Life or death over seeds – a worldwide seed war is now raging

23 October 2014 - 5:19pm

GreatSeedFestival - credit Tom GrovesLast week hundreds of food lovers, food growers, food justice campaigners, artists, researchers gathered to participate in events and activities organised throughout the UK as part of the Food Sovereignty month. The focus this year was on the source that feeds us all: the seed.

Seed is life. Almost all the food we eat started as a seed. Control over seed is control over the first link in the food chain, but also beyond the whole food system to biodiversity and therefore life itself. 

For centuries farmers have selectively bred plants by seeking out the seeds of the plants with the most desirable characteristics. These natural seeds planted year on year become highly adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, and represent the great biodiversity our planet enjoyed until…

Agrochemicals corporations, clearly understanding that seed is life, have engaged in a process of combining various seeds artificially (hybridisation) to produce allegedly enhanced standardised commercial seeds, as well as expanding into the seed market by buying thousands of once independent seed companies, generating huge profits at the detriment of family farmers. Commercial seeds require high levels of chemicals (fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides) and water to germinate and mature. They must be purchased year on year from the same seed corporations at ever increasing costs, locking the farmer into a cycle of corporate control, and a spiral of poverty and despair. The results are shocking: over half of the global seed market is controlled by 3 large agrochemical corporations (Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta), and 75% of our biodiversity has already been destroyed by industrial monoculture agriculture according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

New legislation, throughout the world, is threatening to criminalise the ability of farmers to freely preserve their own seeds year on year and exchange the seeds amongst themselves to plant different varieties and mitigate any risks at no cost, as well as potentially open up the EU to the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops. But a very strong resistance is building worldwide, with great successes.

In Colombia, following a massive public outcry led by a huge peasant mobilisation in 2013, the Colombian government was forced to suspend the seed law, referred to as Law 9.70, which had been adopted in secrecy in 2010 as part of a trade agreement with the US. The provisions made illegal for Colombian farmers to save their own seeds and obliged them to buy commercial seeds from private companies and transnational corporations, increasing significantly their costs and preventing them from using their best quality seeds year on year. The suspension is effective for a period of two years and apply to domestically produced crops (not imports).

Indont kill us with seeds act Sri Lanka, our partner MONLAR (the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform), joined forces with thousands of farmers, grassroots farmers' organisations, scientists and environmental activists and forced the government to abandon the new proposed Seed Act, at least until the next election, next year. The new bill required, among other things, the compulsory ‘registration' of farmers and ‘certification' of all seed and planting material in the country by a Seed Certification Service run by the Department of Agriculture. The new provisions would criminalise any sharing or exchange of seed and planting material, and give power to officials to raid farmers' premises to enforce compliance, while infringement to the law would lead to prosecution resulting from a fine to imprisonment. These draconian measures have only one objective: strictly control seeds to force farmers to buy the commercial patented seeds produced by agrichemicals corporations and open the market to GMO within the country.

In Kenya, NGOMA's farmers who have been lured into growing maize using commercial standardised seeds to produce higher yields are taking back control by reverting to planting native seeds.  Comparing the difference between the two practices, the results are astonishing: not only do the native varieties enable two harvests in one year, they are also more resistant to local pests and diseases; require less water and are significantly more nutritious and tastier! Each farmer no longer needs to focus on quantity over quality, as each plant holds considerably more nourishing properties that the commercial equivalent, and therefore less are needed to feed entire families.

In the EU, TTIP, the Transnational Trade and Investment Partnership agreement negotiated in secret between the US and the EU, threatens to deprive us from the right to oppose the entry of GM foods within our food system. So far, the EU has successfully resisted with strict labelling and traceability informing customers and giving them the freedom to choose. However, GM food is already creeping into the EU through the feed, in particular soya, given to animals, which are then sold in supermarkets with no GM label, some being cultivated directly in EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia). Lobby from US large corporations has been intense and aimed at attacking those EU restrictions on imports of GM food, including the removal of EU requirement of labelling and traceability for GM crops and food. As a result thousands and thousands of citizens are mobilising throughout Europe and in the UK to say NO TTIP! Already the EU has had to halt part of the negotiations for three months to allow for proper democratic consultation.

War on Want, in partnership with farmers' movements around the world, is calling for a food system based on sustainable and affordable farming methods, not more corporate control.  

It is time for seed sovereignty! Join the food sovereignty revolution!



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