Over half the global seed market is controlled by 3 agrochemical corporations (Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta)
New legislation is threatening to criminalise the ability of farmers to freely save and exchange seeds (see item 1 below).
For example, Ghana is passing a new seed law because of pressure from rich governments, including that of the UK, and big corporations (see item 2 below).
The new law, if passed, will restrict small-scale farmers and food producers from freely saving, exchanging and selling seeds. This will sideline traditional varieties and push farmers towards buying seeds from big business like Monsanto year after year. And small-scale farmers could even face criminalisation for saving seeds that corporations lay claim to.
Take action (UK only): Write to your MP asking that the UK government cease pressuring Ghana to pass the new seed law:
Meanwhile in Europe, the TTIP free trade deal between the US and EU threatens to flood Europe with GMOs.
EXCERPT (item 1): Lobby[ing] 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.
1. Life or death over seeds – a worldwide seed war is now raging
2. The fight for seed sovereignty in Ghana
1. Life or death over seeds – a worldwide seed war is now raging
Last 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…
Agro-chemicals 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 agro-chemical 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).
In 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 agri-chemicals 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[ing] 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!
2. The fight for seed sovereignty in Ghana
The Climate Coalition, 6 November 2014
This week, WDM called on the UK Government to stop the backing the corporate takeover of seeds in Africa and beyond, and to protect the seed sovereignty for farmers instead. In just a few days, we’ve got cross-party support from MPs who have signed a "Seed Sovereignty" early day motion in Parliament.
“The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed controls the entire food chain.” – So says Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah of Food Sovereignty Ghana, summing up what is at stake when the Plant Breeders Bill, aka "The Monsanto Law" is considered by the Ghanaian parliament next week. The Plant Breeders Bill will allow big businesses to have legal ownership and control over seed varieties they claim to have developed. This will increase the power of large seed corporations to push expensive seeds that farmers will then become dependent on. This law, if passed, will see the systematic substitution of traditional varieties of seed, widely saved and traded by farmers, with uniform commercial varieties; seeds controlled by big business.
The millions-strong National Association of Farmers and Fisherfolk in Ghana warns that this new system “aims to compel farmers to purchase seeds for every planting season or pay royalties to the breeder in the case of reusing farm-saved seeds”. They caution that this could cause farmer debt to spiral as they are pushed away from their own seeds that are historically free, diverse and can grow with few inputs. These commercial varieties will inevitably include hybrid and GM seeds which also encourage further use of agri-chemicals. The farmer’s hard work then gets creamed off as multinational corporations profit from the growing cost of inputs.
It is not surprising then that this law has met huge controversy since its conception in 2013. Throughout the last year there have been huge mobilisations involving farmers and labour unions, religious organisations and political parties. They are all pushing for the government to recognise the role that the millions of Ghanaian farmers have in the country’s agricultural future.
The battle for control of resources like seeds is of critical importance as multinational agribusinesses have turned their eyes towards the African continent as a new source of profits. But this isn’t just a business project. This phenomenon, dubbed a “new wave of colonialism” by groups across the continent, is being assisted by countries such as the UK and the rest of the G8 nations.
The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, founded in 2012, brings together an unequal partnership of donor rich governments such as the UK and US, huge multinationals like Monsanto and 10 African countries including Ghana. On the surface, this initiative aims to lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2020. But in reality it pushes African governments to make business-friendly reforms in return for aid and investment.
The Plant Breeders Bill going through Ghana is one of these reforms. A key part of Ghana’s commitments in the New Alliance are regulations that develop a new seed law to establish seed classification and certification (in other words intellectual property rights). To this effect, the British government is channelling aid money as a carrot to pressure the Ghanaian government to make laws which will see the control of seeds handed over from farmers to multinational corporations.
Social movements in Ghana continue to resist these pro-corporate seed laws. If you want to take action, the best way to send them our solidarity is to get the UK government to pull out of the New Alliance...