at least hope that the U.S.D.A.would trumpet the outcome. The agency declined to comment when I asked about it. One can guess that perhaps no one at the higher levels even knows about it, or that they’re afraid to tell Monsanto about agency-supported research that demonstrates a decreased need for chemicals. (A conspiracy theorist might note that the journals Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences both turned down the study. It was finally published in PLOS One; I first read about it on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site.)

Debates about how we grow food are usually presented in a simplistic, black-and-white way, conventional versus organic. (The spectrum that includes conventional on one end and organic on the other is not unlike the one that opposes the standard American diet with veganism.).  In farming, you have loads of chemicals and disastrous environmental impact against an orthodox, even dogmatic method that is difficult to carry out on a large scale.

But seeing organic as the only alternative to industrial agriculture, or veganism as the only alternative to supersize me, is a bit like saying that the only alternative to the ravages of capitalism is Stalinism; there are other ways. And positioning organic as the only alternative allows its opponents to point to its flaws and say, “See? We have to remain with conventional.”

The Marsden Farm study points to a third path. And though critics of this path can be predictably counted on to say it’s moving backward, the increased yields, markedly decreased input of chemicals, reduced energy costs and stable profits tell another story, one of serious progress.

Nor was this a rinky-dink study: the background and scientific rigor of the authors – who represent the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service as well as two of the country’s leading agricultural universities – are unimpeachable. When I asked Adam Davis, an author of the study who works for the U.S.D.A., to summarize the findings, he said, “These were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.”

THIS means that not only is weed suppression a direct result of systematic and increased crop rotation along with mulching, cultivation and other non-chemical techniques, but that by not poisoning the fields, we make it possible for insects, rodents and other critters to do their part and eat weeds and their seeds. In addition, by growing forage crops for cattle or other ruminants you can raise healthy animals that not only contribute to the health of the fields but provide fertilizer. (The same manure that’s a benefit in a system like this is a pollutant in large-scale, confined animal-rearing operations, where thousands of animals make manure disposal an extreme challenge.)

Perhaps most difficult to quantify is that this kind of farming – more thoughtful and less reflexive – requires more walking of the fields, more observations, more applications of fertilizer and chemicals if, when and where they’re needed, rather than on an all-inclusive schedule. “You substitute producer knowledge for blindly using inputs,” Davis says.

So: combine crop rotation, the re-integration of animals into crop production and intelligent farming, and you can use chemicals (to paraphrase the report’s abstract) to fine-tune rather than drive the system, with no loss in performance and in fact the gain of animal products.

Why wouldn’t a farmer go this route? One answer is that first he or she has to hear about it. Another, says Matt Liebman, one of the authors of the study and an agronomy professor at Iowa State, is that, “There’s no cost assigned to environmental externalities” – the environmental damage done by industrial farming, analogous to the health damage done by the “cheap” standard American diet – “and the profitability of doing things with lots of chemical input isn’t questioned.”

This study not only questions those assumptions, it demonstrates that the chemicals contributing to “environmental externalities” can be drastically reduced at no sacrifice, except to that of the bottom line of chemical companies. That direction is in the interest of most of us – or at least those whose well-being doesn’t rely on that bottom line.

Sadly, it seems there isn’t a government agency up to the task of encouraging things to move that way, even in the face of convincing evidence.

For a year now we have a new 6 hectare farm, managed by a young couple, with this same plan. Its a 10 year plan and we’ll see how it goes. We have added agroforestry and a wood lot and of course wells and pumps, for our particular circumstances in Malawi.

SEED SAVERS (The frontline against World hunger)

Lusangazi Research Farm

Did you ever feel that you were standing alone, on the wrong side, delivering a discredited message, leading people astray and generally swimming against an enormous tide. Well this is how I feel about my farming efforts with the poorest peasant farmers in Northern Malawi.
In late 2007, Wells for Zoe bought about six acres of land as a response to being unable to find open pollinated seeds from any seed merchant in Malawi. We went about sourcing seeds world wide but have now learned to look more closely at native African plants when we can get them. BUT so brainwashed are the local farmers that they view their own heritage seeds as backward and have often consigned them to history. To be modern, they want hybrids, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. This route is promoted by NGO’s, Foreign Governments and a host of blow in, do gooders, many of whom wouldn’t know a sweet potato from a yam (ah but that might be a hard one!).
In Northern Malawi this is a tough battle, where there is little generational memory of agriculture, and all the experts have been given the uniforms and the ammo, and one feels like having joined some small gorilla group, fighting the combined armed forces of the world with bows and arrows.

The research goes on, we keep collecting seeds, learning every inch of the way

Globally we are not alone in the fight and a recent issue of the New Internationalist offers new hope of support or should I say reinforcements

Issue 435

The bad news is that giant ‘life science’ corporations have been gobbling up the world market in seeds. The good news, says David Ransom, is that peasant farmers who save their own seeds can, and do, still feed the world.

Wakehurst Place is a stately house set in majestic grounds; the rural offshoot of Kew Botanic Gardens, London. On a working day in summer, pensioners drift through the shade of exotic trees, sniff scented blooms, sip tea, gaze out over bucolic bliss.

Michael Way collecting for the Millennium Seed Bank. RBG Kew

‘Minus 20 degrees,’ says Michael Way, Head of Collecting at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project at Wakehurst. He’s indicating heavy doors off an airlocked dry-room sunk deep into the ground beneath a gigantic modernist shed. Here are preserved seed samples of some 26,000 plant species from around the world, many of them endangered.

The Project says of itself: ‘The need for an insurance policy is immediate and growing in urgency… The global number of plant species is projected to be reduced by 10 to 15 per cent as the result of habitat loss alone over the period 1970-2050.’1

Michael Way has spent years collecting seeds from the Americas and is not unduly alarmed. When I suggest to him that the bank resembles an Ark, he’s reluctant to agree. ‘There’s so much going on out there,’ he says, ‘so many more people with the right expertise around the world.’ But he adds in passing: ‘There are 20,000 edible plant species – just a few are cash crops. It’s… mad.’

A mighty private research effort goes into the shrinking number of plant species exploited as commercial crops, ‘monocultures’ rapidly displacing everything else – and the results remain a closely guarded secret. A relatively tiny public research effort goes into saving the enormous number of other plant species – though the results are for the benefit of all.

This can be a source of frustration, Michael Way admits. But it is also a reminder that there’s much more to seeds than their usefulness to people alone. All half-million or so of the world’s remaining plant species are integral to a process of evolution which we ignore or destroy at our peril. All life on land relies on the continued regeneration of plants, the bountiful reproduction of seeds.

Kew has its own history of entanglement with narrow commercial interests, not least with the ambitions of the British Empire – the legendary smuggling of rubber plants from their native Amazon to Malaysia, part of a lucrative trade that also took coffee from Ethiopia to Latin America, cocoa from Mexico to West Africa. The very traits that made seeds so plentiful, able to survive for long periods, travel great distances, adapt to new environments and hitch a lift with whatever came their way, also prompted a history of human greed, piracy, bad faith and mistrust that persists to this day. Michael Way must now pursue his work through a thicket of legal restrictions. History teaches lessons and makes a difference, though it is not always a positive one.
Sharp corner

Well, would you ever knowingly have consigned your food supply to the people who gave us lethal dioxins and Agent Orange – the defoliant sprayed on the Vietnamese people by the US military in the 1970s, followed soon afterwards by a spate of terrible birth defects? Would you have entrusted your daily bread to a business that started with gunpowder and went on to build the world’s first plutonium factory? Or to the heirs of the people who supplied Zyklon B gas to the Nazis for their extermination camps?

In just the past decade or so, three giant chemical corporations (Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer respectively) have taken control of close to half of the world’s commercial crop-seed market.2 Following the conventions of corporate globalization, they aim to corner the world’s food supply, which relies entirely on seeds. So people who know most about poison and death and next to nothing about the culture of agriculture now pretend to know best how to feed the world (see page 18).

Before 1993 Monsanto, for example, had shown little interest in seeds. It was making Roundup, a chemical herbicide (weedkiller). But it was also investing heavily in genetic modification (GM). It reckoned that if the genes of cash crops, like soybean, could be modified to resist Roundup, which would kill everything else, then farmers would need little inducement to buy ‘Roundup Ready’ seeds.3

One by one, the chemical giants rebranded themselves as ‘life-science’ corporations and bathed themselves in heroic, humanitarian eco-techno-babble

By 1993, after a long and alarmingly haphazard series of experiments, Monsanto had its first Roundup Ready GM soybean. It acquired other assets too. Genes could now be patented under US law. In 1995 the World Trade Organization came bearing agreements to enforce similar laws worldwide. Better still, genes could be traced. So Monsanto could claim ownership over any seeds in which its patented genes appeared, anywhere in the world. With the force of law, farmers could be stopped from saving Roundup Ready seeds and required to buy from Monsanto year on year. Seeds began to look like very good business indeed, and it was well worth spending $30 million annually on security to put the fear of Monsanto into farmers.

But it was not a seed company, and that hurt. So, between 1996 and 1998, the corporation all but bankrupted itself, spending some $8 billion on buying up seed companies around the world – as the area covered by Roundup Ready GM soybeans in the US exploded, from half a million to ten million hectares. By 2005 Monsanto was the largest conventional seed merchant in the world; and almost all GM crops worldwide contained Monsanto genetic traits.

Not to be entirely out-flanked, in 1999 the rival chemical giant DuPont paid $7.7 billion for what was then still the world’s biggest seed company – Pioneer Hi-Bred. One by one, the chemical giants rebranded themselves as ‘life-science’ corporations and bathed themselves in heroic, humanitarian eco-techno-babble. They had increased the yields of crops and – after a manner – fed the growing human population. They, and ‘their’ technology, were in not just the best but the only position to feed the world from now on.
Another story

They had not, however, genetically modified themselves, nor yet been able to rewrite a rather different history. A billion small farmers still save their own seeds – and produce most of the world’s food. The largest study of its kind, involving nearly 9 million farmers, covering 200 projects on 28 million hectares in 52 countries, indicates that crop yields increase on average by 73 per cent under small-scale, sustainable methods, and that ‘sustainable practices can lead to substantial increases in per-hectare food production’.4 There are better options than corporate monoculture, but they have simply been dismissed, if not ignored altogether.

Tribute to the earth – women of the Arhuacos people pick seeds during the annual summer solstice ceremonies in Nabusimake, Colombia. Daniel Munoz / Reuters

‘Sustainable’ can, of course, mean anything. But in this context it means something quite specific: not following industrial agriculture, which consumes a third of the world’s depleted reserves of fossil fuels, down a road that leads to extinction. And it means not relying on monocultures of a few staple crops, which increase genetic vulnerability – when only genetic and cultural diversity stand any chance whatever of adapting to runaway climate change.

In 2009 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – often accused of undue closeness to corporate interests – published an authoritative report on genetic resources. It said: ‘Through the continuing shift to commercial agriculture, much of the diversity that still exists remains under threat… With the disappearance of lifestyles and languages across the globe, a large amount of knowledge about crops and varieties is probably being lost, and with it much of the value of the genetic resources themselves.’5 Cultural diversity matters too.

You would hardly imagine so, judging from the ruthless land-grabs currently afflicting Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Government of Ethiopia, for example, has surreptitiously signed away leases on a million hectares of land for foreign agro-enterprise investors – the kind of move being actively promoted by the World Bank. Some of it is in the province of Gambella, a fertile area that is home to the Anuak nation, who practise an intricate form of cultivation, pastoralism, hunting and gathering. They are simply being evicted. Thousands of Anuaks now live in exile in Sudan and elsewhere. In 2003, on the pretext of ‘anti-terrorism’, the Ethiopian army invaded Gambella and killed 400 Anuak men. More military contingents are being sent there now, and a curfew has been imposed.6

Nor has the promise of corporate monoculture, for small farmers in particular, been fulfilled. There may be a brief bonanza when ‘modern’ methods are introduced; but all too often it is followed by eroded soils, destroyed soil fertility, an insatiable demand for yet more chemicals, more fresh water from degraded supplies – only, in the end, to produce declining yields, if not bankruptcy. The true scale of the disaster of genetically modified cotton, for example, has been clear for far too long already.7 When, in 2007, food riots erupted around the world, those at the sharp end of agriculture can have been surprised only that they had not erupted before.

But perhaps most striking of all has been the rise of peasant resistance movements, such as the Landless Movement (MST) in Brazil, now brought together across continents, North and South, with remarkable agility by Vía Campesina (see page 12). As their name suggests, they demand respect for the peasant way of life.
Put things right

Those of us who know little about seeds must now think afresh. We must listen to stories about peasant cultures, like those from India (page 8) and Africa (page 14), with renewed respect and an appreciation of the subtle wisdom that grows only at the pace of nature itself. We must also do what we can to put things right – and soon.

First, land reform. Diversity cannot flourish (and seeds will never be saved from extinction) unless peasant farmers finally come to control the land they work. Landlessness, so wasteful of human skill and energy, so degrading of rural life, remains to be eradicated. The latifundistas (big landowners) of Latin America, for example, habitually devote far less effort to making their vast estates fully productive than to beating landless peasant farmers off them.

A billion small farmers still save their own seeds – and produce most of the world’s food

Second, vital knowledge about seeds, their cultivation and preservation, is held largely by women. This says less about the stereotypical nature of women than about the culture of agriculture, where women play a leading role almost everywhere. So Vía Campesina confounds the inheritance of rural patriarchy by working for the liberation of women too.

Third, if even half the resources (including government subsidies) currently lavished on corporate monoculture were used to promote sustainable food production instead, then human ingenuity might finally make rural life less laborious, more rewarding than it currently is. What, after all, could be more valuable? Why should those who produce food remain among the most oppressed on earth? Politics and policies must promote what Vía Campesina styles ‘food sovereignty’.

Finally, we can learn from the natural history of seeds themselves. Whatever it was that made them so generous and bountiful, so attentive and amenable to the needs of other life forms, it most certainly was not Monsanto. Wherever you may live, you can still study, collect, exchange, plant, nurture, harvest and celebrate them. You’ll be amply rewarded with nourishment, pleasure, wonder – and, along the way, you’ll be digging up the road to extinction as well.

Millennium Seed Bank Project, A Global Network for Plant Preservation, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2010.
ETC Group, Who Owns Nature? Corporate power and the final frontier in the commodification of life, November 2008.
Most of this account of Monsanto relies on Marie-Monique Robin, The World According to Monsanto, Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 2010.
Jules Pretty and Rachel Hine, ‘Empirical Findings of SAFE-World Project’, in Reducing Food Poverty with Sustainable Agriculture, Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, 2001.
UN Food and Agriculture Organization, State of the World’s Genetic Resources, Rome, 2009.
‘Land Grabs Threaten Anuak,’ an interview with Nyikaw Ochalla in Seedling magazine, April 2010.
See, for example, NI 399, April 2007.

Permalink | Published on September 1, 2010 by David Ransom | 2
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Comments on Seed savers
#1 oliver mccrossan 06 Sep 10


A very good article, here in Philipines MASIPAG , an organisation of farmers and scientists are actively involved in promoting bio diversity especially in relation to our native rice varieties.On our biodiversity farm in Bukidnon on the island of Mindanao Masipag are maintaining over 600 native and farmer bred lines of rice from all over the country.

Go to MASIPAG website for more information.

#2 ciderpunx 06 Sep 10


Just to give the URL for the organisation that Oliver mentions and quote from their “about us”:

MASIPAG is a farmer-led network of people’s organizations, non-government organizations and scientists working towards the sustainable use and management of biodiversity through farmers’ control of genetic and biological resources, agricultural production and associated knowledge.

Seed savers — New Internationalist http://t.co/g3vjZUH
Seed savers http://bit.ly/cLvQd4
RT @MickNewint: Well I never knew what a seed saver was – http://shar.es/0rGGH << glad latest @newint has BEAN educational
Well I never knew what a seed saver was — New Internationalist http://shar.es/0rGGH
"Seed Savers": Peasant farmers combat the multinational push for control! http://bit.ly/dmIgGx
RT @newint: Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations – but peasant f http://ow.ly/18OYlH
RT @newint: Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations – but peasant f http://ow.ly/18OYlH
RT @newint: Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations http://ow.ly/18OYlH
Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations – but peasant f http://ow.ly/18OYlH

The final weapon of mass destruction for the poor.

from Common Ground
Common Ground is an independent publication, 100% Canadian owned. It is Western Canada’s biggest and best-loved monthly magazine dedicated to health, wellness, ecology and personal growth.

Fight against terminator seeds not over

Murray Dobbin

Of all the perverse, corporate manipulations of the growing and processing of food, none is more sinister and destructive to the public good than the so-called terminator technology. Terminator seeds are patented, genetically modified seeds, deliberately engineered to become sterile after one harvest; farmers can’t use their seeds to plant the next crop and must purchase new seed every crop year. The technology threatens the livelihood of 1.4 billion people dependent on farmer-saved seeds and the globe’s biodiversity.
As the women of the international farmers’ organization La Via Campesina have said, “Terminator technology is a weapon of mass destruction.” That’s why it’s the focus of a new, social media activist site, RightOnCanada.ca. But more on this below.
In fact, there is a global fight against this technology – currently the subject of a moratorium on its commercialization – involving literally hundreds of farmers’ and peasants’ organizations and others concerned about the future of the planet. The Canadian government is one of the principal targets of the campaign. Canada is one of the “Terminator Trio,” comprised of the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The US also wants the moratorium lifted, but it has not signed the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Many terminator critics accuse Canada of doing the US’s dirty work in the hope of some return favour. Last year, terminator opponents won a significant victory at a meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Curitiba, Brazil. The Brazilian government, chairing the meeting, announced that the 188-member governments of the CBD agreed to reject language that would have undermined the six-year-old moratorium on terminator.
Despite this massive rejection, the Harper government has not changed its position, calling for a “case by case risk assessment” of terminator seeds. The Liberals also opposed a ban when they constituted the government, and despite their newfound commitment to the environment, have not changed their stance. According to Liberals’ agriculture critic Wayne Easter, “…all plants with novel traits must be studied on a case-by-case basis…”
As matters stand now, the two political parties that have a realistic chance of becoming government after the next election are both opposed to an outright ban on terminator technology. That leaves the Greens and the NDP at the national level. Both parties support a ban and last spring the NDP put forward Bill C-448, a private member’s bill known as the Terminator Seeds Ban Act. The bill, introduced by the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko, died on the order paper when Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament.
Part of the problem with a parliamentary system, especially one without proportional representation, is that it produces executive government with few checks and balances of its power. Voters have little influence between elections because they have no effective access to power. That’s something that Kathleen Ruff, former head of the BC Human Rights Commission and of the Court Challenges program (recently killed by the Harper government), wants to change.
Ruff has established the online activist site, RightOnCanada.ca, which is focussed on human rights and intended to replicate the famously successful MoveOn.org in the US. MoveOn has more than three million members and was a major player in the Democratic victory over the Republicans in the last US Congressional election.
MoveOn describes itself as “… a service – a way for busy, but concerned, citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” That pretty much describes RightOnCanada. It took on the terminator technology as its inaugural issue last spring and its email letter-writing campaign saw 13,000 messages sent to the leaders of the federal parties in the Commons. The campaign preceded the NDP’s private members’ bill and helped highlight what is normally a low-key affair. RightOnCanada has since taken on the issue of “deep integration,” the secret plan to divert Canadian water from Canadian rivers to the US and the so-called “harmonization” with the US of standards for pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.
But it expects to revisit the terminator issue. That’s because Monsanto, the corporate poster boy for genetically modified organisms, is now poised to commercialize this technology. In 1999, feeling the enormous pressure of an international campaign, Monsanto pledged not to pursue terminator technology. But on June 1, 2007, Monsanto negotiated a $1.5 billion takeover of the world’s largest cotton seed company, Delta & Pine Land, the US company that developed and patented the world’s first terminator seed technology.
According to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (a partner with RightOnCanada) this can mean only one thing: Monsanto has broken its pledge and is now on track to take this perverse technology into the marketplace. Kathleen Ruff notes that RightOnCanada will be there to fight any such move.

Murray Dobbin is a Vancouver author and journalist whose latest book, Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? published by James Lorimer is in BC bookstores now.

Tell the Canadian government to ban terminator technology
The right to save seeds is a crucial part of the human right to food. This basic right is threatened by terminator technology, which genetically engineers plants to produce sterile seeds after first harvest and, if introduced, would force farmers to purchase seeds every year from transnational seed corporations.
If allowed to proceed, terminator technology would transfer control of the world’s seed supply from the hands of farmers to the monopoly control of large corporations. It would also threaten the biodiversity of agriculture and the health of the planet’s food supply. “Preventing farmers from re-planting saved seed will increase economic injustice all over the world,” says the World Council of Churches, which has called for action to stop terminator technology.
Recognizing its inherent dangers, governments attending meetings of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity created an international moratorium on terminator technology in 2000. The Canadian government, however, with the help of Australia, New Zealand and some major biotechnology companies, tried in February 2005 and again in January 2006 to overthrow the moratorium.
Tell our government to support the ban on terminator technology. Visit http://www.rightoncanada.ca (click on campaigns) to send a letter to agriculture minister Chuck Strahl, Prime Minister Harper, the opposition agriculture critics and your MP.