Sowing the seeds for the future of farming
FOR Mara Nieves, organic farming in her native Puerto Rico is crucial to maintaining the uniqueness of her country's food.
The highly-industrialised US colony currently imports 90 per cent of its produce.
Ms Nieves was one of several international speakers at the Seed Savers Network annual conference in Byron Bay at the weekend.
The Seed Savers Network was established in 1986 to preserve traditional local varieties of food plants with more than 7500 samples of seeds from around Australia.
Ms Nieves said Puerto Rico specialised in genetically-engineered soy and corn -? used by American pharmaceutical companies in abortion-inducing drugs, anti-biotics and blood-clotting agents.
"We are the seed centres for bio-pharmaceutical crops," she said.
"I think it's terrible for the future. We haven't done any research because we don't have the funds, but contamination could have a serious effect on our health."
Her organisation is helping struggling farmers so Puerto Rico can maintain control over its own food production, she said.
"A lot of manufacturing and industry is leaving Puerto Rico now because there's cheaper labour elsewhere," she said. "A lot of people are destitute and they've lost the skills to garden for themselves. We're targeting lower income residential communities to develop urban agriculture."