The Gaia Foundation – 16 October 2014


Hal Rhoades reflects on The Great Seed Festival, Gaia’s contributions and, through an inspiring Colombian example, how repressive seed laws are meeting resistance from movements of Seed Keepers on every food growing continent.

This past weekend we at The Gaia Foundation were delighted to be part of a new and exciting celebration, the first of its kind in the UK: The Great Seed Festival.

With the aim of re-connecting the public with the seeds that feed us and underlining their vital importance in our food system, the festival brought together numerous organisations and community groups from across the UK and Europe. Meeting at the Festival’s hub of activity at the Garden Museum in Lambeth, seeds were swapped, bread baked and information on everything from the germination of seed to corporate attempts to monopolise it, was distributed through talks, workshops, films and more.

H & M Stall-300x200Gaia’s stall focused on introducing people to seed varieties grown in each of the African nation’s we work in alongside our wonderful partners. For Uganda, groundnuts, cowpeas from Ghana, millet from Kenya, maize from South Africa and teff from Ethiopia. Displayed in traditionally made hessian sacks from the UK and accompanied by a poetic riddle, the seeds drew people in their droves to get hands on and discover how Gaia is working to help communities revive their seed diversity and protect their farmlands from mining and agri-business. Teff, with its tiny grains and silky texture proved a particular favourite.

Joining me on the Gaia stall was Mariana Gomez, a Colombian anthropologist and activist. We first ‘met’ when in 2013 Gaia helped facilitate an inspiring chain of solidarity letters between Mariana’s home town of Doima and other communities in the UK, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Alaska. Each of these communities, their lands, waters and livelihoods, are threatened by the extractive industries in some way. In the case of Doima, Anglo Gold Ashanti’s proposal for a giant tailings dam threatens the rich watersheds and agricultural systems of the Magdalena river valley in which the town sits. The letters proved an incredible success in energising further resistance.

DSC_0140-350x251As well as facing the threat of mining, all across Colombia peasant farmers, campesinos, are encountering a serious threat to their ability to sow, save, exchange and maintain the native diversity of their own seeds. New, repressive seed laws prohibiting these practices, brought into reality by a ‘free trade’ agreement with the USA, have catalysed both mass protests and the formation of politically active seed saving networks across the country. Two weeks ago, these networks came together to hold the fourth installment of a national seed savers meeting, organised by the Seeds of Life Seed Keepers Network. Celebrating, sharing seeds and holding a vibrant thanksgiving ceremony, they re-affirmed their commitments to protecting the 300 indigenous and native seed varities in their care.

Over the course of the Great Seed festival weekend, Mariana acted as the Seed Keepers Network representative here in the UK. Evoking the beauty of the Network’s recent meeting through a recording of their ceremonies and a meditative manifesto created by Ricardo de la Pava, she encouraged revellers to ‘Adopt a Colombian Seed!’ as a contribution to the fund to help the seed keepers contest the new Colombian laws they reject.

Seeds - different kinds -250x375This action complemented Gaia’s awareness raising role at the Great Seed Festival perfectly. Just as in Latin America, our partners across Africa are facing the dual threat of mining and an assault on their seed sovereignty by agri-business. Both are extractive industries.

In Ghana, for example, our partner CIKOD is simultaneously resisting destructive gold mining developments and the so-called ‘Monsanto-law’ the Ghanaian Government has been flirting with. Known also as the Plant Breeders Bill, this new legislation is being pushed vociferously by governments (inluding the UK’s) and multi-national corporations as part of the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSAN). The Bill would provide corporations with legal protection for their intellectual property rights in Ghana, essentially opening up a new market for them to monopolise via their genetically uniform, monocultural seeds.

Educating ourselves on and resisting these neo-colonial seed laws is critical if we hope to have healthy, resilient farming and food systems that are able to adapt to the challenges of climate change and whatever else the future holds. It was a delight that Gaia’s contributions to the Great Seed Festival, thanks to Mariana and the Seed Keeper’s Network, were able to do both.


On every food growing continent seed laws now threaten the diversity of healthy, locally adapted seeds fostered over millennia by farmers enjoying sovereignty over their agricultural practices. If you would like to support Mariana and the Seed Keepers Network of Colombia:

Adopt a Colombian seed today and make sure it can survive and thrive into the future in the hands of farmers, the custodians of seed. (Adopt through the paypal link half way down the webpage on the right labelled ‘Adopta una semilla en Colombia’.)

Read and share Ricardo de la Pava’s beautiful meditation on the significance and sacredness of seed.

Watch and share the Colombian Seed Keeper Network’s thanksgiving ceremony.

If you would like to support the farmers, activists, trade union workers and NGOs resisting Ghana’s ‘Monsanto-Law’, write to your MP via World Development Movement’s online campaign and tell them UK Aid money should support small-farmers, not undermine them.

More information:

World Food Day and The Great Seed Festival

Everything Starts With Seed: Reflections On The Great Seed Festival

Bringing seed back



Seed Freedom Calendar Event: