Undocumented Seeds, Undocumented People, Undocumented Stories

This is the first of a two part article by Rebecca Nada-Rajah, our correspondent who has just completed  a 4 month, 7000 km cycle journey to Iran. Specially for Bella, Rebecca writes on Undocumented Seeds, Undocumented People, Undocumented Stories as part of a group called P.E.D.A.L. – a group of about 20 young cyclists from Scotland making a journey of environmental justice and solidarity.

‘The universe is made of stories, not atoms’ Muriel Rukeyser

On the afternoon of the 31st May 2010, as the 6 ships of the first Gaza Freedom Flotilla sailed through the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, a caravan of activists were cycling across County Mayo in West Ireland.

A venture of a much smaller scale, to be sure, the cyclists were riding from Merthyr Tydfill, Wales to Rossport, Ireland. Their journey would connect two communities facing destruction from large-scale fossil fuel extraction despite long- standing local opposition.
Many parallels exist between the stories of Merthyr and Rossport, and the ride was born on the conviction that a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the two could bolster local resistance. Activists sought to understand the struggles in each community not as isolated issues but as part of a wider framework: “What is happening in Northwest Mayo is just one front in the struggle against the subordination of lives in the interests of global capitalism”. [1]

On the evening of the 31st May 2010, IDF forces stormed the Mavi Marmara in what became known as theGaza Flotilla Raid. The incident marked a momentous shift in international opinion and prompted the cyclists in Ireland to ask a bolder, if more impertinent question of their journey: What was the connection  between the state repression in the struggles of their local communities and the  atrocities associated with the occupation of Palestine?

Out of the question, P.E.D.A.L. was born.

P.E.D.A.L. is a group of community organizers, artists, food growers and activists who in March 2011 embarked on a journey from London to Palestine via bicycle. The ride connects communities of resistance along the route, centering on issues of food autonomy, migrant solidarity and the response to the callout for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel.

Borders and Blockades

The Freedom Flotilla movement takes direct action against Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza by physically confronting the barrier at sea. Restricting the movement of people and materials into and out of the Gaza Strip, the blockade allows the Israeli state strict control over civilian life and denies the people of Gaza dignified self- determination.

The blockade of Gaza is an extreme example of state repression protecting interests of power. Its existence is highly politicized.

In a world of open markets and free trade, borders, like blockades, must be kept similarly impermeable to threats to the monopolies of neoliberalism.

But unlike the Gaza blockade, the exclusion of people and and materials through borders is rapidly being drained of its political and ideological significance. As Slavoj Zizek notes, the principal endpoint of neoliberal ideology is the ‘de-politicized’ economy.[2]

Having crossed 14 borders on route to Palestine thus- far, the PEDAL Cyclists engage with ‘threats’ most dangerous to state border patrols : undocumented seeds, undocumented people, undocumented stories.

Undocumented Seeds

Nestled in a mustard yellow dry- bag buried deep in a deep-blue bicycle panier lies a bounty of over 150 varieties of unregistered seeds.  From pumpkin to butterbean to coriander, the seeds come from back gardens and libraries, tool sheds and kitchen cupboards, collected from food growers operating outside the global food system.

Together they form P.E.D.A.L.s ‘Seedbank of Solidarity’, smuggled across borders and swapped with food growers along the route to Palestine.
As the cyclists journeys towards the Holy Land, the seedbank grows in its richness and diversity. Moneyless seed swaps take place on roadsides, in kitchens and in cafes, at a market stall in Graz, Austria and in 700-year old community garden facing eviction in Istanbul. Zapatista corn is swapped for Turkısh Ochra and Portuguese chickpeas are swapped for African horned cucumber.

Varieties of staple crops such as maize, wheat, soya and rapeseed are currently under threat around the world of being replaced by GM versions from multinational seed companies.  F1 Hybrid seeds are patented and aggressively marketed by corporations such as Monsanto for their uniform harvest, yet they are bred to be non- replenishing, yielding crop that produces seed unviable to be collected and replanted for following generations. The striking ascendancy of the F1  Hybrid corresponds not only to a physical loss of heritage seed varieties, but also to the deterioration of traditional knowledge that accompanies cultures of seed-saving.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the success of the corporate seed lobby in drivinglegislation across the worlddemanding that growers register and patent their heritage and heirloom seed varieties and pay exorbitant fees in order to do so.
In 2005, as seed patenting laws swept across America,Order 81of the US Agricultural Reconstruction and Development Program made it illegal for Iraqi farmers to save seed from new ‘protected’ crop varieties brought into the country by multinationals in the name of ‘reconstruction’.
The stark brutality of the state protecting interests of power over interests of people is clear: small farmers in  Ohio and Iraq share more anxieties than the disquiet of a son at war.

As the private seed industry wrangles viciously for control of the global food supply, seeds passed down through generations become absurdly ‘illegal’. They are left to be smuggled in bicycle panniers, passed hand-to-hand between the forces of resistance in the battle for food sovereignty- small scale autonomous food growers.

On PEDAL:

Our 100 day journey will track communities fighting for social and environmental justice where  we will contribute to the sites we visit and share stories, skills and strategies for resistance– mapping counter-cultures from the UK to Palestine.

PEDAL will focus her work on visiting communities resisting those who prevent access to land and community control of resources linking food growers across Europe to the Middle East.

And further support the BDS campaign of highlighting the role of the Jewish National Fund in removing access to land for Palestinians in the name of environmentalism.


[1] Rossport Solidarity Camp Mission Statement. http://www.struggle.ws/rsc/mission.html.

[2] Payne, Adam. Rivers of Power Forests of Beauty. Columbia Undergraduate Journal of South Asian Studies, 2009.

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  1. Clootie says:

    I admire the passion and the fact that they have acted not talked. I disagree with the interpretation of the middle east politics and the slant of the article.

  2. James says:

    What’s that? A mustard yellow bag in a blue panier? l promise I won’t tell anyone. Good Luck and may the road rise up to meet you.

  3. Batty-Bartholamew says:

    Beautiful, keep cycling..

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