Dominique Guillet, founder of the well‑known French seed company, Terra de Semences, was here for two weeks in April. In this short period he has sown the seed for an important venture in Auroville

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Kokopelli Dreams
Dominique Guillet, founder of the well‑known French seed company, Terra de Semences, was here for two weeks in April. In this short period he has sown the seed for an important venture in Auroville.
In the legends of the Hopi Indians lives a hunch‑backed flute player associated with fer­tility and germination called Kokopelli. It is said that his humped back is actu­ally a bag of seeds that he sows with the wind and that he plays melodies on his flute to charm their growth. In a modern day incarnation, Kokopelli is a source of inspiration for Terra de Semences (Earth of Seeds), the biggest seed saving‑and‑exchange network in Europe, and for its sister organisation, Association Kokopelli.

Says Dominique Guillet the force behind Terre de Semens, "seeds are the essence of all life and civilization. Without seeds, the basis of food pro­duction, civilization will wither and life cannot exist. For ten thousand years human beings lived in a cyclic ritual where they sowed seeds, produced food and saved seeds for the next sow­ing. Seeds were given or exchanged but never sold. And every country, every great civilization, had their totems like Kokopelli, their songs and rituals that were associated with the sowing of seeds and the nurturing of plants.

The commercialization of seeds
"Today, gigantic companies con­trol the rights to the sale of seeds and to food‑production. Ten multinational companies such as Monsanto, Novartis, DuPont, etc. control 40% of the seeds in the whole world(Not sur­prisingly, the same ten companies also control 40% of the agro‑chemical mar­ket). Seed production which was essentially a natural, self‑sustaining process is now governed by industrial and mar­ket concerns. Seeds are engineered in the laboratories of these companies so that they no longer have the capacity to reproduce. Even a hybrid produced by cross‑pollination of two varieties of the same species does not have a high via­bility rate for continued reproduction. And at the extreme end of this engi­neered madness is the "terminator" seed developed by Monsanto that is genetically manipulated to self‑destruct‑‑to sterilize not only the seeds produced by the mother plant but also seeds of other plants that come in to contact with it through pollination. As I see it, by stripping the seeds of their inherent capability to reproduce, we are destroying their essential creative feminine power.

"In the last forty years, since the introduction of international patenting of seeds, over a thousand seed banks all over the world have been bought up by the multinational conglomerates. There has also been a corresponding loss of bio‑diversity for to suit the mar­keting process only a limited number of hybrid varieties are sold in the shops and supermarkets.

Terra de Semences and Association Kokopelli
"I came into this field in the early nineties with the creation of a botanical garden to help protect the genetic bio­diversity of plants. The garden was part of a social rehabilitation project that I was involved in. And Terra de Semences, a commercial outlet for nat­urally occurring seeds, was started in 1994 to give the necessary economic base to the social rehabilitation project. Slowly, the network of seed growers and buyers increased and Terra de Semences started operating throughout Europe. Terra de Semences has a seed collection from all over the world com­prising 400 varieties of tomatoes, 100 varieties of squash, 150 varieties of lettuce and so on.

"One‑and‑a‑half years ago, France passed a new law that requires a fee of US $200 to be paid annually for each traditional variety of seed possessed by a seed company but not registered in the national list. It will be financially impossible for Terre de Semences to meet this requirement. So I started a non‑profit seed‑exchange association, Association Kokopelli with over 5,000 members in different European coun­tries that will continue the work of Terre de Semences in protecting the bio‑diversity of plants. The members of Association Kokopelli support it by paying a membership fee in exchange for which they get our catalogue and free seeds. We ask our members to grow and collect seeds so that Association Kokopelli can distribute them in the poor countries of Asia and South America. This humanitarian cause is liked by all. Luckily we have the support of the public and the sym­pathy of the press, for without it we would have been wiped out by the political‑commercial nexus of seed business long ago."

The Revelation project
As chance would have it, the first person that Dominique met in Auroville was Stephan from Revelation Farm, and the Farm Group had just received a grant from Stichting de Zaaier to start a seed‑bank.

"Essentially the ground is ripe", says Dominique, "to introduce the seed‑exchange programme of Association Kokopelli in Auroville. I propose to start `Annadana' (meaning `gift of food' in Sanskrit), a network of small farmers and growers in India and other countries of South East Asia who will be given free seeds for sowing. Bernard, who for long while headed a national organic farmers association, has many contacts in India, and I myself am in touch with some growers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Auroville would act as the seed bank and the central distribution centre. I already have the necessary know‑how to manage a database of seeds and to make a catalogue. So with a small grant, the whole enterprise would sus­tain itself. I have already given many varieties of seeds to Stephan which is suitable for this tropical climate. And in a few months time, I will be coming back to Auroville for a year or two with more seeds in my bag.

"India is perhaps the most suitable country in which to host such a pro­gram. Seventy percent of her popu­lation still depends on the land, and it has an ancient tradition, still alive in certain areas, of preserving seeds, exchanging them and giving them away. The multinational seed business has already come to India, but the laws are not so stringent yet, and if we can establish a wide network of small growers, truly start a people's move­ment, then it cannot be wiped out by some commercial giant.

"Auroville has a crucial role to play in this. And it has to learn to give. I do not want the seeds to be sold. I want them to be given away free. I hope this seed‑exchange project effects a spiritual change; for after all seeds are the gift of life and the promise of the future."

Interview by Bindu

July 2000, #138

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