Zara Rahman: Welcome to Collusion, a pod­cast about tech­nol­o­gy and pow­er. My name’s Zara

Luiza Prado: And my name is Luiza.

Zara: And in this first full episode, we’ll be talk­ing about seeds.

Luiza: This may seem like an odd choice. Seeds are usu­al­ly not asso­ci­at­ed with tech­nol­o­gy. They are part of nature, some­thing that is per­ceived as whol­ly sep­a­rate from the things that we create. 

Zara: Humans under­stand­ing how to plant seeds, and under­stand­ing crops and agri­cul­ture has changed the way our soci­ety evolved. We’ve bred crops into forms and vari­eties that pro­vide us with what we need or what we like. Many forms that we take for grant­ed are a result of care­ful breed­ing by humans, like broc­coli. Others, like the banana, have changed huge­ly from their ori­gins thou­sands of years ago, thanks to our interventions.

Luiza: So of course seeds have been an impor­tant part of how we have evolved, not only as a species but as soci­eties. Understanding seeds and their pow­er has allowed soci­eties to plant crops and set­tle, to cure dis­eases, to sub­sist. We have selec­tive­ly bred plants, genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered them, and designed them accord­ing to our needs. We have observed them, stud­ied them. In fact, we have cre­at­ed an entire branch of sci­ence ded­i­cat­ed to under­stand­ing plants: botany.

Zara: And botany has actu­al­ly had an extra­or­di­nary impact on the polit­i­cal con­fig­u­ra­tion of the world. The com­merce of plants and their seeds was very very prof­itable in the colo­nial era, and today the seed indus­try is huge and more con­cen­trat­ed than it ever was before. The ten largest seed cor­po­ra­tions dom­i­nate three quar­ters of the com­mer­cial seed mar­ket, and just the top three of those rep­re­sent more than half of the entire com­mer­cial market. 

In this episode, we’ll take a broad under­stand­ing of the term tech­nol­o­gy” and look at how process­es and tech­niques have affect­ed the way in which soci­etal ben­e­fits from cer­tain types of seeds have spread across the world, from indige­nous knowl­edges, to biotech­nol­o­gy, and patent­ing and pri­va­ti­za­tion of seeds.

Luiza: We’ll start our dis­cus­sion of seeds by ana­lyz­ing a very inter­est­ing case, that of the cin­chona tree. Native to the trop­i­cal Andean forests of west­ern South America, main­ly Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the plan­t’s med­i­c­i­nal prop­er­ties were well known by the Quechua peo­ple. They used it to treat and cure a num­ber of ail­ments, includ­ing malar­ia. The plant is a source of qui­nine (weird name), a chem­i­cal com­pound with strong anti-malarial prop­er­ties. And yes, in case you were won­der­ing, qui­nine is what gives your ton­ic water its bit­ter taste.

Malaria prob­a­bly did not exist in the Americas before the European inva­sion. It was­n’t men­tioned in any Mayan or Aztec med­ical books, so appar­ent­ly the Quechua were the first human pop­u­la­tion to find and devel­op a cure for this dis­ease that had plagued human­i­ty for cen­turies. At the time, European doc­tors were still treat­ing malar­ia with prim­i­tive meth­ods like blood­let­ting, ampu­ta­tion, or purg­ing, not exact­ly effec­tive and not very pleas­ant. Despite all of this, most books and papers asso­ciate the use of the plant with men like Sir Robert Talbor, cred­it­ed with estab­lish­ing the ther­a­peu­tic use of cin­chona in England, or with Bernabé Cobo, a Jesuit mis­sion­ary cred­it­ed with bring­ing knowl­edge of the cin­chona tree to Europe. 

The Quechua are bare­ly men­tioned in the his­to­ry of the cin­chona tree. Usually they appear in noth­ing more than a vague sup­port­ing role. Scientific lit­er­a­ture says noth­ing of the peo­ple who observed, test­ed, and devel­oped a cure for one of the most fatal ill­ness­es of that time. Anyway, Spanish Jesuits were appar­ent­ly the first Europeans to learn of the use of the cin­chona tree. Some accounts say that they were told about it by their con­verts, while oth­ers say that the Jesuits them­selves observed the use of the tree by indige­nous pop­u­la­tions. Either way, the fact is that this infor­ma­tion was passed along to the Spanish crown. The com­merce of plants and seeds was an extreme­ly prof­itable busi­ness at the time. 

As we men­tioned, colo­nial pow­ers were stum­bling all over each oth­er to col­lect, clas­si­fy, and make a prof­it out of the incred­i­bly diverse flo­ra of their new colonies ever since Columbus returned from the Americas with ships full of pre­cious car­go. So of course the Spanish imme­di­ate­ly seized this oppor­tu­ni­ty, and the extrac­tion and com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the cin­chona’s bark became an extreme­ly prof­itable busi­ness. In fact, busi­ness was so good that it caught the eye of oth­er colo­nial pow­ers like France and Britain. In order for Spain to main­tain its monop­oly, the export of saplings and seeds was out­lawed in the 19th cen­tu­ry. Of course that did­n’t stop oth­er Europeans from try­ing to smug­gle the pre­cious plants out of Spanish domains.

Charles Ledger, for instance, was a British adven­tur­er (which I guess is code for biopi­rate) who man­aged to smug­gle cin­chona seeds to London, where they were bought by the Dutch. These seeds were then plant­ed in Java, a Dutch colony at the time, where they adapt­ed very well and final­ly allowed the Dutch to break Spain’s monop­oly. In fact, Java became the world’s lead­ing pro­duc­er of qui­nine until the 1940s. 

There is, how­ev­er, anoth­er side to this sto­ry. Manuel Incra Manami was an Aymara native who worked for Ledger. Many accounts say that Manami vol­un­tar­i­ly became Ledger’s ser­vant after the British adven­tur­er saved him from drown­ing. But the sto­ry fits so much into that racist, docile sav­age stereo­type I can’t believe it for a minute. Anyway, in one way or anoth­er, Manami end­ed up work­ing for Ledger, and he was the one who col­lect­ed the cin­chona seeds. Due to the plan­t’s pecu­liar bio­log­i­cal cycles, sourc­ing these seeds was a long and dif­fi­cult process, and it took Manami four years to get a decent amount. After hand­ing the seeds to Ledger, how­ev­er, Manami was some­how dis­cov­ered by the Bolivian colo­nial gov­ern­ment, and he was sub­se­quent­ly bru­tal­ly tor­tured and beat­en to death, and his role in spread­ing cin­chona seeds through­out the world is now bare­ly remem­bered. Again, a European took the cred­it for the work of an American native. Ledger appar­ent­ly did­n’t suf­fer any con­se­quences for smug­gling the seeds. No doc­u­ment men­tions him being arrest­ed, pun­ished, or prosecuted.

Quite the con­trary, actu­al­ly. The vari­ety of cin­chona he had sold to the Dutch became known as cin­chona ledge­ri­ana” in his hon­or. Up until this point, the sto­ry of the cin­chona tree shows quite clear­ly how colo­nial pow­er rela­tions are built upon white suprema­cist beliefs, where Europeans are con­sid­ered as the only ones able to pro­duce true sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge about the world. Up until Talbor or Cobo brought the plant to the spot­light, knowl­edge about it was con­sid­ered mere­ly folk, indige­nous knowl­edge, a less­er type of knowl­edge that needs to be assim­i­lat­ed and appro­pri­at­ed by European sys­tems of knowl­edge in order to be con­sid­ered valid. Obviously this men­tal­i­ty is still alive and kick­ing, con­sid­er­ing the tone of most books and sci­en­tif­ic papers on the his­to­ry of the cin­chona tree.

But the par­al­lels between the his­to­ry of the plant and the his­to­ry of colo­nial pow­er don’t end here. The cin­chona tree was­n’t only a prof­itable busi­ness for colo­nial empires, it was also a strate­gic asset for colo­nial expan­sion. Access to an effec­tive anti-malarial med­ica­tion allowed for the col­o­niza­tion of oth­er trop­i­cal parts of the world where malar­ia was also endem­ic. In fact, Clifford Conner points out that access to qui­nine was essen­tial to the European inva­sion and col­o­niza­tion of the Gulf Coast, Nigeria, and oth­er parts of West Africa, which had been known up until that point as the white man’s grave,” part­ly due to the dan­gers of malaria. 

In the 20th cen­tu­ry, the com­bi­na­tion of access to qui­nine and colo­nial dom­i­na­tion played an essen­tial role in World War II. Remember Java and the seeds that the Dutch had bought from Ledger and plant­ed there? Well, when Germany invad­ed the Neterlands and Japan seized Java dur­ing the con­flict, the Allies were cut off from what had been the world’s largest sup­ply of qui­nine up until that point. Soon, malar­ia became a huge prob­lem for Allied troops fight­ing in the Pacific. Many stud­ies report that there were more American sol­diers dying of malar­ia than by Japanese bul­lets. There was a syn­thet­ic anti-malarial avail­able called atabrine. However, it pro­duced hor­ren­dous side-effects and lacked the effi­cien­cy of qui­nine. Adding to that, the Japanese suc­cess­ful­ly spread the rumor that it caught impo­ten­cy, so Allied sol­diers avoid­ed it like the plague. And I guess I should men­tion that the com­pa­ny that orig­i­nal­ly man­u­fac­tured atabrine was German, so get­ting a hold of a reli­able source of qui­nine became a mat­ter of nation­al security. 

The US gov­ern­ment approached the main cinchona-producing coun­tries in Latin America and offered a deal. These coun­tries would pro­vide tech­ni­cal and logis­ti­cal aid in the har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing of the cin­chona bark and the US would enjoy sole buy­ing priv­i­leges for the prod­uct, and in return the US would estab­lish a prop­er cin­chona cul­ti­va­tion pro­gram in those coun­tries. However, har­vest­ing the bark was not an easy task. The amount of qui­nine in the bark var­ied wild­ly between dif­fer­ent vari­eties of cin­chona and most American botanists were not famil­iar with the weath­er nor the envi­ron­ment, and con­flicts arose between those involved in the trade. The pro­gram was a total flop. In 1944, the cin­chona mis­sions were closed and all of the agree­ments with Latin American coun­tries were ter­mi­nat­ed in 1945.

In the mean­time, also in 1944, a syn­thet­ic qui­nine com­pound had final­ly been syn­the­sized. Even though it could­n’t cure malar­ia, it man­aged to suc­cess­ful­ly con­trol the dis­ease. But again, it was too late. The war end­ed soon after, in August 1945. What I find most inter­est­ing in the his­to­ry of the cin­chona tree, and the rea­son why I chose it to intro­duce our sub­ject today, was pre­cise­ly how impor­tant it was for the polit­i­cal for­ma­tion of the world as we know it. 

Cinchona trees, and cin­chona seeds helped expand colo­nial empires, and played a strate­gic role in World War II. They gave life to those suf­fer­ing from a dead­ly dis­ease, but were also the rea­son for many to be tor­tured and mur­dered, and they were one of the old­est and clear­est exam­ples we could find of how indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and col­o­nized peo­ple are hurt by biopira­cy and bioprospecting.

But wait. What exact­ly are biopira­cy and bio­prospect­ing, and how exact­ly do they work?

Zara: Biopiracy” is a way to describe the appro­pri­a­tion or use of indige­nous forms of knowl­edge by com­mer­cial actors. In prac­tice this could be, for exam­ple, sci­en­tists or researchers com­ing to an area like indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in Mexico to learn about their med­i­cines and com­pounds, then tak­ing sam­ples of this back to their research insti­tu­tions and even­tu­al­ly get­ting a patent on them. They might do this to search for previously-unknown com­pounds in organ­isms that have nev­er been used in the West before.

A form of biopira­cy is bio­prospect­ing, when researchers find com­pounds, plants, or med­i­cines used by indige­nous and patent it with­out rec­og­niz­ing that the knowl­edge is nei­ther new nor invent­ed by the paten­ter. Somewhat incred­i­bly, this patent might lat­er be used against the com­mu­ni­ty from whom the knowl­edge was first found, and usu­al­ly the rights to the com­mer­cial prof­its from this kind of tech­nol­o­gy are denied to the indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty. This kind of behav­ior increas­es inequal­i­ty between devel­op­ing coun­tries with rich and diverse bio­di­ver­si­ty and devel­oped coun­tries who host com­pa­nies with com­mer­cial intent and huge glob­al reach.

Luiza: So this is pret­ty clear­ly what hap­pened to the cin­chona tree, too. Even though patents weren’t a thing in the 17th cen­tu­ry, men like Sir Robert Talbor essen­tial­ly took this indige­nous knowl­edge and used it to make prof­it, not only finan­cial­ly but also aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, pro­fes­sion­al­ly, and so on. He essen­tial­ly appro­pri­at­ed this knowl­edge as his own trademark.

Zara: In the past, as we’ve heard, this kind of behav­ior went fair­ly unno­ticed. One of the first, most well-known cas­es of biopira­cy was the Maya International Cooperative Biodiversity Group. It began as an alliance between the University of Georgia in the US, a small Welsh phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal group, and an NGO intend­ed to rep­re­sent the indige­nous Maya of Chiapas, as well as var­i­ous US fed­er­al agen­cies. The aim of the project was to pro­mote drug dis­cov­ery from nat­ur­al sources, bio­di­ver­si­ty con­ser­va­tion, and sus­tain­able eco­nom­ic growth in devel­op­ing coun­tries. But even though the project had a code of ethics, and the two main researchers had years of expe­ri­ence in work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties in the region, lots of con­cerns were raised by peo­ple with­in the community.

The major issue here was the idea of gain­ing pri­or informed con­sent from those com­mu­ni­ties. According to Sebastian Luna, an indige­nous spokesper­son from the coun­cil, the project is a rob­bery of tra­di­tion­al indige­nous knowl­edge and resources with the sole pur­pose of pro­duc­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals that will not ben­e­fit the com­mu­ni­ties that have man­aged and nur­tured these resources for thou­sands of years.” Luna explains in a writ­ten state­ment how the project aimed explic­it­ly at pri­va­tiz­ing and com­mer­cial­iz­ing knowl­edge that up until that point had always been col­lec­tive­ly owned, and this move con­tra­dict­ed strong­ly with the cul­ture and tra­di­tions of the com­mu­ni­ties involved. It was also dif­fi­cult giv­en that some indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty took the deci­sion to actu­al­ly col­lab­o­rate with the researchers in return for a rel­a­tive­ly small amount of mon­ey but one that made a big dif­fer­ence to their per­son­al eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tions, which were very dif­fi­cult at the time. 

As well as the indige­nous activists who spoke out against the project, it was also crit­i­cized wide­ly by Mexican intel­lec­tu­als and activists, who ques­tioned how the results of the research would ever be shared back with the local com­mu­ni­ties involved. Because of the con­tro­ver­sy around it, the local Mexican part­ner with­drew and in 2001, the project closed down with­out hav­ing pro­duced sig­nif­i­cant results.

So what kind of respons­es are there in response to biopiracy?

Luiza: Again, a par­al­lel with the cin­chona case. The col­lab­o­ra­tion between the US and the Latin American coun­tries that pro­duced cin­chona dur­ing the war worked in a pret­ty sim­i­lar fash­ion. The US gov­ern­ment had enough pow­er over these coun­tries to lure them into sign­ing that agree­ment, and as soon as it real­ized the process would­n’t be imme­di­ate­ly prof­itable to them, as they had imag­ined, they pulled and left those who were involved in the trade to fend for themselves

But the his­to­ry of seeds is not mere­ly that of the pow­er­ful screw­ing over the pow­er­less. There is anoth­er side to it, too.

Zara: India start­ed the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library Project, an Indian dig­i­tal knowl­edge repos­i­to­ry of the tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge, espe­cial­ly about med­i­c­i­nal plants and for­mu­la­tions used in Indian sys­tems of med­i­cine. It was set up in 2001 and seeks to clas­si­fy and keep a pub­lic record of med­i­cines that have been used for years in India. It pro­tects the tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge of the coun­try from exploita­tion by biopira­cy and uneth­i­cal patents, and it also makes access to the data­base much eas­i­er than before.

It essen­tial­ly start­ed as a response to biopira­cy and patent claims. For exam­ple, in the past patents have been grant­ed on turmer­ic and even bas­mati rice, and one of the main obsta­cles around this issue is that the patent exam­in­ers could­n’t search through tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge to see if it had already exist­ed pri­or to the patent being brought about. 

In part, this was because of a lan­guage bar­ri­er. Traditional Indian knowl­edge might exist in any local lan­guage such as Sanskrit, Urdu, Tamil, among many, where­as the patent exam­in­ers, in these cas­es like­ly com­ing from the US, were unlike­ly to be able to under­stand these lan­guages. Within the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, that infor­ma­tion is now avail­able in English, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese, mean­ing that hope­ful­ly it’s more like­ly to be used and referred to by patent exam­in­ers. It gives mod­ern names to med­i­cines and aims to bridge the gap between tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge and mod­ern knowledges. 

On the web site, they’ve been keep­ing a record of patents com­ing large­ly from the US, Canada, and Europe that have been with­drawn thanks to ref­er­ence to the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library and up til now, they’ve clas­si­fied about 200,000 dif­fer­ent formulations.

Another response that can be seen among com­mu­ni­ty activists is the estab­lish­ment of com­mu­ni­ty seed banks aimed at pro­tect­ing indige­nous seeds, help­ing farm­ers return to organ­ic farm­ing, and reduc­ing depen­den­cy upon multi-national cor­po­ra­tions. This is all great when we think about the response or the kind of effect that multi-national cor­po­ra­tions have had on a very low lev­el at affect­ing what farm­ers can do on an indi­vid­ual basis. But anoth­er way that we can see involve­ment in the way that seeds are used across the world is on a much high­er lev­el, think­ing about it on a pol­i­cy level.

For exam­ple, in 2010 in Colombia, a new seed law was brought in, Law 970, which gave con­trol of the coun­try’s seeds to the gov­ern­ment, mak­ing it offi­cial­ly ille­gal to share, trade, or sell native seeds among farm­ers. Farmers were asked to reg­is­ter as breed­ers of cer­ti­fied seeds, and those caught with uncer­ti­fied seeds faced 3 to 4 years in jail. Basically it would have forced farm­ers to buy com­mer­cial seeds from pri­vate com­pa­nies and transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions, forc­ing depen­dence on for­eign seed imports.

In 2012, the Colombian gov­ern­ment attempt­ed to enforce the res­o­lu­tion and sent riot squads to con­fis­cate and destroy all ille­gal” crops. In total, 2 mil­lion tons of food were destroyed in the raids and this destruc­tion was doc­u­ment­ed in a film by Victoria Solano, which helped raise pub­lic aware­ness of the issue. 

Thanks to mas­sive pub­lic out­cry and a three-week long gen­er­al strike in September 2013, the law was sus­pend­ed. This is just one exam­ple of how International pres­sure has forced food-producing nations to mod­i­fy the tech­nol­o­gy they used for pro­duc­ing food. 

We can see anoth­er exam­ple in El Salvador, where farm­ers unit­ed to block a stip­u­la­tion in a US aid pack­age to their coun­try that would’ve indi­rect­ly required the pur­chase of Monsanto genetically-modified seeds. Basically, as one of the pre­con­di­tions to autho­riz­ing close to $277 mil­lion dol­lars in aid, the United States attempt­ed to pres­sure El Salvador into pur­chas­ing the seeds instead of using non-GM seeds from local farmers. 

In this case, the US involve­ment is much more direct than in the Colombian exam­ple just men­tioned. Essentially, say­ing no to Monsanto and no to buy­ing the seeds meant also say­ing no to the aid mon­ey. This kind of black­mail picked up quite a lot of trac­tion in the media. Thanks to International media cov­er­age and the farm­ers in El Salvador unit­ing against the move, from what I can find it looks as though the stip­u­la­tion was changed, though actu­al­ly I could­n’t find any­thing that con­firmed that El Salvador had actu­al­ly received the aid after chang­ing that stipulation.

Sadly, these kinds of poli­cies can be seen across the world. In Ghana, for exam­ple, there’s a new bill under con­sid­er­a­tion offi­cial­ly called the Plant Breeders Bill and oth­er­wise known as the Monsanto Law.” In essence, sim­i­lar to the Colombian bill men­tioned pre­vi­ous­ly, for cer­tain crops, farm­ers would have to depend upon cer­tain cer­ti­fied seeds com­ing from multi-national com­pa­nies and oth­er GMO seed pro­duc­ers. The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion con­tains rules that would restrict farm­ers from an age-old prac­tice: freely sav­ing and breed­ing seeds. 

The argu­ment for this law says that it would incen­tivize the devel­op­ment of new seed vari­eties, but peo­ple cam­paign­ing against the law fear that it would allow cor­po­ra­tions to exploit farm­ers and push genetically-modified seeds into the coun­try. This kind of nar­ra­tive of law and poli­cies being changed in food-producing coun­tries to the ben­e­fit of multi-national cor­po­ra­tions is pop­ping up more and more. Through var­i­ous public/private part­ner­ships (that is, gov­ern­ments part­ner­ing with private-sector com­pa­nies) many of these poli­cies are gain­ing legit­i­ma­cy, and thanks to phil­an­thropic fun­ders who are able to inter­vene in poor­er coun­tries with­out much over­sight, it’s becom­ing dif­fi­cult to know what’s real­ly been agreed upon. 

Just a cou­ple of weeks ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that is the phil­an­thropic foun­da­tion of Bill Gates, orga­nized a meet­ing togeth­er with US Aid to talk about the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of agri­cul­ture in Africa. Attendees at the meet­ing includ­ed cor­po­ra­tions, devel­op­ment bod­ies, trade bod­ies, and aid donors, but exclud­ed any African farm­ers or rep­re­sen­ta­tives of affect­ed organizations. 

In the­o­ry, the projects that the Gates Foundation are sup­port­ing sound rather noble. For exam­ple, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (or AGRA) aims to, in their words, ben­e­fit small-scale farm­ers by pro­vid­ing them with high-yield seed vari­eties in the future. However, in prac­tice, the use of high-yield isn’t quite as sim­ple as it seems. 

According to the Bio-Foundation, a research insti­tute based in Switzerland, use of these seeds brings with it many prob­lems such as envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, water short­ages, soil ero­sion, and reduc­tion in bio­di­ver­si­ty. In addi­tion, the high-yield seeds often require huge quan­ti­ties of fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides in order to achieve the desired yields. So the farm­ers would be forced to pur­chase these, too. 

Heidi Chow, a food sov­er­eign­ty com­paign­er at Global Justice Now said about this meeting, 

The mea­sures being pro­mot­ed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will enable big agribusi­ness com­pa­nies to take even more con­trol over seeds across Africa at the expense of small-scale farm­ers. This is not aid’ — it’s anoth­er form of colo­nial­ism. We need to ensure that the con­trol of seeds and oth­er agri­cul­tur­al resources stay firm­ly in the hands of small farm­ers who feed the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion in Africa rather than allow­ing big agribusi­ness to dom­i­nate even more aspects of the food system.
Heidi Chow, Food sov­er­eign­ty activists protest at Bill Gate’s cor­po­rate seed con­fer­ence

Luiza: Though it’s easy to think of seeds and tech­nol­o­gy being used as a form of con­trol in the past through colo­nial­ism in the 17th or 18th cen­turies, it’s hap­pen­ing even more effec­tive­ly today, as we’ve seen. Biotechnology com­pa­nies such as Monsanto have mas­sive reach­es and with the sup­port of rich gov­ern­ments and foun­da­tions like the Gates Foundation, they def­i­nite­ly have mon­ey and sad­ly influ­ence on their side. 

Zara: Nowadays there seem to be two major ways in which rich nations are affect­ing the use of seeds in poor­er coun­tries. Firstly, bot­tom up through mod­i­fy­ing the seeds that farm­ers use and either sell­ing these or giv­ing these to farmers. 

Luiza: And sec­ond­ly top down by influ­enc­ing pol­i­cy in coun­try gov­ern­ments, which might lim­it farm­ers to use cer­tain types of seeds and restrict shar­ing and modifying.

Zara: The scari­est part of look­ing into this top­ic for me is that many of these inter­ven­tions might go entire­ly unseen by the farmer, that they might not even have a clue that the seeds they’ve been plant­i­ng have been mod­i­fied at all. Equally, those liv­ing in rur­al areas with lit­tle con­tact to nation­al admin­is­tra­tion might have no idea that poli­cies are chang­ing or have been changed, until it’s too late.

Luiza: What struck me the most when research­ing for this episode was how look­ing into seeds and the ways they have been used through­out his­to­ry gave me a clear­er glimpse of the foun­da­tions of neolib­er­al­ism and the val­ues upon which it was built. Spain, Britain, France, and oth­er colo­nial pow­ers expand­ed their empires through the appro­pri­a­tion, exploita­tion, and com­mer­cial­iza­tion of nat­ur­al resources com­ing from the lands they had invad­ed. They appro­pri­at­ed knowl­edge that had been devel­oped by indige­nous peo­ples, used it to their prof­it, deplet­ed the nat­ur­al resources that sus­tained these peo­ples, and enslaved non-white pop­u­la­tions in order to fur­ther their eco­nom­ic interests. 

The his­to­ry of seeds reflects the his­to­ry of colo­nial­ism, of white suprema­cy, and ulti­mate­ly of neoliberalism.

Zara: Just think­ing through how dif­fer­ent uses for seeds were used as a form of con­trol on dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions, we can see mul­ti­ple trends repeat­ing them­selves from colo­nial times until today. 

We hope you found our jour­ney into seeds as inter­est­ing as we did. Thanks for lis­ten­ing to the first full episode of Collusion. Until next time.

Further Reference

Research and links for this episode at the Collusion Tumblr site.

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