Friday, 11 July 2014
The great seed-sharing tug-of-war
I have to confess, I find the new campaign websites pretty im-possible. I was involved in the early discussions to launch 38 Degrees, but I've ending up chewing the carpet in frustration about their infuriating naivety and ignorance about what is actually happening at Westminster, which wastes huge amounts of energy, mainly theirs and that of their supporters.
Avaaz is, in some ways, even more irritating. They pick the right causes, but they don't seem to have thought through the basics of transparency.
Take their latest campaign to crowdfund a global non-GM seed exchange. Basic politeness suggests that it might make sense to say how much money is needed in total, and how much has been raised. Nothing - and no replies to my requests for an answer.
There may be a good reason for the silence, in which case it might make sense to say so. Otherwise it is arrogant and unimaginative and probably counter-productive.
So why did I carry on regardless and donate?
Because the issue of who owns the world's seeds, and the genetic heritage that lies behind it, is so important. And the idea of a seed bank which allows small farmers all over the world to exchange seeds, including the whole diversity of the planet's genetic heritage - and without having to shell out a cut to the monopolists - is potentially a game-changer. If the monopolists allow it to happen (they don't like competition).
In fact, here is an opportunity for the two models of the free market to go head to head.
Model 1 (actually Model 1B, but let's leave that aside) suggests that food production will be supported most effectively by large companies which have efficiencies of scale and which can develop and own new varieties of seeds which they can control.
Model 2 suggests that food production will be supported most effectively by supporting the small farmers who do it most efficiently, and by a system of sharing that allows them to keep more of their own profits.
Model 1 means concentration; Model 2 involves sharing and diversity. Which works best?
In 1845, there was a famous tug of war between the screw-propelled HMS Rattler and the paddle-powered HMS Alecto. The Rattler won convincingly, towing its opponent backwards at a rate of two knots and the paddle went out of fashion.
If we can get this right, then we will have Monsanto versus Seed Bank Sharing tug-of-war, and we will now one way or another, which is the most effective. When the Seed Bank tows Monsanto backwards at two knots, we will know something important has happened.
But Avaaz has to come clean about some of the details - how much money is needed, who will be responsible, who will own it, when will it begin? They just need to take their supporters seriously. Because if they can't take the punters seriously, how are they going to take the formidable and well-resourced opposition (Model 1) seriously?