When God created the earth (by whatever mechanism you choose, depending on your theology or the lack of it), he placed in it certain unbreakable rules that function pretty much if you are a diehard Darwinian too. One of those is that every plant, animal, insect, bird, fish, primate, whatever, would reproduce “after its kind” to use the Authorised Version of Genesis. Thanks to Mendel, and subsequent geneticists, we have a pretty shrewd idea of how that works, although we have to rely on theology for the why. Occasionally we get the odd mismatch, mutation, which gives the Darwinians the way in to find a mechanism as to how species change. There is much to be understood in this area, and this blog is not quite the place to delve into it, but I will gladly open the discussion with anyone who would like to.
Either way you look at it, it is the intention of the Creator that those created should bring forth after their kind – and the mechanism we have to thank for that, if you are a plant, are seeds. These amazing little things contain the information and fertility that can be transmitted so that more plants can grow and it can reproduce “after its kind”. That is the plan. And it has kept the earth fed and farming for millenia. Breeders have tried to generate crops that are better – new drought-resistant strains and higher-yield strains, especially of staple grains. Some of these are successes, the product of genuine attempts to grow a plant that will enable poor farmers to escape poverty more quickly or to move from subsistence to export.
On the principle that the earth has enough to feed all its population (and it does, by the way – it is only our greed and corruption and attempts to dominate global food supply that stops it), and on the over-arching generosity of God expressed in Psalm 145:
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made”,
you would have to agree that our presence on the earth as created beings comes with the good expectation that the earth will feed us, and that we should be able to live under God in a way that is economically productive of the earth for our communities.
“God is in all things, and we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical Atheism; but, with a true magnificence of thought, survey heaven and earth, and all that is therein, as contained by God in the hollow of his hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and actuates the whole created frame, and is, in a true sense, the soul of the universe.”
Why all this, then? Well, mainly because I am getting angry about something and I think you should do too. Certainly, for those who witnessed it this morning, it is a lot better than me losing my temper with the office photocopier. I apologise, photocopier.
If the purpose of God is to feed us through the provision of grain, fruit and vegetables, to allow each plant to bring forth after its own kind, then it stands to reason that a core principle of farming is to retain some of the seed from one year’s crop in order to sow them the following year. That is good husbandry, fitted with the purpose of God for the land and for his creation.
Further, if it is the purpose and plan of a loving Creator God to feed his creation through the provision of grain, then one of the most sinful things we can do on earth is to mess with that. If we decide that we can genetically modify a plant so that the seeds will grow into a plant that can be eaten in one generation, but is made STERILE so that the seed from the plant cannot be used by the grower to grow plants in the next generation, and then, for good measure, we copyright the technology so that farmers have to buy our seed if they are to eat, then we have played God in the most sinful fashion.
And that is exactly what is happening in many parts of the world, where large corporations, Monsanto among them, are holding communities hostage, encouraging huge monocultures based on buying seed annually from a single source because they have genetically modified it. In India, 250,000 farmers are reported to have committed suicide over this issue. It is huge, and it is sinful, by any measure you choose. To choose to modify life so that it cannot reproduce is a kind of grain abortion, but worse, not done for health reasons, but done for money. It is a sin and should be fought against.
This is not a Christian issue (although it absolutely should be); it is a human issue, and an issue for anyone who cares about justice and the lives and prosperity of the poor. Read this, from Dr Vandana Shiva, leader of the Navdanya movement that campaigns on a range of rural and women’s issues in India, but is one of the most outspoken (beautifully so) people in the world on Seed Conservation and Seed Poverty:
This gift or “dana” of Navadhanyas (nine seeds) is the ultimate gift – it is a gift of life, of heritage and continuity. Conserving seed is conserving biodiversity, conserving knowledge of the seed and its utilization, conserving culture, conserving sustainability.
If you read Navdanya’s philosophy of fair trade, you will hardly find a better exposition of what it is to be alive and human and communal than this. Only Wendell Berry writes better on this subject. Dr Shiva is thoroughly Hindu in her faith and approach, and the language she uses in the fair trade piece reflects that, to her great credit. She has seen, as Berry has seen, as the Amish have seen, that there is a deep link between our faith and how we love and care for the earth. It is the Lord’s, still, really, and we have a deep duty to this. That is a strong message of harvest. The earth is not for pillage and rape, but for gentle and economic stewardship in a cooperative enterprise. God has given us food. We steward it and make sure we have enough for next year, not modifying the grain so that we can make money from it at the expense of our neighbour.
Navdanya have designated 2-16 October “Seed Freedom Fortnight“. Not many days left, but you never know. A little bit of thinking might go a long way. I would be interested in reactions.