Worldwide over the past century there has been an enormous loss of genetic material as old varieties of seed have been abandoned by larger farmers in favour of the modern hybrids promoted by large agrochemical companies. More recently, with the advent of genetic engineering, crops have been developed to have “terminator” genes – that is, they are genetically modified so that any seeds that they produce will be sterile. The use of these seeds would prevent farmers who buy them from being able to use any of their crop for seeds for the next season – thus forcing them to become dependent on the agrochemical companies for seeds. This technology is not in commercial use due to a de-facto moratorium on the commercial release or field trials of these seeds recommended by United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity In 2000 and re-affirmed in 2006.
A growing appreciation of the magnitude of the loss of human cultural heritage represented by the disappearance of many heirloom seed varieties has fortunately led a revival in community initiatives to save heritage seeds as a means of maintain the biodiversity of crops and also to maintain viable stocks of open-pollinated seeds that will breed true to form and can be saved from season to season thus providing people with the means to grow food independent of the large agrochemical companies.
Buying heirloom varieties of seed (or seedlings grown from heirloom varieties; these may be bought from farmers markets or whole foods/organic food stores) for use in home, school or community gardens one way to help maintain the diversity of food crops in New Zealand. It also has the advantage that you can save seeds from your crops from year to year and share them with family, friends or within more formal seed saving networks.
The following organisations supply heirloom seeds:
Eco Seeds Ltd http://www.ecoseeds.co.nz/
This business supplies heritage seeds, some of which are certified organic.
Koanga Gardens http://www.koanga.org.nz/
Started by Kay Baxter, this organisation has saved a large range of organic heritage seed varieties. Some of its seeds are available from health food stores and other outlets that sell seeds, while others are available to members only. http://www.koanga.org.nz/koanga-seeds
Kings Seeds http://www.kingsseeds.co.nz/
This business supplies a wide range of seeds, some are organic some are not. Some imported seeds have to be treated with fungicide (this is a MAF requirement). Seeds that have been treated are identified with a sticker. Some organic seeds are coated in a seed enhancement agent.
A useful basic guide to saving your own seeds may be read at these links:
An online book that gives a step by step guide to saving seeds from different plants may be read at this link:
New Zealand Seed Saving Organisations
Seed Savers Aotearoa New Zealand
http://www.seedsavers.org.nz/ – This site includes a list of NZ Seed Saving Organisations and contact details at this link: http://www.seedsavers.org.nz/groups/groups.html. Most of the groups listed at this link do not have websites.
NZ seed saving networks which do have websites are listed below:
Rotorua Seed Savers Network
Nelson Seed Savers:
Southern Seed Exchange
Symbiosis Seed Exchange (Southland)
Southland Seed Savers
International Seed Saving Institute