Episode 275. The Miracle that is a Seed

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 25th of October 2021.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

From a seed all things are possible. The magic that is a seed still amazes and surprises me, every time I plant. Equally, every time I plant seeds I feel a frisson of panic and anxiety. What’s going on down there? Are things “working”? But once the seeds break ground, I feel like a new parent. It really is remarkable that this still happens every time but there you go. I also worry and pace while chook is broody so maybe it’s just the expectation of new life. 

Apart from all the instructions for growing the new plant, seeds represent and embody so much more.

There’s evidence of photosynthesis in multicellular organisms dating back 850 million years. That’s a long time, when viewed from the human perspective, even longer from an annual plant’s. All the variations in conditions, the mass extinctions, the repopulation and so on are held with the seed.

The knowledge, no that’s not the word, the information held in each seed with variation within species is what keeps us from starving. Let me explain. In those 850 million years, many virus and bacterial attacks on plants have been faced and mostly defeated. The genetic variability within a given species is the evolved safety net that meets new pathogens. I’ve been looking for evidence of individuals who have inbuilt resistance to Sars-CoV2. The non symptomatic individuals would represent a subset of these individuals but, according to the Theory of Evolution, there’s a fairly high probability of individuals whose immune system was ready to repulse the virus on their own. Not many in a pandemic but some. 


In the same way the Peruvian potato harvest was not substantially reduced during the Great Famine in Ireland as the potato blight destroyed the crop there for years. The genetic diversity in Peru and access to more of the wild/wilder varieties provided that evolutionary safety net. That the majority of spuds in Ireland were all one variety and  vegetatively reproduced meant they were, in reality, clones of themselves. Unfortunately the variety was susceptible to blight. This would’ve caused discomfort at best had other food sources been available but the British shipped all the grain and meat to England turning an environmental disaster into human catastrophe. 

Seeds matter and so too does the society in which they grow.

From the Public Eye Website comes a piece entitled: The dangerous concentration of the seed market.


There has been a strongly increased trend of concentration in the seed market over the last twenty years. This has now reached the point where a handful of multinationals control the global market. This situation impacts the price of seeds as well as the offer that is tailor-made for industrial agriculture and linked to heavy use of chemical inputs.

End Quote

In the same way the Irish potato had become one cloned individual, susceptible to a single pathogen, the concentration of global seed companies is setting us up for a similar situation. The current situation is potentially more dangerous. The same seeds are grown across the globe, designed with the same chemical inputs and the same need for water. As I write, the North American drought, the frosts and drought on the European steppe and rainfall variation across Africa and the sub-continent. Wheat and canola harvests looking dodgy, corn looking ok and then we throw in rising, perhaps, rocketing oil prices and food shortages are not an impossibility. 

Three Crops: 51% of Food

Maize, rice and wheat represent 51% of the staple crops grown around the world, link in the show notes, and this concentration is just as worrying as the seed companies. We have chosen, through the application of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, to put half our food needs into three crops, at the same time reducing the number of cultivars and hydribidizing them to within an inch of variability.

And this is in a relatively “normal” year. If a pathogen of one of the major crops explodes, the suffering will be enormous. 

What’s to be done?

Support the small local seed producers who still sell open pollinated varieties and remember to save your own too. If there are any “ancient bakers”, that is bakers only using the older wheat varieties like, emmer and einkorn, or even the rejuvenated 18th and 19th century varieties of wheat, support them. What gets rewarded gets done.

If you have the energy and the inclination, lobby politicians for the breakup of multinational seed companies, to separate fertilizer producers from seed merchants. This is a huge task. Overcoming the lobbying funds of those companies will take a Herculean effort but the benefits would be substantial to our species and the greater biosphere. I suspect the best action will be at the local/household level. A huge underground community of seed savers who are ready to step forward when the inevitable crop disasters come. Svalbard and the other seed libraries around the world are a good insurance policy but add a localised cadre of guerilla seed savers and the world will be in a much safer place.

If you have any thoughts on this, the Facebook Group: ChangeUndergound Podcast Group would be a great place to get in touch.

Decarbonise the air and Recarbonise the soil.

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




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Bubugo Conservation Trust


Plant Evolution


The dangerous concentration of the seed market


What Are The World’s Most Important Staple Foods?


Invisible Hand


Svalbard Global Seed Vault


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