Seed Diversity and Disaster Capitalism

Timothy A. Wise
Jun 17 · 2 min read

I wrote the following letter to the editor to the New York Times on chef Dan Barber’s wonderful article on agribusiness pressures on seed diversity. (“Save our Food. Free the Seeds.” June 9, 2019) I’m in Mozambique, and one of the issues I’m investigating is what seeds aid agencies will be providing to farmers to help them rebuild after Cyclone Idai devastated farmers and others in March. I continue to be struck by the parallels between Iowa and Mozambique, two places that couldn’t be more distant, geographically and in agricultural development. More to come. For now, the latest from a large file of Unpublished Letters to the Editor.

To the Editor, NY Times:

Dan Barber’s brilliant warning about the loss of seed diversity, for eaters and farmers, should be a wake-up call, particularly as climate change disrupts farming worldwide. Disasters like the flooding in the Midwest are what the seed conglomerates use to further limit our choices. Few realize that hybrid corn seeds, which farmers have to buy every year, got a skeptical reception from farmers before the droughts of the mid-1930s — the Dust Bowl years — which wiped out farmers’ saved seeds. In came the companies with their new, more expensive technology package. By 1940, Iowa was using nearly 100% hybrid seeds, and a profitable seed industry was born.

The same could happen now in Mozambique, where thousands of farmers lost their seeds in March after flooding from Cyclone Idai. Will aid agencies, with funding to help farmers regain their livelihoods, give them those same hybrid corn seeds? These low-income farmers will then have to buy seeds, and the chemicals to make them yield, every year. The first drugs are often free. And unwitting users find themselves with a habit they can’t afford. US farmers ended up being able to afford those seeds. Mozambique’s farmers can’t.

Timothy A. Wise

Written by

Author of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, & the Battle for the Future of Food. Director of Land & Food Rights Program at Small Planet Institute