Did you know that the agribusiness giants such as Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont have gobbled up most seed companies and control most of the agriculture in the US and Europe? It’s a fact that the world’s top three corporations control over half (53 percent) of the world’s commercial seed market and the top ten control over three-quarters (76 percent)! You can read more on this in my Blog “Sending you and SOS.” They have pretty much wrapped up the deal here in the northern hemisphere with very little expansion left. So now they are aiming to take over the agriculture of the global south, particularly Africa and Latin America.
Their targets are the peasant farmers who feed at least 70 percent of the world’s population and are not yet tied to the corporate seed chain. The agribusiness giants want to tie them in hard. They are focusing on ‘education’ and regulation which seeks primarily to stop farmers from saving seeds.
Our species rose up from hunter gatherers and began planting crops somewhere around 4000 BC. The basic tenet of this “revolution” was that humans reproduced crops and had food security by saving and replanting seeds. Through this seed revolution we domesticated animals, developed writing and laid the foundation for the horticultural and industrial ages. I would posit that saving, and planting seeds is a basic human right we established some 6000 years ago. In developing countries most farmers still save and replant their seeds of antiquity.
Seed diversity around the world comes from the work and research of peasant farmers over the centuries, saving seeds and selecting those varieties that work best under varying conditions where they live. These smallholder farmers have created and preserved the world’s seed diversity. Agribusiness is intent on destroying all that in the search for corporate hegemony.
The American Seed Association has stated that saving seeds is something they do not want to encourage in any way shape or form. There is coordinated pressure, particularly on African governments to enforce this in agriculture by adopting and making operational the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, known as UPOV 91. UPOV 91 prohibits the exchange of protected varieties between farmers (including through sale, barter or gift) and restricts the practice of farm-saved seed, forcing farmers to buy seeds every planting season. Instead of protecting plants, UPOV protects corporations– not farmers, not seeds. UPOV locks farmers into a limited selection of patented corporate seeds.
Organizations across the African continent are working to promote the ability to save and replant seeds. Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) is a non-profit and grass-roots movement dedicated to the promotion of food sovereignty in Ghana. Their movement believes in the collective control over seeds and other resources, rather than control by multinational corporations and other foreign entities. Follow them to learn more about their mission, campaigns and to support their progress. Read their position on GMOs here.
In Brazil, a similar threat to food sovereignty and food security was narrowly averted. A bill was filed Rep. Eduardo Sciarra that would have allowed the production and marketing of GMO “suicide” seeds which are seeds genetically engineered to be sterile in the second generation, thus forcing farmers to buy new seeds for every planting cycle. The threat of the Terminator bill quickly mobilized a broad network of social movements groups both within Brazil and internationally. It could be resuscitated at some point, and we know there is a second Terminator bill lurking in the labyrinth of the legislature. If approved there is the potential that suicide seeds could contaminate farmers’ seeds that were not engineered for sterility. This could wreak havoc on indigenous heirloom seed supplies.
Research proves that the heart of the problem with farming in developing countries has little to do with “improving seeds”. The major problems facing farmers are inadequate access to market, poor storage and preservation, low level of hardware technology, inadequate financial capital, over-dependence of rainfall/inadequate access to irrigation systems and the lack of political will to ensure policies that promote self-reliance. These are the issues we need to address in developing countries.
Let’s not allow the global south to lose their seed biodiversity and the ability to have a safe and secure food supply, and let’s fight to take back ours in the North!
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