Interview with Olivier: Part 2
When we left off, Olivier and I had started talking about multinationals’ hold on the free exchange and cultivation of seeds.
Olivier: I’m possibly going to have an opportunity to go to Iran. Apparently there’s a phenomenal museum there with a rich amount of information on the history of agriculture. We’ve got to discover those things.
Me: I was in Armenia this past August, and there apparently there are fields of wild wheat –
Olivier: Oh right, Aegilops? It was Aegilops?
Me: I’m not sure of the species off the top of my head. (Way to go Kate.) There was a conservation program during the Soviet era, and with the end the program was left to one side with all that happened after the fall. But it seems from what we found that these fields are still somewhere between Yerevan and Ararat. We went out looking for them, a bit blindly, and didn’t find anything. But that’s the story as we understand it, that the fields are out there practically on the side of the highway.
Olivier: Aegilops, it was most likely that. You know it’s the same thing with apple trees. The apple trees in Azerbaijan, there’s a fantastic genetic reserve, I’ve heard it’s really something.
Me: So the seeds you use here? You’ve got to start by getting them from somewhere established…
Olivier: National conservatories. Now they’re doing something else, with the seed banks. It first happened in the US, more of this bullshit. The big businesses, they go pick up seeds that are accessible for the public at large — it’s a common good. The corporations take the seeds and make a genetic profile of them, they file a patent, and then nobody else can use them without paying. Patenting a form of life.
Me: How do they justify that? They don’t change anything in the genetic makeup.
Olivier: They influence the state, they have lobbying power. They’re more powerful than the state.
Me: But wait — if I’m understanding correctly, they take seeds to do tests and make a genetic profile, and with that they say –
Olivier: That they own it.
Me: That’s insane! It’s like they take me and –
Olivier: Exactly, they take you, they do your genetic profile, and they say, “We own her. She doesn’t own herself, we own her.” It’s unbelievable. If you had told me this sort of thing five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that such idiocy could be happening. It’s an instance of a fiction becoming real. But with these sorts of things, we can’t be afraid. We have to work together, pool our resources. Above all to not be alone. With us farmers, we’re there, we’re outdoors working, and the more we work together the more autonomous we become.
Me, personally, I’m looking for autonomy. I can’t quite do it yet because I have to work. It the current financial system, we’re obliged to do so. But we can still do things. I’ve got two hands and a head. And land, and forests, good land. That’s capital. And I’ve got seeds, and food, everything. I have an enormous potential. A richness in diversity. That’s what we don’t realize. It’s not necessary to have 10,000 square meters, but with an area of 5,000 or 10,000 square meters you can do big things. There are a lot of openings. It works if you’ve got two hands and a lot of motivation, and a vision of life and their future that’s open.
We must reappropriate knowledge, because we’re going to need it in the future. We think we’re all big and strong now, we think we’ve mastered everything. The reality is that civilization has never been so vulnerable. You don’t know how to make your clothes, feed yourself.
Me: What you were just saying, about not acting alone –
Olivier: Together, it’s got to be together.
Me: A question I ask myself a lot, because — a bit of my story — my research started off by taking a look at my CV, and if I really looked at what sorts of real capacities I had for producing life’s needs, it was nothing. I could edit a book for you if you happen to write a book, but more than that, forget it. I could cook okay, but besides that, when we get into production, food preservation for example, things like that, I had nothing. So I started to learn.
Olivier: Do you garden a bit?
Me: Yes, I garden.
Olivier: Me too, tomatoes and things, but I’m a bit late this year.
Me: Yeah, I share a plot in a community garden in Geneva, in the backyard of an cultural center.
Olivier: What’s it called?
Me: Utopiana. We started a community garden with some people in the neighborhood about a year ago and we’re organizing a whole program of activities around permaculture, ecology. And between now and toward the end of 2015 there are a number of artists coming for residency who work on those topics.
To be continued … I’m at Utopiana right now, we’re doing an open house with Natalia, and a whole mass of people just showed up!