After the Mexican government shocked the world last December with its plans to allow for the planting of GM maize in the heart of this crops center of diversity, now the same tragedy seems to be going to be allowed in Peru, the centre of patato diversity. Indigenous people raise the alarm.
“Immediate and real implementation of Peru’s GMO moratorium demanded by Andean indigenous peoples”
Indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Andes are outraged at the announcement of the "release" of a Genetically Modified Potato by researchers at a public university in central Peru; this in spite of a recently passed law and regulations by the Peruvian Government which establish a 10 year GMO moratorium in Peru. The news agency Radio Programas del Peru indicated that the Instituto de Biotecnología e Ingeniería Genética de la Universidad Nacional de Centro del Perú (UNCP) presented the GMO potato at a press conference in Huancayo on Jan 15, 2013 (www.rpp.com.pe/2013-01-15-huancayo-presentan-primeras-muestras-de-papa-transgenica-noticia_558004.html)
Indigenous people attending a Public Forum on "Implementing the Moratorium on GMOs and Cusco a GMO-free Region" held in Cusco, Peru responded to this development by sending a public letter to the newly established Office of Environmental Evaluation and Control (OEFA), the monitoring agency in charge of applying the approved regulations, asking for an immediate investigation and application of sanctions for such an offence. Peru is the centre of origin of the potato and harbours the greatest diversity, which is largely conserved by indigenous farmers, and there are fears that the release of the GMO potato would contaminate the native cultivars and kill the emergent organic potato market.
"We are and will be alert to violations of the moratorium and we will continue to protect the integrity of our crops and mother earth" said Ricardo Pacco, leader of the Potato Park communities. "People such as these, who say that they are scientists creating better seeds, are interested only in selfish aims. They help corporations increase their already hefty profits and destroy our biodiversity and the economy of indigenous farmers who depend on the diversity of native crops," he concluded.
On December 9th, 2012, Peru enacted a monumental piece of legislation, placing a 10-year moratorium on the importation, production, and use of any genetically modified seed in the country. Heralded by many as a significant victory for anti-GMO activists and indigenous and organic farmers, the moratorium does not prevent GMOs from ever entering Peru, but it provides Peruvians with a window of opportunity to develop appropriate legislation for any possible future use of GMOs.
Participants in the Forum demanded involvement of a broader segment of society, particularly indigenous peoples, small farmers, universities, professional colleges and the general public, in the implementation of the regulations that accompany the moratorium. The way these are currently formulated, they only address the need to build sufficient technical capacity to enable the future use of GMOs. They do not mention the need to build capacity among farmers to avoid seed contamination, or to seek organic alternatives. Also, they voiced the need to find ways to harmonize these regulations with the ordinance that declared Cusco as a GMO-free region. For the past six years, the region of Cusco has been a GMO-free territory, yet the national moratorium may affect how these regional laws are implemented.
Percy Schmeiser, a farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada who was sued by the giant biotechnology corporation Monsanto, spoke at the Forum on the dangers of GMO crops. Schmeiser urged farmers to increase their capacity to defend their rights as farmers and plant breeders to keep on freely exchanging seed and plant offspring to ensure their food security.
"Indigenous farmers need to strengthen their capacity to demand that these regulations are observed, and they need to monitor the movement and potential introduction of GMOs into our lands," said Lino Mamani, curator of the Potato Park Gene Bank. The Potato Park contains 1436 cultivars of native potato, the largest in vivo collection of native potatoes in the world. It has been recognized as an indigenous biocultural territory by the UN Secretary General and international bodies such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. Speaking about the agrobiodiversity that is used and protected in the Potato Park, Mamani stated that “This is the most precious heritage we have. By continuing to grow these plants in an organic way and adapting them for future use, we truly utilize our country’s potential as a center of crop origin to the fullest. To us, the risk of our potatoes being contaminated by transgenic plants, means the risk of losing what we consider one of the wonders of the world".
Cusco, Peru 24 january, 2013. Contact: Alejandro Argumedo Director Associacion ANDES [email protected]