Seed lies at the heart of our farming and  food systems. In most traditions, it is largely women who have cultivated a diversity of seeds to feed their families and provide for community ceremonies. This diversity enabled them to respond to climatic changes and maintain the resilience of their food system. These seeds and the related knowledge about them, have been passed on from one generation to the next. This is the story of the diverse cultural food we know  from around our African continent.

But this story has changed in just a few decades…..

Today, the dominant story of seed has become one of loss, control, dependence, debt and death. It is the story written by those who are intent on making vast profit from our food systems, regardless of the cost to people, our nutrition, ecosystems, future generations and the planet as a whole.


A woman displays her seeds, April 2013 (Photo Credit Juliana Thornton)

The modern system of corporate controlled industrial agriculture, using hybrid and patented genetically modified seeds, cut off from their evolution as living organisms in their natural environment. In the last century, three-quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops have been lost. Thirty crops now provide 95% of our food needs, with rice, wheat, maize, and potato alone providing 60%.

Vast fields of genetically identical crops are much more susceptible to pests, necessitating increased pesticide use. The lack of diversity also endangers our food supply, as an influx of pests or disease can wipe out enormous quantities of mono-crops in one fell swoop.

It is now internationally recognised that up to 75 percent of food insecure people globally depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. In South Africa, the agricultural and industrial giant of the continent, 12 million people are considered food insecure with 70 per cent of them living in rural areas (de Schutter, 2011).

In general, food security in rural areas is linked to the loss of seed. The response from governments is to supply commercial seeds and fertilisers to farmers, rather than address the cause of the problem

Our Response

EarthLore’s work is rooted in enabling communities to re-establish their traditional seed diversity, regain sovereignty over their cultural food system, and restore the integrity of their relationship with their land by reviving their sacred natural sites and practicing associated rituals and ceremonies.

Seeds of Freedom

Seeds of Freedom, narrated by Jeremy Irons (actor and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), was launched in June 2012.  The film has proved a huge success and is available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian – with more translations in the pipeline.  A new website now hosts the film and shares information about good practice and innovation, such as EarthLore’s work to revive traditional seed diversity.

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