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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Opportunities and constraints to seed sovereignty for organic vegetable farmers in British Columbia Thoreau, Chris


Seed is a primary element in a changing agricultural landscape and has seen a steady shift over the past 100 years from common good to private commodity. This shift has jeopardized long-held farmer traditions of saving, reusing, and selling seed and has catalyzed a response, framed as seed sovereignty, which challenges the corporate enclosure of seed while asserting farmers’ rights to save, sow, share, and breed seed, as well as participate in shaping seed policy. British Columbia (BC) has a history of vegetable seed production dating back to the early 1900s and offers a unique case study due to its high number of organic vegetable farms and locally focused seed companies. I used a mixed-methods approach including archival research, interviews, and an online survey to better understand ways in which BC organic vegetable farmers and seed growers experience seed sovereignty and identify constraints that limit their seed sovereignty and seed security. From 1915 to 1958, BC saw the rise and decline of a vegetable seed sector due to the influence WWI and WWII on seed imports from Europe. This history offers lessons for modern day seed production and a proactive approach to seed security. Currently, BC seed companies, independent seed growers, and vegetable farmers experience seed sovereignty in their rights to save, sow, share, and breed seed, as well as participate in shaping seed policy. However, BC vegetable seed production does not meet the needs of BC organic farmers who require larger quantities of high-quality seed. BC organic farmers’ dependence on imported seed, gives them a low degree of seed security, which they have mitigated by utilizing multiple sources of seed from local and international suppliers – reducing their vulnerability seed import disruptions. BC organic vegetable farmers and seed growers are constrained in their ability to meet provincial seed needs due to space, infrastructure, knowledge limitations, and a lack of data on the economic viability of seed production. However, well-established infrastructure among BC’s seed growers indicates the potential for scaling up seed production to better meet the needs of local farmer and protect the capacity for seed security in British Columbia.

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