terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods
One of the ways that companies that create genetically modified seeds protect their intellectual property is with terminator seeds, ensuring that farmers cannot save seeds from past harvests and need to buy new seeds every year. Because of this practice, terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods and make farmers reliant on the biotechnology companies producing the seeds.

What Is a Terminator Seed?

A terminator seed, also called a suicide seed, is a seed that is genetically modified so that any crops grown from it do not produce fertile seeds. Because the crops produce sterile seeds, farmers need to buy a new batch of seeds every year rather than using the traditional farming method of saving, reusing and sharing seeds.

Some biotechnology firms use seeds that require the farmers to use a special compound to activate the seed so that farmers that are using genetically modified seeds become dependent on the biotechnology firm if they want to plant the seeds from their crops.

Any technology that the biotechnology firms use to prevent the farmer from saving, sharing or reusing seeds and control the reuse of seeds threatens both biodiversity and sustainable farming methods in developing countries.

How Do Terminator Seeds Work?

Terminator seeds contain a repressor gene that kills the embryo in any seed that a genetically modified plant protected by terminator technology produces. Even though the seeds produced by the plants look normal, they are not viable and cannot be used to plant more crops, which forces the farmer to buy new seeds from the biotechnology firm selling the genetically modified plant.

Since saving and cross-breeding seeds is an integral part of traditional African practices, farmers in African countries are much less likely to use terminator seeds than farmers in other third world countries. In Africa, farmers use many varieties of seeds and are less likely to use biotechnology because the farming methods in Africa have been shown to be more sustainable than the solutions offered by biotechnology firms.

The Financial Impact of Terminator Seeds

Since biotechnology firms cannot use the law to stop farmers from reusing seeds, they are relying on science to stop farmers from reusing seeds. About 10 farmers a day commit suicide in India because the exorbitant prices of seeds produced by biotechnology companies are putting the farmers into a cycle of debt and despair that leads them to suicide.

Terminator seeds provide a viable way of protecting plants that cannot be protected by patent laws, and terminator technology is being used to ensure that farmers cannot reuse seeds that cannot be protected by other legal methods to regulate the use of new technologies that are sold by many of the world’s leading biotechnology firms. Technologies such as terminator seeds make it next to impossible for impoverished farmers to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Because terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods, many third-world farmers are starting to use organic and chemical-free methods to control pests and are starting to replace terminator seeds with seeds that are free to save and to share with other farmers. These practices can break the hold that terminator seeds terminator seeds have over farmers, while also helping them practice sustainable farming methods and become more self-sufficient.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr

This video of environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva explains how a seed monopoly in India creates poverty and destroys farming’s previous self-reliance on seeds.

First, a big corporation comes into a community and tells the local farmers that their seed is no good, “primitive,” and that they offer a better option. Companies even pay farmers to try the new seed – thus seed replacement starts. Gradually they go to every farmer in the area and do the same. The farmer no longer uses their own seed, the local small companies that did sell seed no longer have customers and go out of business, and now the corporation has a monopoly on providing seeds for an entire region.

Monsanto, the cotton seed supplier in this one case, then increases the cost of the seed by 8,000%. Of course a small farmer cannot afford these prices. The corporation then promises to provide seed that will make the farmer rich by producing huge harvests. The farmer barrows the money from the corporation to buy this new seed, mortgaging their land against the loan. And when the crop does not produce as promised, the farmer goes into debt and eventually loses her/his land – no income, no assets, no home, extreme poverty.

This is why Dr. Shiva started Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers, spread across 17 states in India. They have set up 111 community seed banks, trained over 5,000,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades. They have helped set up the largest direct marketing, fair trade organic network in the country, and run a learning center on biodiversity conservation. Navdanya is a women-centered movement actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture. They keep the power of self-reliance in the hands of the farmer.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Vimeo, Navdanya