Voices from the field

Voice from the field 1

To manufacture food or to grow it? The new and old GMOs of Europe, a battle spanning over 30 years

Antonio Onorati, ECVC European Coordination Via Campesina, Italia

The European Union, the world’s largest exporter of agricultural products and the world’s largest importer, boasts an agricultural system that relies on small farms, 77% of which are less than 10 hectares in size and 69% of which have an economic size of less than €8,000.

But 4 of the 6 companies that dominate the world seed market are European, the largest of which has a sales volume three times greater than the second largest. The market power of the companies in the seed market – which is already highly concentrated – increases when one moves from the conventional seed market to the GMO seed market, and from the GMO seed market to the market for the control of digital sequence information (DSI).

In this context, the strategy of the farmers’ movement, also shared by many environmental movements, can only be articulated on a number of levels. From mobilisation with direct actions of disobedience, such as the mowing of fields sown with GMOs – old or new – to legal action and recourse to the courts, such as the action at the European Court of Justice, which is currently blocking any attempt to avoid applying the current legislation on “new” GMOs (new genomic techniques [NGTs], products with CRISPR or in vitro mutagenesis[1]). In addition, there is the construction of useful legislation to protect the farmers’ seed systems and prevent the cultivation of GMOs (as in Italy, a country with “GMO-free” agriculture since 2000, or in France).

How a society wants its food to be produced is a purely political issue. This is why mobilisation must continue.

More info here and here.

Voice from the field 2

Peasant seed systems and the implementation of farmers’ rights in national legal frameworks – the case of Mali

Alimata Traore, COASP – West African Peasants’ Seeds Committee, Mali

Our farmers’ seeds are freely reproducible and thanks to our practices and know-how, we are able to select them by reseeding them each year in our fields. Thanks to their diversity, they evolve and adapt to our needs, our fields, and our techniques.

Our farmers’ seeds are our identity, they are our life.

Our farmers’ organisations provided information and training on farmers’ rights. After analysing the status of their implementation in our national laws, we held discussions with our government representatives on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) focus points.

Together, in 2017, we created a national consultation framework with a mandate to ensure that peasant seed systems and farmers’ rights are recognised and implemented in national legislation. This is chaired by the Ministry of Agriculture and the secretariat is provided by the National Coordination of Farmer Organisation (CNOP). The basis of our proposals was as follows:

1.  A clear definition of the varieties of seeds (including traditional and local).

2.  The recognition of specific regulations that guarantee the quality of our peasant seed systems, and ensure the protection of peasant knowledge through collective rights defined by the community according to its habits and customs.

3.  The right of farmers to sell their seeds without the obligation of registration in the official catalogue.

4.  The right of farmers and their organisations to participate in decision-making with mechanisms to ensure transparency.

5.  Supporting and strengthening farmers’ seed systems, farmers’ seed houses[2], farmers’ seed festivals and markets.

Voice from the field 3

We need diverse livestock breeds to combat future pandemics

Tammi Jonas – Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance

Australian farmers produce 93% of the food we eat, even while exporting some 70% of what is grown, and the export focus is framed within a moralising discourse that Australian agriculture is ‘feeding the world’. Yet, the reality is that exports are directed not to countries suffering widespread food insecurity, but rather the ‘highest value markets in developed economies and to the middle classes in developing countries’.[3]

This productivist paradigm has led to a steady decline in breed diversity in Australia and globally, and in the Global North, 90% of cattle belong to just six breeds, with 20% of livestock breeds at risk of extinction.[4] A decline in breed diversity means a loss of livestock adapted to local conditions and a life on pasture, and also the danger of creating what Rob Wallace calls ‘food for flu’ – because ‘raising vast monocultures removes immunogenetic firebreaks that in more diverse populations cut off transmission booms’.[5] The incidence of COVID-19 globally, Japanese Encephalitis Virus further south in Australia than ever before, and now Foot and Mouth Disease becoming a growing regional threat, make it ever more obvious that we must stop narrowing the genetic diversity of livestock and crowding them in unhealthy conditions.

In Australia, there is a growing movement of smallholders growing heritage and rare breed livestock to reverse this trend, collectivised within the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) and supported in their in situ conservation efforts by the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia. In a pandemic world, moves to conserve and promote diversity at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels will literally save lives.

Voices from the field 4

Agroecology, agroforestry and community-based forest management: powerful tools for defending peoples’ rights, livelihoods, and the natural assets of forests.[6]

Nuie anak Sumok – Residents’ Association of Sungai Buri, Sarawak, Malasia

Known to her friends as Superwoman for her work ethic, Nuie anak Sumok fights for her family, her community, and the environment by farming on her roadside plot in Sungai Buri, northeast Sarawak, Malaysia.

With the women’s group and the Residents’ Association of Sungai Buri on the northeast coast of Sarawak, we have been strengthening our resistance to the imposition of palm oil monoculture through agroecology, agroforestry and community-based forest management. Through these practices, we have also been reversing the damage caused by this monoculture and forest destruction, and challenging the destructive development model.

We do not have the luxury of planting just one crop, we have to do what is most beneficial for us. And no one can tell us what to do.

We have chilli, pineapple, courgette, bananas, native forest species, daun long… and the forest gives us seeds, fruit trees, other food, water, wood, fuel, shelter, biodiversity, honey, medicine. and animal feed. Also, materials to make our crafts. We do our best to help the community to plant local species of trees.

With sister organisations in Marudi, Long Miri and Long Pilah we set up a seed exchange scheme where different groups collect seeds from their locality – merbau, jelayan, rattan, engkabang, meranti – and fruit trees such as durian and langsat, and our nurseries are enriched.

Through this work we also protect our rights and those of all communities as well as our livelihoods and the natural assets of the forests”.

Voice from the field 5

The Latin American Agroecological Institute under construction and the role of agroecology

Aldo González, IALA Latin American Agroecological Institute, Mexico

Nowadays, more and more young people from Indigenous and peasant communities have the opportunity to study. Many receive scholarships and leave the community to go to university, in most cases the idea of progress gets into their heads: the city offers them modernity, and many do not return, school has taken away their identity.

Faced with this panorama, the organisations that make up La Via Campesina in Mexico decided to set up the Latin American Agroecological Institute (IALA-Mexico), with the aim of going beyond simple technical training. At the IALA we are interested in contributing to the strengthening of struggles in defence of territories, cultural identity, and Food Sovereignty.

For us, agroecology is a way of life, based on principles that recognise that there is a diversity of territories and that these generate a diversity of cultural relations between human beings and nature. This care, rooted in ancestral peasant traditions, is based on common principles that must take into account ecological, cultural, and economic aspects that respect Mother Earth.

These relationships have generated forms of family and community organisation that allow us to survive. For example, the guelaguetza or guzun that is practised among the Zapotec Peoples of Oaxaca, has its similarities among many peoples of Mexico and the world, and is based on reciprocity in order to get the “milpa” ready (as  agricultural fields are called in Mexico), build a house, hold family or community celebrations, etc. The IALA is interested in strengthening these forms of organisation.

Our farming systems, such as shifting cultivation, wrongly called “slash and burn”, are ways of farming that were developed in the past and are important to reclaim from agroecology. Sustaining life in the soil, recycling nutrients, and conserving energy from the local to the global are principles that have been practised in traditional agriculture and that we will continue to promote.

We are heirs to a great biodiversity, as well as the wealth of knowledge associated with it. However, the science produced by our peoples is disqualified by research centres; in spite of this, it is urgent that we establish a dialogue from our own corners with Western science that will allow us to combine the knowledge that we safeguard for the good of humanity and thus generate new knowledge that will be put at the service of the peasants of Mexico and the world.

[1] More info on “new” GMOs, here.

[2] Seed houses in West Africa are places where seeds are collected and sorted, identification sheets are made, storage and conservation techniques are improved, practices are exchanged and training is provided.

[3] Muir 2014: 5

[4] FAO 2019

[5] Wallace, et al. 2021: 195

[6] More information here.