On 16th October 2018, La Vía Campesina relaunched the Global Campaign “Peasant Seeds, a Heritage of Peoples in the Service of Humanity” and called for action to “Adopt a Seed” in this context. How to get involved?
We want every peasant or community to commit to adopting a seed variety, from any culture. Choose the one which sparks the most interest, because of its identity or territory, or its part in the affirmation of peasant life and culture. Each participant must become a guardian of that seed, guaranteeing its propagation. The idea is to create a wide network of peasant seeds, to recover seeds and extend production, towards Peoples’ Food Sovereignty.
As a result of this action we want to see thousands of communities improving biodiversity, recovering seed varieties, and thus guaranteeing Food Sovereignty and productive capacity. This is an action for life, to stop multinationals appropriating peasant seeds and reducing our autonomy and biodiversity, without peasant seeds, peasant farming becomes hostage to the multinationals!
You can start with your community and invite more people – the key is to take the first step! We would like to know about your community and the seed variety recovered. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Peasant Seeds
Peasant seeds are of immense value. They mean we have autonomy over our resources and decision making, because if we have seeds, we decide when and how to plant them. Seeds are the link which ensures the continuation of peasant farming and production of healthy food for workers and consumers. We shall only achieve Food Sovereignty if seeds are protected by peasants, communities and the peoples of the world. By extending this action we guarantee the right to quality food for the countryside and the city!
Struggle for seed rights: Emerging threats to the Seed Treaty
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Seed Treaty) was adopted in 2001 and entered into force 15 years ago. It is the only global multilateral governance mandatory instrument that recognizes farmers’ collective rights to their seeds. The treaty facilitates and regulates the access to the seeds -the common heritage of humanity- stored in public gene banks connected to the Multilateral System and guarantees their availability for future generations.
The Treaty, though it is an unbalanced and unstable compromise, reflects power relations and worldviews of: (1) seed industry requiring facilitated access to peasant seeds while promising to share monetary and non-monetary benefits; and (2) peasant farmers demanding guarantee for their collective rights to save, use and exchange seeds and for future generations. The industry not only has failed by far to uphold the promise to share benefits, it is also strengthening plant variety protection laws that violate farmers’ rights. Thus, in 2013 Contracting Parties decided to set up a working group to improve the functioning of the Multilateral System and a mandatory Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) to access to the PGRFA (plant genetic resources for food and agriculture).
New emerging threats
Recent technological revolution in genomics made the sequence of genetic information of seeds very easy and affordable for everyone. Advanced biotechnology today is able to create new seeds just using the digital sequence information (DSI) acquired by physical seeds. This new technology disrupts the link between material (germplasm) and its derived outcomes (Dematerialization). The creation of new population or varieties using only DSI, which will be then patented, will increase the cases of biopiracy and will significantly limit farmers’ rights on their seeds. It is the easiest way to accelerate the erosion of biodiversity and threatens our future.
The Multilateral System of the Treaty is now inadequate in response to genetic technology at the disposal of the industry. Its scope is not well defined and it is not clear now if DSI have to be considered under the rules of the SMTA or if PGRFA as defined in the text of the Treaty does not include DSI. If there will be no quick decisions or at least discussions on the issue, industry will freely access to genetic sequences information as much as it can, profiting this lack of regulations.
DSI poses new challenges also to social movements, who need to devise newer strategies to counter this new form of capture. For now, it is clear that the biggest beneficiary of “common heritage of humanity” in gene banks is the seed industry. Most developed countries are complicit in this new threat as they work hand in glove with the industry to appropriate existing plant genetic resources for agriculture and food through patents. However, an efficient Multilateral System and an effective SMTA would benefit peasants that want to dynamically manage their biodiversity.
La Via Campesina and allies have rejected and denounced the industry‘s new attempts to push synthetic biology and genomics to circumvent Seed Treaty regulation and contravene article 9 of the Seed Treaty on right of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell their seeds. Not only in the Treaty, but also in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in its Protocols and in the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, we strongly denounce this strategy of the industry, which now appears clear to developing countries and other organizations.
We recall the Contracting Parties of the Treaty and other decision-making spaces to intervene and consider private intellectual property regimes’ obligations as part of economic rights, while respecting the effective implementation of farmers’ rights that belong to the sphere of human rights.
There are two broad ways to prevent the appropriation of all agricultural diversity and control of the food chain by a few transnational corporations: (1) ensure preeminence of peasants’ rights over the rights of breeders and patent holders and (2) uphold the right of peoples to define for themselves what they need to guarantee their food sovereignty.
Negotiations in the last Governing Body of the Treaty showed that the block of industrialized countries don’t want to discuss the issue, but just to postpone it, threating the multilateralism that characterize the UN System – especially USA that was chairing the session and biased the procedures for discussion. Now there will be the possibility to discuss this issue in the CBD, and La Via Campesina and its allies will put a lot of pressure to defend the rights of small scale family farmers and of future generations.
Peasants Rights and our struggle for seeds
The Article 19 of the UNDROP [[UNDROP – UN Declaration for the Rights of Peasants and Other People working in Rural Areas was formally adopted by the UN General Assembly in December, 2018.]] recognize the right of peasants and other people working in rural areas to maintain, control, protect and develop their own seeds and traditional knowledge.
In accordance to the same Article, peasants and other people working in rural areas have the rights: (1) to the protection of traditional knowledge; (2) to equitably participate in sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA); (3) to participate in the making of decisions on matters relating to the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA; (4) to save, use, exchange and sell their farm-saved seed or propagating material.
In addition, UNDROP calls upon the States to ensure that seeds of sufficient quality and quantity are available to peasants at the most suitable time for planting and at an affordable price. Peasants need to have autonomy over their own seeds or other locally available seeds of crops and species that they wish to grow.
According to the Declaration, States are responsible to take appropriate measures to support peasant seed systems and promote the use of peasant seeds and agro-biodiversity, ensuring that agricultural research and development integrates the needs of peasants and other people working in rural areas. This means that peasants must be included in the definition of priorities and the undertaking of research and development; their experience has to be taken into account.
Finally, UNDROP recalls States to ensure that seed policies, plant variety protection and other intellectual property laws, certification schemes and seed marketing laws, respect and take into account the rights, needs and realities of peasants and other people working in rural areas.
Outlawing our seeds in Latin America
Latin American governments are looking to standardise seeds in law. Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela have proposed and discussed seed laws. Many of these are being resisted by communities, organisations and peoples. These laws religiously follow the guidelines laid down by the big seed transnationals: Bayer-Monsanto, Corteva-Agriscience, ChemChina (Syngenta) and Vilmorin&Cie-Limograin.
United Nations agencies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Conference on Trade and Development and the World Intellectual Property Organization are large bodies which promote these regulations, draw up model laws and teach governments how to implement them.
Marketing laws define the criteria which must be met for seeds to come on to the market. They can only be marketed if they are of a variety which meets three important requirements: they must be “distinct”, “uniform” and “stable”. Intellectual property laws are regulations which recognise that a person or entity, or a seed company, is the exclusive owner of a seed with particular characteristics, and has the legal right to stop other people or entities using, producing, exchanging or selling it. There are two main “intellectual property” systems for seeds: patents, and Plant Variety Protection, which confers rights on whoever “obtains” a variety, even if it goes back thousands of years in its present form. Trade and investment agreements are tools used by companies to force governments to adopt and promote corporate rights over seeds.
These laws seek to outlaw the way peasants’ and indigenous people’s local systems use, exchange, produce and improve local varieties. They allow companies to define national policies on seeds, research, and agriculture. This creates a certification and oversight system controlled by private corporations. It forces communities and peoples to accept standards set by the transnationals, and to be scrutinised by private bodies if they wish to continue to exchange “legal” seeds. It delays, minimises or eliminates any concern for preserving agricultural diversity. It aims to standardise seed use and exchange traditions, which date back thousands of years. It imposes industrial standards on agriculture, facilitating seed privatisation. It seeks to qualify and classify all seeds, even local and native ones, so that corporate ownership of seeds is respected. In this way, whoever produces seeds will be monitored, no matter what seed they produce or how they exchange it.
The mission of the seed
A seed of life came in the arms of the north wind,
Born of a large and fleshy fruit,
Of gigantic buds of dreams and struggle!
Burned women, murdered women,
Women resisting, women conquering their rights.
Seeds multiply, resurrecting utopia in each step,
Returning to the land of this immense world.
Today, the seeds are you and me,
Ready, waiting to fall into our mother’s lap – earth,
Listen … you’re begging for it!
Every patch of soil is a mouth crying out for justice!
Who can stand the silence of unproductive land?
A living cemetery of hope, sowing hatred and exclusion.
The seeds are you and me
And the plow – our organization – has already made grooves in the ground,
Let us sleep upon the earth,
Let her tell us the secret of the mission
We will feel the rain: another partner joining the fight
Let the dream and commitment grow within us!
And when it’s too big and we can no longer hold it in,
We will burst and be seeds no more!
We will be militants, that as plants grow and find
A great red sun shining on high – the new society!
And we will feel its kiss on our mouth.
Then we will be plants no more but become fruits!
And we will feed ourselves with our struggle, with our conquests,
We ourselves and those we love
And until the day we will die, as ripe fruits ….
And these fruits will fall like tears, touching the earth, and become seeds.
And so eternally …
Until the day when there is no more the cursed hoe or sickle of domination,
Threatening the buds of the earth.
On that day, you will hear a great sigh of relief, followed by a birth:
We will eat,
We will celebrate
We will dance with our harps and guitars!
And we will sing with the voice of the heart!
Because our eyes, full of tenderness, will finally be able to see,
The seed – our mission – transformed into harvest!
(Original poem in spanish by Daniel Salvado)