By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
Many workers in the Palestinian agricultural sector do not appreciate the importance of collecting, preserving, propagating and using seeds. This is considered a strategic issue in the development context aiming at enhancing the ability of farmers to face the external challenges of climate change and the Israeli occupation; and also aiming at achieving national sovereignty over food. This is what I have witnessed in recent years, through my conversations with some of the agricultural engineers and extension workers.
It is worth mentioning that local seeds can be re-produced and improved from one season to another and through generations. Thus, the regeneration of seed is a strategy that directly flows into the liberation of farmers from the food dependency on the Israeli occupation and monopolistic agro-chemical companies in terms of agricultural needs and inputs (pesticides, chemical fertilizers, water ...etc)
Industrial hybrid seeds cannot be self-produced, so every new season farmers have to buy new seeds and necessary agrochemicals. Additionally, growing plants from hybrid or industrial seeds cause continuous erosion in soil fertility and need a lot of water, while local seeds grow well with local fertilizer or compost, and are resistant to agricultural pests and need little water; thus maintaining the fertile soil structure which is rich in nutrients.
The West Bank and Gaza Strip are currently experiencing a real scarcity in most varieties of local seeds, where some have even disappeared altogether. For many years, Israeli and foreign seed and agro-chemical companies have hidden Palestinian local seeds from the market and replaced them with industrial seeds, thus forcing local farmers to purchase these seeds and the necessary chemicals each new season. This has led to an increase in the cost and dependence on Israeli and foreign seed and chemical companies, thus guaranteeing continued control over Palestinian food and depriving the people of sovereignty over their food.
To strengthen the strategic orientation towards the collection, reuse and propagation of local seeds, agricultural research must focus on refuting common misconceptions. For example, some Palestinian farmers mistakenly assume that hybrid seeds and seedlings produce more and their cultivation is easier and often ignoring that the consumption of such seeds needs large quantities of water, chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are soil-damaging. Some are also unaware that the root network of hybrid plants does not penetrate the soil as local seedlings, whose roots extend deeper and more forcefully to look for moisture in the ground; even without irrigating them.
It is important to implement agricultural-economic studies that show the direction of capital flow when relying on hybrid seeds, specifically towards Israeli and foreign companies, because of the farmers’ structural dependence on these companies. This dependence is due to the continuous purchase of hybrid seeds and chemical supplies from the same companies and their agents.
On the other hand, when depending on local seeds, the capital flow is in two-ways (from farmers to the community and vice versa) in the sense that production and the use of local “Baladi” seeds ensure that wealth and capital remain in the same country. Because the dependence on agricultural needs such as local seeds, compost, green manure, animals, labor, etc. is within the same local production and consumption cycle. In addition, basic agricultural needs (for example: local seeds and organic fertilizers) can be produced by farmers themselves which in turn enhances their self-reliance and achieves national sovereignty over seeds and thus food.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh