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Five Laws of Genetic Conservation

The Five Laws of Genetic Conservation quoted and discussed below are found in Fowler and Mooney's Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity, University of Arizona Press. These laws illustrate good reasons that our participation as individuals is essential to the preservation of genetic diversity in our food plants.

Though it is easy to feel powerless in these days of huge, faceless corporations and political bureaucracies, individuals still can-and regularly do-make a significant difference in what will happen. If just one individual saves just one variety from being lost, that variety is still with us instead of becoming extinct.

The difference between life and death is infinite... how else can one person have so great an impact!

1) "Agricultural diversity can only be safeguarded through the use of diverse strategies."

There is strength in diversity; many small, complementary conservation strategies working together provide more certain protection than a single, massive effort whose failure would endanger the entire range of genetic materials.

This is one reason for the insufficiency of cold storage seed banks for insuring preservation of genetic lines. Not only does the possibility of failure of freezers, etc. exist, but the genetic makeup of a sample of seeds changes during storage since some percentage of seeds will die or develop cellular mutations during storage (seed bank seeds are not commonly regrown until at least 30% or more of the seeds in a sample have died).

Broad efforts are needed to insure against a wide range of dangers. The genetic diversity we now enjoy in our domesticated food plant varieties was developed during millennia by myriad farmers and gardeners working within myriad cultures and climates. A similarly-broad range of strategies for protecting our food plants' genetic heritage is called for.

2) "What agricultural diversity is saved depends on who is consulted. How much is saved depends on how many people are involved."

Our human needs for a stable food supply are not safeguarded by allowing mega-corporations to determine the values that are placed upon existing genetic materials. If we want to insure that our genetic diversity is preserved according to our own values, then we must become involved in our own food supplies and the plants which produce them.

Further, since our food plant varieties evolved in response to so many different climates and growing techniques, only a similarly-large number of different growing conditions can be safely relied upon for continued maintenance of those diverse varieties.

3) "Agricultural diversity will not be saved unless it is used."

As we fail to grow and save seeds from more and more varieties of food plants, many of these are lost through our neglect.

Seeds do not live forever in storage, and unless a variety is grown and seed saved periodically, the variety is lost. Further, seeds produced under uniform conditions over many generations lose parts of their genetic makeup that are not suited to those particular conditions.

If we want to maintain genetic diversity, we must maintain a diversity of conditions under which our food plants are expected to survive and continue evolving.

4) "Agricultural diversity cannot be saved without saving the farm community. Conversely, the farm community cannot be saved without saving [agricultural] diversity."

For the same reasons that #3 above is true, an agricultural system based on saving seeds from a diversity of food plants grown on small family farms is essential to continuing genetic diversity.

While "factory farms" can profitably ("profit" is a key word here) grow a single variety over many thousands of acres in diverse locations, the small farmer's need for seeds adapted to local growing conditions is essential to their success. Locally adapted, open-pollinated seeds can be saved by a farmer from year to year for replanting-saving a considerable expense in seed costs which would otherwise often have to be borrowed.

Also, seeds better adapted to an individual farmer's growing conditions can be profitably grown with much smaller inputs of expensive chemical fertilizers and poisons—substances which are expensive not only financially but in ecological and health terms as well.

5) "The need for diversity is never-ending. Therefore, our efforts to preserve this diversity can never cease. Because extinction is forever, conservation must be forever."

This principle speaks for itself.

Like the maintenance of political liberty, the fight to maintain "genetic liberty"—the liberty to choose the plants we will grow and eat—must be perpetual. Any time we allow a single variety to die, that variety is lost forever and cannot be reclaimed—fantasies of a technological solution to save lost genetic heritages notwithstanding.

We owe it to ourselves-and to our children, and their children for millennia to come-not to become an era which so devalued Life itself as to decimate its diversity and even threaten its very existence.

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Reprinted from (Perma) Culture and Sanity Website