By: Firas Al-Taweel
baladi seeds exhibition in Al-Bireh, Ramallah
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
A few decades ago, Palestinian farmers did not use imported industrial seeds but rather depended on “Baladi” seeds that were sufficient in a country under occupation. This situation did not last long after the emergence of international companies’ dominance that was producing foreign seeds, in the absence of official policies that protect Palestinian heritage and limit the intervention of these companies. “Baladi” seeds are actually becoming extinct and agricultural production has come under the control of global companies that have plunged Palestine and many countries around the world. A series of individual initiatives attempted to revive the Palestinian “Baladi” seeds, believing in their importance for achieving sovereignty over food in a country under occupation.
An initiative by the voluntary group “Sharaka” was launched in November 2017 with the aim of drawing attention to the dangers facing Palestinian seeds that is only limited in the hands of old farmers or some associations. In Al-Bireh cultural center, a group of farmers, local producers and volunteers gathered and presented their traditional food and some of the “Baladi” seeds that can no longer compete with the enormous power of transnational corporations. They know that they won’t be able to compete with these huge companies, but they wanted to send messages to the local community and decision-makers that we can achieve sovereignty over our food in Palestine by using “Baladi” seeds even on a small scale.
Farid Ta’mallah, one of the coordinators of this event and a volunteer in “Sharaka” said “the aim of this event is the use of hybrid seeds by farmers and their reluctance to use “Baladi” seeds, we want to revive the idea of exchanging “Baladi” seeds that adapt to weather conditions, resist drought, water scarcity and do not require pesticides”. The purpose of this activity according to Ta’mallah is to "enable citizens to exchange “Baladi” seeds in preparation for the winter planting season, as well as tasting the seasonal traditional Palestinian food from different areas at this time of year, when farmers finish the olive picking season and start planting seeds for winter crops, such as spinach, cauliflower, beans, peas, broccoli and others. Ta’mallah considered this event as “a small contribution that requires greater efforts by policy makers to educate farmers about the importance of “Baladi” seeds and the dangers of imported seeds from multinational companies."
Aisha Mansour, another volunteer in “Sharaka” Group who attended the event in a Palestinian embroidery dress, spoke to “Afaq” magazine with a heartburn wondering "why are we eating the waste of the big companies? Why don’t we go back to “Baladi” seeds and eat what we grow apart from agro-chemicals?”
Why are Baladi Seeds Better?
The environmental expert, George Kurzom started his explanation in saying; “Baladi” seeds can be re-produced and improved from one season to another, and through generations. Thus, they directly lead to freeing farmers and other population slides from food dependency on the occupation and on industrial seeds and agro-chemical companies in terms of agricultural needs (pesticides, chemical fertilizers, water, etc.). Industrial seeds cannot be self- reproduced, so every new season farmers need to buy new seeds along with the necessary agrochemicals. Additionally, plants growing from hybrid or industrial seeds cause continuous erosion in soil fertility and need a lot of water, while “Baladi” seeds grow well with “Baladi” fertilizers or compost and they are resistant to agricultural pests and need little water; thus, maintaining nutrient-rich and fertile soil structure.
Kurzom added “It is necessary to encourage the cultivation of plant varieties that tolerate heat and drought, adapt to the local environment, produce early before the beginning of the drought season and need little water such as certain types of apricots, plums and almonds. In addition to the importance of accelerating the development of variety of crops and wheat crops that are more drought-resistant and encouraging the cultivation of traditional crops and heat tolerant varieties that need little attention but have economic, health and environmental benefits for farmers, and can be grown organically; such as cactus, carob, dates, sesame and medicinal herbs". While practicing ecological farming based on “Baladi” seeds, it is necessary to avoid artificially growing crops off-season; then, we will not face the problem of damaged summer season crops cultivated in winter due to severe cold and frost.
According to Kurzom; the West Bank and Gaza Strip are currently witnessing a real scarcity in most varieties of “Baladi” seeds and even the disappearance of some types. For many years, Israeli and foreign seed and agro-chemical companies have concealed Palestinian “Baladi” seeds from the market and replaced them with hybrid (industrial) seeds forcing local farmers to buy these seeds and their necessary chemicals every new season which means an increase in the cost and dependency on Israeli and foreign seeds and agro-chemical companies, thereby guaranteeing continued control over Palestinian food and depriving the people from exercising their sovereignty over their food.
When relying on “Baladi” seeds, the flow of wealth and capital is two-way (from farmers to the community and vice versa), meaning that the production and the use of “Baladi” seeds locally ensures that wealth and capital remain in the same country because the reliance on agricultural needs (Baladi seeds, compost, green manure, animals, labor…etc.) is within the same local production and consumption cycle. It is also worth mentioning that basic agricultural inputs such as seeds and 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