We must have a bank of seeds of our fruits and vegetables

Dear Editor,

I do recall that not so long ago many of our fruits and vegetables were very different from what we are eating now. We were accustomed to very large watermelons, long bora and ochroes. Even our peppers and tomatoes were better than what we are using nowadays.

With the advent of genetically modified seeds (GM seeds) crop production has changed in Guyana, just as in many other countries. Not so long ago when I ate a watermelon or papaw, I was certain that when the seeds hit the soil they would germinate. Guavas used to grow wild. Now we have to plant guavas.

When I was in farming, we collected our own seeds for planting. Now farmers must buy seeds. Some experts say that the GM seeds are better for quality and quantity and those crops mature faster. Well in the good old days we never planted papaws. The birds did the planting for us. We were sure that once a bird ate a fruit and dropped the seeds it was bound to germinate.

Now when I cut open a papaw there are usually no seeds inside. If there are seeds, you can bet they will not grow. We buy karila GM seed, but it is not bitter any more. We have lost a lot of seeds that we once used in our small and large-scale farming.

Whatever the reason for the change of seed that is being used now, we must have a bank of the seeds that we were using in the past. If we do not have a bank of those seeds, then we must start one now so that we do not lose much more.

Our local seeds have withstood time and climate and still give good crops. Guyanese farmers still use our local pumpkin seeds.

While GM seeds can be good for production, let us take stock of what we are losing.

Yours faithfully,
Pandit Chrishna Persaud

Editor’s note: We sent a copy of this letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud for any comment he might wish to make and received the following response from Dr Oudho Homenauth, Director of the National Agricultural research Institute.

“The Ministry of Agriculture does not knowingly promote the use of GM crops. These are hybrid seeds of some crop varieties such as tomatoes, papaw, water melons, etc. that are widely available. These varieties are high yielding and are in tandem with market demands.

It should be pointed out that the Ministry has germplasm banks in various parts of the country where we maintain our indigenous crop varieties.

Further, the seed storage facility at Mon Repos is undergoing extensive rehabilitation and will be equipped with modern facilities for long term storage of indigenous seed materials for multiplication.

It should also be noted that the market dictates what our farmers produce. The watermelon referred to is the Charleston Gray which is still widely available. However, new varieties such as the Mickylee are what the markets require.

It should be made quite clear that the Ministry of Agriculture’s policy has always been to promote open pollinated crop varieties for use by our farmers.”

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