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The war of the forbidden seeds, the rebellion of French farmers

The war of the forbidden seeds, the rebellion of French farmers

Every Saturday morning, the Lices de Rennes market attracts artisans, fishermen and farmers from all over Brittany. It is the second largest in France and the stalls are spread out in a labyrinth in the central square of the city. In one corner, Gildas sells unusual fruits and vegetables.

Old varieties impossible to find in a supermarket. Weird pumpkins, tiny leeks and purplish cabbages that attract star chefs. "This is a violin," he says, picking up a small squash with wrinkled skin. "It is not registered in the catalog," he adds in a low voice. Since he started growing old varieties a decade ago, Gildas has feared the arrival of an unexpected check by agents of the official French seed catalog. A repertoire of the 7,000 types of fruits and vegetables that are allowed to be grown and sold in the country.


Those that are left out are considered illegal and their sale is punishable by a fine of 450 euros per variety. Gildas, aware of the risk he is running, does not back down. "Growing and conserving these seeds is a way to prevent multinationals from taking over what is alive," he explains. And is that most of the varieties in the catalog belong to giants of the agri-food industry such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Limagrain or RAGT. In 2012, 80% of the carrot varieties belonged to Limagrain, as did 56% of the broccoli, 64% of the radishes and 71% of the aubergines. In addition, the catalog allows registered seeds to be patented, preventing farmers from replanting their own seeds without paying a fee. With such control of agricultural production, some old varieties are today on the verge of disappearance. "The Pontoise cabbage is one of the few local cabbages we have left," explains Gildas. Its leaves make a gradient from dark purple to light green, colors that have made it popular in gastronomic restaurants in the area. Faced with the danger of extinction of fruits and vegetables, many associations have launched into the creation of seed banks.

By mail:

South of Toulouse, near the Pyrenees, the Kokopelli association has one of the largest in Europe. Its 3,000 varieties are marketed and mailed around the world to a network of 130,000 customers. "The particularity of Kokopelli is that we are not a dead collection", insists its director, Ananda Gillet, "all our seeds are available to gardeners and farmers." However, the civil disobedience they practice has not been without consequences. In 2004 the French State brought them to trial and the court sentenced them to pay a fine of 17,130 euros. "We never paid for it," admits Ananda, "with the protests of the farmers that caused the trial, the government has stopped bothering us."

Despite this, the battle of Kokopelli is not won. In August 2016, the French Senate environmental group passed an amendment to allow the seeds to be sold royalty-free, but the National Assembly later rejected it. This year they will try again. Meanwhile, Gildas will continue to sell its prohibited fruits and vegetables.

The voice of Galicia


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