How can governments snatch growers' rights over seeds?
Following on heels of Earth Day (April 22) comes the International Seeds Day (April 26). But there is no doubt that it will not be celebrated in the United States and many countries in Europe. Neither will this be endorsed by the United Nations or Food and Agricultural Organisation. The reason is obvious; it is launched by common people, especially by the ordinary farmers in Iraq who lost the sovereignty not only of their country, but of their seeds. It was on April 26, 2004 the Order 81 was passed by the Coalition Authority that prohibits the farmers in Iraq from using their own seeds and forces them to buy the seeds from Multinational Seed Corporations from the US and Europe.
The world has witnessed innumerable wars and occupations, but the invasion of Iraq is unique because it has led to an order to terminate the life from seed, taking away farmers' freedom to grow what they want to grow. The common people in the world thought that the war was for oil, but the perpetrators of the occupation have clearly shown their meanness by attacking the life giving seed. Having failed to find any WMD (weapons of mass destruction), they attacked the seed sovereignty, backed by the sheer unethical greed of global seed giants. It is the launching of world war for the control of seeds.
The invasion of Iraq is unique because it has led to an order to terminate the life from seed, taking away farmers' freedom to grow what they want to grow.
What does the Order 81 say? It says that the farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety. The terminology might sound funny, but the intention is clear, according to the Order the genetically altered seeds are called "protected variety" and the unregistered or local seeds are referred to as "infringing variety"! The new order gives corporations complete control over farmers' seeds. Iraqi farmers have to sign an agreement to pay a "technology fee" plus an annual license fee. Plant Variety Protection (PVP) made seed saving and reusing illegal as well as "similar" seed plantings punishable by severe fines and imprisonment.
This is the ideal autocratic law the corporate seed giants would like to impose on the rest of the world. What is unfortunate is that it was backed by countries like the US and Europe who chant the mantra of democracy and human rights. By enacting Order 81 they want to erase the 8000 old farming history of Iraq, which is part of "fertile crescent", the origin of diversity of crops, especially wheat. The order gives the corporations monopoly over seeds.
The seed war in Iraq is clear indicator of how the corporates want to take control over seeds in different parts of world. They might not send coalition forces in other countries, but the silent war is on through diplomatic channels, through back door maneuverings and enticing the politicians of democratic nations through the power of money. The recent controversy on bt brinjal in India is basically another seed war being waged to cave in those age old civilizations which are the centres of diversity.
Almost fifty percent of the annual 21 billion USD seed market is dominated by just ten Seed Companies, who also own pesticide companies. By controlling the seed and inputs, they are aiming to control the entire food chain of the world. In order to deeply entrench the seed monopoly, the first thing they need is to destroy the diversity of the local seeds, especially those used and reused by the farmers. This is called seed replacement rate. In India this rate is 70 per cent, as most of the farmers re-use and exchange the seeds among themselves. Iraq had 90 percent replacement rate.
The passing of the Food Security Act will have no meaning if we do not have the freedom over our seeds and inputs to grow our crops.
Obviously, this culture of saving and sharing seeds is the biggest threat that hinders the growth of seed corporates. By passing Order 81 they removed this threat in Iraq. But in India our elected government and the pro establishment scientists are willing to surrender control of our seeds to large Agricultural corporations. The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture Education, Research, Services and Commercial Linkages is the modem through which such controls will be exercised.
The vast majority of Indian farmers are dependent on local seed supply and exchange. This process, being low key appears to be lacking in technical know how, but has resulted in conserving the enormous diversity of crops through centuries. However, the introduction of modern technology through green revolution has led to decimation of seed diversity in crops like wheat and rice. Both the public and private seed developers are keen to breed those varieties that respond to intensive chemical and pesticide inputs. This trend of corporate seed control will ultimately destroy the remaining biodiversity in food crops.
The Corporate lobby is so influential that it can easily penetrate into the highest decision making process in any country. The lure of making windfall profits from sale of agricultural seeds in a country like India is making agri-business desperate. They have tasted success in the accelerated sales of bt cotton, where Monsanto and its associate companies reaped huge benefits over the last five years. In the process India lost 90 percent of the local cotton seed diversity.
Emboldened by the bt cotton experience, the corporations know that much more money can be earned from cereal crops like rice and wheat. This is the logic behind them launching the attack through bt brinjal to enter into the food crops.
Seed is the basis for food sovereignty. It is only through the control of our seeds that we will be able reach the goal of food security. The passing of the Food Security Act will have no meaning if we do not have the freedom over our seeds and inputs to grow our crops. But do our policymakers who daydream to remove hunger through legislation understand the severity of war over seeds?