New Peer-To-Peer Seed Sharing Platform Aims to Facilitate a Diverse Seed Supply

CC BY 2.0. Kate Ter Haar

The Center for Food Safety's recently launched network is a bid to preserve plant biodiversity and work toward food security around the globe.

Over the last 80 years, the US has lost some 93% of its fruit and vegetable seed diversity, and the number of edible plant varieties grown worldwide has dropped by more than 75%, which does not bode well for the future of food security. Just five companies (Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, DuPont, and Syngenta) own more than 60% of the global commercial seed supply, and with many of the modern seed varieties being hybrids that won't breed true for home gardeners and small-scale farmers, or that have regulations outlawing the collection and replanting of seeds, today's growers are being locked into a cycle of reduced genetic diversity, which may lead to a potentially dangerous food security situation in the near future.

To counter this shrinking pool of genetic diversity in seeds, some home growers and farmers are focusing on growing, breeding, and saving seeds from heirloom plants and crops that are adapted to specific climates and conditions, and that can be open pollinated in order to save the next generation of seeds. And thanks to the Center for Food Safety, a new global peer-to-peer seed saving network will enable more people to contribute to the preservation of plant diversity, and to protect "our public food system from corporate consolidation."

The loss of diversity in food crops is actually quite shocking, as the following graphic titled "Loss of Seed Varieties in the U.S. Between 1903 and 1983" illustrates:

plant biodiversity loss

© Center for Food Safety

"The irreversible damage to agriculture and food production due to climate change could have grave consequences for food security. In order to guarantee a secure food future, farmers and gardeners will need to adapt to climate uncertainties and will likely need to rely on plants and crops bred in conditions unlike those to which their current seeds have adapted." - Global Seed Network

The Global Seed Network is meant to be used by farmers, home gardeners, nonprofit organizations, and the general public, who can connect with other seed savers to trade for uncommon and disease-resistant varieties that are tailored to their soil and climate conditions.

It's essentially a social network for plant and seed enthusiasts, and allows users to create a profile with their details (geographic location, growing conditions, climate, elevation, soil, and their own experience in saving seeds), to post seeds they have to share, to request seeds from other members of the network, as well as to ask questions and share information about seeds and plant varieties in the platform's forum. A robust search function on the site allows users to search by climate region, soil type, disease and pest resistance, watering requirements, temperature constraints, and more, and to filter by other criteria (such as organically grown vs pesticide- and herbicide-free) in order to find the appropriate varieties for their needs.

"As the barriers to small seed savers become ever more onerous, expanding non-profit open access to seeds is critical. CFS has created this open-source platform to empower individuals and groups to contribute to a shared knowledge based on seed saving with the goal of creating an independent seed supply." - Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety Executive Director

The Global Seed Network also offers detailed seed saving instructions, resources and documents about seed saving and seed diversity, a school curriculum, and a listing of seed-centric events and seed swaps. Even if you don't plan to offer seeds to share on the site, there's a wealth of information there about how to collect and store seeds from your own garden, as well as resources about seed laws and regulations about importing seeds.

Saving seeds, and trading seeds with other like-minded people, isn't a new concept, and the new Global Seed Network isn't necessarily a pioneer in helping to preserve seed biodiversity, but it is evidence that gardeners and small scale farmers who have been focusing on heirloom and open pollinated varieties are the visionaries of a resilient food system.