Can old seeds save today's farms?

STORY: This Tunisian wheat farmer is looking to old solutions for a modern problem.

Hasan Chetoui lives in a region that was once a breadbasket for Mediterranean civilizations, stretching back to ancient Rome.

Today, Tunisia has to import wheat.

Years of drought caused by climate change have left its reservoirs empty, drying up crops.

Scorching summers sear what little remains.

Chetoui is now sowing old wheat varieties – an experiment he hopes will produce crops throughout the year.

"These are the original seeds, called “Zinuba” from soft wheat, suitable for food. Generally, they are drought-resistant and adaptable to different seasons. They can germinate in four seasons, and we are working on multiplying them. We plant them and then harvest them at times other than their proper seasons."

Chetoui's old wheat variety may be able to produce multiple times a season...

meaning farmers would not need to rely on a single summer harvest.

For years, he has been sowing harvests with seeds that he says were used in his family for generations and were handed down to him by his father.

He said he has also used some old varieties from the Tunisian seed gene bank and collected seeds from other farmers who said they were family inheritances, and not registered with the bank.

CHETOUI: “My main goal is to recover the original seeds that have become extinct and no longer exist, neither in stores nor anywhere else."

Chetoui does not believe his experiment with alternative types of wheat is likely to work everywhere.

He and agricultural union officials said other farmers have resorted to traditional seeds but had only anecdotal accounts of their experience.

Some agricultural experts in Tunisia are skeptical.

They point out that modern wheat produces far higher yields.

However, they also say older varieties may work better in certain areas or under specific conditions…

and that Chetoui's experiments are worth taking a chance on.