When Seeds Are Outlawed

It Could Be A Matter Of Life Or Death

When Seeds Are Outlawed

By Abdellah Boudhira, www.facebook.com/abdellahfarmer

I am an organic farmer in Agadir, Morocco, nestled just 25 kilometers to the east of the Atlantic Ocean, where the mild climate is conducive to growing year round. My grandfather and father were farmers since the early 1950s when Morocco gained independence from France. While growing many different crops, their chief crop was tomato. My grandfather never bought seeds but only saved seeds from ripe healthy tomato plants until the late 1980s when hybrid Fseeds became available. The hybrids had the advantage of a long shelf life and could be exported internationally. These advantages caused Moroccan farmers to stop saving their heritage seeds and turn to using the hybrid seeds.

My grandfather passed away in 1998, the farm was split among the descendants, and much of it was sold off. My father kept his share of the small farm and continued to work the land, growing tomatoes, green beans, squash, potatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, and edible gourds. They marketed their produce in a way that included intermediaries, which meant that farmers received low prices for their produce but consumers paid high prices for the same produce. I chose to change the way we marketed our produce by selling directly to consumers in the city.

Realizing that food sold in the wholesale market came from conventional farms that were sprayed with chemicals, I would have an advantage if I could produce healthy food. I knew that in order to grow healthy food, I would first have to select healthy seeds. Unfortunately  the only seeds available in my area were the hybrid seeds. However, because I was competent using the English language (by the way I am Berber man), I created a Facebook account and quickly gained friends in the United States. Those friends told me about the availability of heirloom seeds from a particular heirloom seed company. Those same friends purchased seeds from the company and mailed them to me. However, Moroccan authorities blocked the seeds coming into the country and returned the seeds to the American senders. I then asked my friends to send the seeds in other ways (edited). I felt this was the only way I could receive heirloom seeds because the Moroccan government had welcomed Monsanto and other chemical companies into the country and seeds from other heirloom organic sources were not available in the country. I don’t know why?! Anyhow, I have been using heirloom seeds since 2011 and I have saved seeds from some of them for replanting. Now I farm the way my grandparents did generations ago when they never used any chemicals or hybrid seeds, and when GMO seeds had not yet made their way to Morocco.

Heirloom Tomatoes
Abdellah Boudhira displays his heirloom tomatoes and zinnias (above).

I graduated from high school in 2001 and began farming full time with my father, who had continued farming the land with conventional methods. I set out to switch to organic farming and worked hard to defy all the challenges to build up the soil fertility with compost and manure and to bring organic heirloom seeds to the farm. Other challenges facing Moroccan organic farms include the depletion of the underground water table, climate change and some serious insect problems, particularly with the Tuta Absoluta and white fly TMV. These insects cause serious damage to tomatoes, as well as zucchini, peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, and others. Many farmers turned to growing vegetables in isolated greenhouses to keep away these pests. My Facebook farm page has gained favor and become dear to people around the world.

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