Which came first, the vegetable or the seed? Regardless of how we answer this question, without seeds, our grocery stores would have barren produce aisles.

We have all heard about food waste. According to the USDA, between 30 and 40 percent of our food supply is wasted each year in the USA. This includes food that spoils before reaching market or vegetables that were never sent because they were not quite the right size or shape. For the latter, you can consider buying your vegetables from Imperfect Foods, or a similar supplier, if they deliver in your area. Food can also spoil while on the grocery store shelves before it is sold. Many people are working on packaging and handling techniques that will keep vegetables fresh longer. Plant breeders also are working to develop vegetables that are less susceptable to bruising and damage. You may have noticed that tomato skin has become thicker with time. Food waste is prevelant and we all experience situations at home where things go bad in the fridge or we don’t always finish all the leftovers.

But what about seed waste? Before we even get to the point of wasting food, what has happened with the seed used to produce it? Interestingly, there is a large amount of seed that is discarded every year. In some cases this needs to happen. For instance, seeds can become old or damaged and are no longer viable for planting. In other cases, the seed is still viable for planting but is not used for other reasons. A few of the most common reasons include:

  1. Seed of a particular variety is overproduced and the supply is much larger than the demand.
  2. The company develops a new variety to replace a variety of which they still have seed. They feel the new variety is better and decide not to sell the seed of the previous variety. Sometimes people refer to this as the product lifecycle and product obsolescence.
  3. The seed germination has dropped a few percentage points and is no longer acceptable to large commercial farms that need very high germination rates. The seed is still fine for other situations where very high germination rates are not necessary.

This seed waste is one of the issues Seed Programs addresses. Seed Programs was founded in 1998 by John Batcha. John worked in the seed sector and noticed how much seed was wasted each year. He realized this seed could be used to support communities in need. Over time, Seed Programs has formed numerous connections around the world with communities that want to use vegetable production as one of their pathways towards food security and improved livelihoods. Often, these working families have land and labor but do not have access to seed, either due to financial, geographical, or other availability challenges. Seed Programs works with these communities to determine if a local source of seed is available. When no viable local seed option is available, we work to get good quality seed of environmentally-appropriate varieties to these families. This seed is donated by seed companies that would otherwise have to discard the seed. This is a win-win scenario for all involved. Smallholder farmers benefit from seed access and seed companies are happy their seed improves lives rather than going into the trash. By catalyzing vegetable production and working through local implementation partners, we are all working collaboratively towards a future where a sustainable local seed supply is available to meet farming family needs.

So when you see food waste happening take a moment to think about the seed waste that comes before it and what we can do about it. Seed Programs is grateful to our seed donors who provide seed, our implementing partners who deliver seed to last-mile communities in need, all our supporters who provide funding to make seed access possible, and of course the hard working families that use vegetable production to make their communities stronger and healthier.


Seed Programs International is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that operates globally.  

Our EIN/Tax ID is 56-2092576. Thank you for your support!

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