The Peoples Development Institute, through its program on Sustainable Agriculture, is deeply committed to the use and development of local seeds as the seed is the most basic input in agriculture being the source of a plant.
Sustainable Agriculture is the practice of farming using principles of ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. It has been defined as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last over the long term.”
Sustainable Agriculture is doing away with inorganic fertilizers and pesticides like herbicides and insecticides because these chemicals kill earthworms and microbes, the makers of natural fertilizers. Not using chemicals will allow these natural makers of organic fertilizers to thrive which in turn will help us regain the yield and sustainability of our land, with minimal cost. Moreover, extensive use of these chemical fertilizers and pesticides has been linked to pollution and serious health problems.
In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”
Local and Improved Seeds
Organically grown crops provide the seed requirement for Sustainable Agriculture.
The local and indigenous seeds are what are referred to as “heirloom seeds” — seeds that have been faithfully reproduced and handed down from generation to generation, these seeds have unmatched richness of flavor, nutritional benefit, and resistance to diseases and tolerance to adverse weather conditions like droughts. These seeds have a long history, and may have been
plants that were grown by your great-great grandparents.
A plant is considered to be an heirloom if it is an open-pollinated cultivar that is over 50 years old. If you raised a plant, and kept its seeds and replanted them every year for 50 years, you would have an heirloom plant. “Open-pollination” ensures that the plant will reproduce itself true to form, so that the new plant will look just like the parent plant.|
When heirloom gardeners refer to open-pollination, they mean that a particular cultivar can be grown from seed and will come back “true to type.” In other words, the next generation will look just like its parent.
Now, however, there are more and more vegetables that will not come back “true to type.” For example, plant nearly any hybrid tomato, and save the seeds. Then plant it again in the next planting season and see what happens. The seed may not even germinate, since it may be sterile. If it does sprout, the young plants will probably not have many of the characteristics of the parent plant, nor will it look anything like the plant you got the seeds from. While hybrids have many outstanding qualities, the ability to reproduce themselves is not one of them.
Heirloom plants have developed resistance to certain pests and diseases and are hardier and healthier than hybrids. Their original genetic material are intact and the plants’ unique reproductive and immune information have been preserved. Heirloom fruits and vegetables have stronger flavors, and come in many different and unique colors, sizes, and shapes.
Organic seed production follow the principles of ecological farming such as conservation of biodiversity, protection of natural soil fertility, recycling, natural resource conservation, appropriate pest management and maintenance of genetic resources and cultivars. Banned are practices that lead to accumulation of heavy metals and other pollutants. Basic slag, rock phosphate and sewage sludge have high heavy metal content and other unwanted substances and thus are not allowed. Management of manure and crop rotations are encouraged. Non-synthetic mineral fertilizers (i.e., supplements and other brought-in fertilizers of biological origin) are not considered replacements for nutrients.