Open letter - Brazilian civil society recommendations for the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its protocols

by Brazilian civil society | 16 Nov 2018


We, Brazilian peasants, family farmers, indigenous peoples, traditional peoples and communities, community scientists, social and trade union movements and urban groups, aware of the themes to be discussed at COP14, hereby manifest our position. 

We begin with a contextualization.

For the information of citizens from other countries attending the Conference, we alert that antidemocratic actions, such as mass dissemination of fake news, in favour of interests and commitments alien to the needs of the Brazilian population, have affronted the 1988 Brazilian Federal Constitution. The result of the elections in our country has brought threats to human rights, freedom of expression, the right to diversity, the right to protest and to free political organization, among others. Statements made by the president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, point to serious risks of criminalization of social movements, by including them on the list of terrorist organizations, as well as the mention made of “putting an end to all forms of activism” and persecution of political adversaries, in addition to repeated manifestations of contempt for minorities. These stances have incited manifestations of hate and intolerance in civil society, lead by many of his supporters.

There are also explicit threats to Brazilian biodiversity and to the country’s environmental policy, such as:

  • the possibility of the Ministry of the Environment being subordinated to the Ministry of Agriculture;
  • Brazil’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement;
  • the exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon in partnership with or directly by private sector enterprises, with preference for the United States of America;
  • refusal to demarcate indigenous lands and the refusal to regularize land titles of quilombola and traditional community territories;
  • denial of agrarian reform;
  • relaxation of the law on pesticides, among other measures in favour of the advance of the farming frontier and the extractive industry.

We call on the international community, international cooperation agencies and multilateral institutions  to closely monitor the unfolding of the transition of government in Brazil and its next movements in order to avoid setbacks and persecutions affecting the rights of Brazilian peoples to keeping their means and ways of living based on the conservation of agrobiodiversity and sociobiodiversity.

We emphasize that in this context of threatened democracy, Brazil’s commitments to the protection of biodiversity, forests, indigenous and traditional territories are also at risk and must be taken into consideration in this great space of international debates.

We realize that in short, the international community and Brazilian citizens in their entirety will become aware of these events and the difficulties imposed on human development in our region. By means of measures characteristic of a state of exception put into place since the 2016 institutional coup, already denounced in the previous letter addressed to the Conference, the current extreme scenario of human rights violations occurring during the 2018 election process, represents the continuation and worsening of human rights setbacks. It also represents a worrying increase in institutional and social violence and intolerance, which culminated in the election of an authoritarian candidate auguring social setbacks for our region and for the world.

Concerned about fundamental aspects, such as overcoming hunger and institutionalized fear, and in defence of guaranteeing healthy food and protection of the Amazon, we reaffirm our historical position and trust in democracy, in respect for the Brazilian Federal Constitution and for the international agreements to which we are committed, as well as our expectation of international solidarity in terms of watching over and containing the threats and violations that are already occurring in our country.

The 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the 2020 Biodiversity Targets (Aichi Targets) will fail if the setbacks that are looming in Brazil are not curbed quickly. These setbacks are made worse by carelessness and omissions in multilateral agreements, such as the case that occurred at the UN General Assembly in September this year, when we were taken by surprise by Brazil’s abstention in the vote on the “Declaration on Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas”, which up until then had been built with the firm and informed support of our people and our governments.

As such, specifically in relation to the points raised at COP 14, and alert as to the directions that its decisions may take, directly affecting our country and the global community, we draw attention to the following:


Brazil stands out as one of the countries with the largest area of land planted with genetically modified seeds. They account for 45 million hectares and 81 authorized GM varieties, 83% of which are corn, soybeans and cotton, resistant to one or more herbicides known to have heavy impacts on health and the environment.

This link between transgenic seeds and associated pesticides makes Brazil the world’s largest pesticides consumer, accounting for more than 1 billion litres a year. This fact exposes the Brazilian population and the environment as a whole to irreversible risks. Some 30% of the more than 500 agrotoxin products authorized in Brazil have already been banned in Europe. It is important to highlight that glyphosate-based herbicides used with GM seeds account for more than half of total agrotoxins used in Brazil.

We also recall that massive aerial and ground pesticide spraying is reducing pollinator species in Brazil. These are fundamental for the diversity of agricultural systems and for food production, and especially for ensuring the lives and culture of indigenous peoples, traditional and peasant communities. We also hereby denounce that pesticides have been used in Brazil as nothing less than chemical weapons, resulting in genocide of peoples, species, culture and ways of life owing to overt and criminal spraying of these substances.

In the face of this scenario and in view of national norms and ratified international agreements, one would expect Brazilian authorities to ensure greater regulation, more rigorous prior assessments of risks and strict observance of the principle of precaution. Notwithstanding, the signs coming from the government point to a movement towards less regulation, in blatant contradiction of the Aichi targets, in particular: Sustainable management of agriculture/aquaculture areas (7) and sustainable production and consumption (4), removal of incentives and subsidies harmful to biodiversity (3), avoiding extinction of species and varieties (12) and variability of cultivated plants – genetic diversity (13).

We denounce the acceleration by CTNBio of commercial authorization of genetically modified organisms without due scientific rigor, the attacks of the food industry on the right to information and labelling of transgenic products and the multiplication of cases of genetic and agrotoxin contamination that violate the rights of farmers, indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

With government support the National Congress is in the process of approving legislation that excludes official health and environment bodies from the process of regulating agrotoxins, leaving it to the commercial interests of companies in this sector. Jair Bolsonaro has already announced that the president of the Farming and Cattle Raising Parliamentary Front, Tereza Cristina (DEM) will be the future Minister of Agriculture. She is one of the main advocates for the Bill of Law that aims to alter the Agrotoxin Law (Law 7802/1989), nicknamed as the poison package. The Ministry of Agriculture has also regulated the possibility of mixing agrotoxins, turning a blind eye to the potential and worsened risks of these combinations. We therefore defend and call on the international community to become familiar with and support Bill of Law 6670/2016, which institutes the National Policy on Agrotoxin Use Reduction, as well as support for research, awareness raising and actions to develop Agroecology.


With no publicity and without civil society participation, the National Technical Commission on Biosecurity (CTNBio) approved, in January 2018, Normative Resolution (NR) 16/2018, which establishes requirements for the definition of new biotechnologies involving genetic engineering that differ from the techniques used in transgenesis.

One of the forms of biotechnology mentioned in the Resolution approved by CTNBio is gene drives. The Normative Resolution makes Brazil the world’s first country to allow research, development, production and trading of this type of technology and this has lead to much questioning by social movements.

The approved Normative Resolution opens legal breaches for the organisms produced by this new genetic alteration technology not to be considered as being Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). As such, they would not be subject to the implications of the Biosecurity Law (Lei No. 11105/2005), such as risk assessment or labelling for production and consumption.

There are no in-depth scientific studies and there is no proof that these new precision technologies can contribute to solving social food or nutrition problems. It is our understanding that organisms with these genetic manipulations can cause irreversible impacts on sociodiversity and agrobiodiversity. In addition, they can be considered to be biological weapons capable of exterminating entire species. The principles of prevention and precaution, which are part of the Convention on Biological Diversity to which Brazil is signatory, have been completely ignored. The most recent recommendation made by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technology Advice (SBSTTA) acknowledges that such technologies can generate serious or even irreversible effects on biological diversity, threatening rare species, habitats and complex ecosystems.

We recommend the Brazilian Government to:

  • Respect Aichi Target 3 to eliminate or reform incentives harmful to biodiversity in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, in particular the removal of agrotoxin tax exemptions and benefits and any change to the law that facilitates the use, trading and authorization to use agrotoxins;
  • Conduct risk analysis as to the synergetic impact of different agrotoxins that form part of the technology package that comes with certain GMOs, also eliminating any possibility of mixing or combining agrotoxins;
  • Incorporate into CTNBio’s risk assessments the tests needed to analyze the impacts and adverse events for the environment and for health arising from the use of agrotoxins associated with transgenic crops;
  • Approve the National Policy on Agrotoxin Use Reduction as a Federal Law.


According to NR 16/2018, the Precision Breeding Innovation (PBI) technologies comprise a “set of new methodologies and approaches that differ from the genetic engineering strategy that uses transgenesis, as they result in the absence of recombinant DNA/RNA in the final product”. However, it is our understanding that even though they may be cisgenic, PBIs should be subject to the Biosecurity Law, bearing in mind the provision of the Cartagena Protocol that they are “Living Modified Organisms”, meaning “any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology”.

Native seeds exist and have existed in the hands of family farmers, indigenous peoples and traditional communities and embody the resistance of these people who take care of and feed from these seeds that have been protected and saved since ancient times. Between 2003 and 2015 in Brazil, thanks to the articulation of forward-looking governments and pressure from social movements, the importance of these seeds was recognized by law, by public policies and by a growing set of scientific evidence. As part of the strategy to guarantee the food sovereignty and security of communities and peoples, seed fair experiences were valued and replicated, affirming the right to freely exchange these species and varieties. Seed banks and seed stores were also strengthened, in particular in Brazil’s semi-arid region.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture - ITPGRFA (articles 5, 6 and 9), the Convention on Biological Diversity – CBD (articles 8j and 10c), as well as Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2 and 15, and Aichi targets 7 and 13, served as reference parameters in achieving this progress. On the other hand, in the same period, the advance of transgenic seeds has directly threatened native seed saving. Saving, sustainable use, free exchange and trading of native seeds entail a democratic society and resistance in the fight to defend territory. We therefore recognize native seeds as the “heritage of the peoples at the service of humanity”.

We therefore recommend that the Brazilian State:

- Publish a new edition of CTNBio Normative Resolution 16/2018 in compliance with the Federal Constitution, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol, with regard to civil society and scientific community participation and evaluation as to the risks to Brazilian food and nutrition security and sovereignty;

- Amend the Biosecurity Law in keeping with the Cartagena Protocol, avoiding legal dodges that exempt Precision Breeding Innovation technologies from regulation;

- Support an international moratorium on new genetic precision technologies and experimental application of gene drives, biofortified crops, synthetic biology and other genetic engineering mechanisms.

However, since 2016 we have been witness to the dismantling of public policies aimed at agrobiodiversity and food sovereignty, as is the case of the Food Purchasing Programme (PAA), a policy forming part of the Zero Hunger Programme. Similarly the II National Plan on Agroecology and Organic Production and the National Agrotoxin Reduction Programme have failed to be implemented. We have also been witness to the breakdown of policies on land titling of quilombola territories, recognition of the territories of traditional peoples and communities and land expropriation for agrarian reform which have had their budget severely reduced. We reaffirm that without the right to land and territory and biodiversity, it is not possible to produce healthy food or to protect our diverse genetic heritage.

We denounce the dismantling of socioenvironmental legislation and policies in Brazil and the collapse of land categories that condition the use and occupation of land in Brazil to the land’s socioenvironmental function, favouring the advance of the farming frontier and the extractive industry. Measures have been approved such as acceptance of the relaxation of environmental licensing, the reduction of Conservation Units by mere administrative acts and not by law, as well as the disruption of indigenous and quilombola territory demarcation and agrarian reform.

In addition, this year the Forestry Code (Law 12651/2012) has been consolidated by a Federal Supreme Court ruling. This law was approved in 2012 and granted the amnesty of historical deforestation, authorizing the legal suppression of some 107 million hectares. Deforestation was found to have increased from 4.6 to 5.9 thousand Km2 of cleared land in the Brazilian Legal Amazon region in the year following enactment of the law (2012-2013), with a further increase between 2015 and 2016 from 6.2 to 7.9 thousand Km2, with deforestation increasing by 29%. 

We therefore recommend that the Brazilian State: 

- Resume public policies aimed at the production of healthy food (PAA) and protection of the native seeds of the peoples (PAA seeds) and ensure the policies on agrarian reform, indigenous land demarcation, quilombola territory land titling and recognition of traditional territories;

- Refrain from doing any act in the “sense of limiting any rights farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds or propagating material”, as per ITPGRFA article 9 and CBD article 10c, especially within the “seed” modality of the Food Purchasing Programme (PAA);

- Respect Priority Biodiversity Areas (Environment Ministry Ordinance No. 07/2017), expanding policies compatible with biological diversity and the sustainable use of agrobiodiversity resources, without increasing monocultures;

- Create policies to strengthen community seed banks and traditional community knowledge associated with positive encouragement of cultivated Biodiversity and food sovereignty, as per the Aichi targets and the SDGs;

- Review its abstention from supporting the Declaration on Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas at the United Nations.


The law also caused a change in the Brazilian legal system with regard to environmental protection, increasing neo-liberalization of natural resources and financialization of nature.

2017 saw the approval of Law 13465/2017, referred to as the land fraud law by social movements which consider that various of its provisions are unconstitutional. This new law altered around 10 laws on land in Brazil, allowing land regularization of areas occupied up until 22.07.2008 and measuring up to 2500 hectares throughout Brazil, including by legal entities, in return for payment well below market prices, with discount ranging from 90% to 50% of the amount shown on the price chart set by the National Institute for Colonization and Land Reform (INCRA). This is an institutional incentive for land fraud in Brazil. This law also undoes some of the provisions for land reform by facilitating plots of land intended for agrarian reform being reintroduced onto the land market. As such, we denounce the massive transferral of public land to the private and corporate sphere and also the policy of agrarian counter-reform promoted by Brazil.

These laws interact to enable the land and environmental regularization of areas occupied and deforested illegally up until 22.07.2008, allowing full access by historic deforesters and land deed falsifiers to the national and international financial and credit systems and their inclusion on the so-called “green” global value chains, as if they were sustainable. The Rural Environmental Register, which is self-declared and has no time limit for checking by state control bodies, is the formula for creating these virtual socio-environmentally “certified” territories, regardless of conflicts that may exist on the real territories. The Measures are a perverse incentive and pose a grave risk of increased deforestation and biodiversity degradation, in breach of Aichi targets 5, 11 and 15 and Brazil’s commitment to the Paris Agreement to recover 12 million hectares of degraded forest. 

In view of this scenario, we recommend that the Brazilian State: 

- Revoke Law 13465/2017, given that several of its provisions do not comply with the Federal Constitution (ADI 5771 MPF) or with the Convention on Biological Diversity, with risk of undermining the agrarian reform policy in the medium term, remembering that this reform is fundamental for preserving Brazilian sociodiversity and agrobiodiversity;

- Cease the dismantling of land rules and their transferral from the public to the private sphere (as this fuels conflicts, violence, deforestation and land fraud in rural Brazilian areas) and increase public and constitutional protection of land use and occupation in Brazil;

- Reject the ecosystem and biodiversity economy and its instruments of monetary valuation (including agricultural commodities) within the logic of biodiversity markets and financialization and its ecosystem functions as a form of protection of biological diversity and traditional knowledge, thereby rejecting the issuing of certificates or titles representative of “environmental services”, in compliance with the Federal Constitution;

- Take the stance of not allowing the use of Conservation Units and other protected territorial areas as a form of environmental compensation, nor as generators of carbon credits;

- Observe the REDD+ Safeguards for biodiversity and traditional knowledge, as per Decision XI/19 and as per National Commission for REDD Resolution No. 9 which interpreted the safeguards for Brazil, so that the implementation of REDD policies are not reduced to payments for environmental services (article 41 of the Forestry Code), but rather take into consideration the entire existing frame of public policies (appendix to Resolution 9), so as to support public policies that support REDD results, such as the National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production (PNAPO), the Food Purchasing Programme (PAA), the National School Meals Programme (PNAE), and the territorial policies for demarcating and land titling of traditional and agrarian reform territories.

It is our understanding that conservation of sociobiodiversity depends on ensuring free use of our territories and autonomous management of traditional knowledge systems by indigenous peoples, traditional and peasant communities. However, regardless of the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol, signed but not ratified by Brazil, we denounce that Law 13123/2015 regarding access to and sharing of benefits, despite progress with some of its wording, violates basic human rights of free, prior and informed consultation and facilitates, with trappings of legality, the historical process of biopiracy, since it does not ensure the traceability of access to genetic heritage and traditional knowledge.

Regardless of the sharing mechanism, this Brazilian Law and even the Nagoya Protocol deny fair historical reparation for the expropriation suffered and violate the rights of indigenous peoples, traditional and peasant communities.

Our accumulated experience, guaranteed by three years of civil society participation and monitoring of Law 13123/2015, indicates that with regard to the Genetic Heritage Management Council (CGEN), which has twenty members, only three of them are bearers of genetic heritage and traditional knowledge, and there is a series of difficulties in ensuring rights and combating biopiracy.

The strong influence of corporations and agribusiness aims to access traditional knowledge, trampling on the positions, times and rights of family farming, indigenous peoples and traditional peoples and communities to representation on CGEN. The imposition of confidentiality on the processes/requests for access to associated traditional knowledge results in these representatives being deprived of technical and legal assistance, especially when they do not have adequate working conditions and face restrictions as to the debate with their peers. All these mechanisms increase inequality and facilitate biopiracy and the expropriation of traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity.

We are also concerned, within the context of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol, by the advance of the discussion of themes that reverberate these same historical violations in a new context, such as the case of digital data on genetic sequencing data, which is susceptible to patenting. The position of the 22nd meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technology Advice (SBSTTA), makes plain the dispute between countries of the global north and global south, indicating: a) the explicit relationship between digital information on genetic sequencing and privatization of biodiversity and associated knowledge, undermining global Food Sovereignty; b) the absence of prior, free and informed consent for digital information on sequences deposited in public databases, thus eliminating traceability; c) the dispute in relation to the sharing of benefits arising from the use of digital information on genetic sequencing; d) the possibility of increased biopiracy events as a result of genetic sequencing digitalization techniques.

We therefore recommend that the Brazilian State:

- Respect the carrying out of the prior and informed consultation procedure via institutions representative of indigenous peoples, traditional peoples and communities and family farmers and peasants, as per CBD article 8 “j”, Aichi target 18, ILO Convention 169 article 6.1 “a”, especially with regard to access to associated traditional knowledge and respective benefit sharing;

- Ensure the right to say “no” to access to associated traditional knowledge, given that the way Lei 13123/2015 is worded, the right to veto access is impracticable;

- Enforce the Law to ensure the true participation of indigenous peoples, traditional communities and family farmers on the Genetic Heritage Management Council (CGEN), making this feasible, meeting the costs thereof and making available technical and legal assistance to the representatives and communities involved.

Sign this letter:

  • Ação da Cidadania – São Paulo
  • Amigos da Terra Brasil
  • Arte na Terra
  • Articulação Estadual das Comunidades Tradicionais de
  • Fundos e Fechos de Pasto da Bahia
  • Articulação Nacional de Agroecologia - ANA
  • Articulação no Semiárido Brasileiro – ASA
  • Articulação Pacari - Plantas Medicinais do Cerrado
  • Articulação para o Monitoramento dos DH no Brasil
  • AS-PTA Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologia
  • Associação Alternativa Terrazul
  • Associação Aroeira
  • Associação Brasileira de Agroecologia - ABA
  • Associação Brasileira de Reforma Agrária- ABRA
  • Associação Comunitária do Laranjal
  • Associação de Combate aos Poluentes – ACPO
  • Associação dos Pomeranos do Sul
  • Associação dos Servidores Federais da Área Ambiental no
  • Estado do Rio de Janeiro - ASIBAMA/RJ
  • Associação para o Desenvolvimento da Agroecologia –AOPA
  • Associação Nacional de Agricultura Camponesa -ANAC
  • Associação Santa Teresa de Agroecologia ASTRAL
  • Campanha Nacional Permanente Contra os Agrotóxicos e Pela Vida
  • Casa Latino-americana – CASLA
  • Central Única dos Trabalhadores - CUT Brasil
  • Centro de Agricultura Alternativa Norte de Minas Gerais
  • Centro de Desenvolvimento Sustentável e Capacitação em
  • Agroecologia - CEAGRO
  • Centro de Estudos Ambientais - CEA RS
  • Centro de Estudos da Mídia Alternativa Barão de Itararé
  • Centro Ecológico Ipê
  • Centro Tiê de Agroecologia
  • Coletivo Cidade Que Queremos - Porto Alegre
  • Coletivo Panaceia
  • Comissão Nacional de Fortalecimento das Reservas
  • Extrativistas e Povos Tradicionais Extrativistas Costeiros e Marinhos – CONFREM
  • Comunidades Andirobeiras
  • Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores Rurais
  • Agricultores e Agricultoras Familiares - CONTAG
  • Conselho Nacional das Populações Extrativistas - CNS
  • Cooperação e Apoio a Projeto de Inspiração Alternativa - CAPINA
  • Cooperativa de Consumidores de Produtos Ecológicos de Torres - Ecotorres
  • Cooperativa de reciclagem comercio e indústria de resíduos sólidos da região integrada de desenvolvimento do Distrito Federal e entorno - COOPERIDE RECICLAGEM.
  • Coordenação Nacional Caiçara
  • Coordenação Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades
  • Negras Rurais Quilombolas - CONAQ
  • Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço - CESE
  • CSA Brasil
  • FASE – Solidariedade e Educação;
  • Fórum Brasileiro de Soberania e Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional - FBSSAN
  • Fórum das Comunidades Tradicionais Caiçaras
  • Fórum de Defesa Ambiental de Alagoas
  • Grupo Carta de Belém
  • GT-Biodiversidade da Articulação Nacional de Agroecologia
  • Instituto Gaúcho de Estudos Ambientais – INGÁ
  • Instituto Giramundo Mutuando
  • Instituto Juma Xipaia
  • Instituto Nhandecy
  • Instituto Socioambiental Rio dos Peixes
  • Jaguaribe Vivo
  • Marupá Agricultura e Meio Ambiente
  • Movimento Camponês Popular - MCP
  • Movimento Ciência Cidadã - MCC
  • Movimento das Catadoras de Mangaba
  • Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas - MMC
  • Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens - MAB
  • Movimento dos Geraizeiros
  • Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores MPA
  • Movimento dos Retireiros do Araguaia
  • Movimento dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras do Campo
  • MTC Brasil
  • Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra - MST
  • Movimento Gandarela
  • Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu - MIQCB
  •  Movimento SOS Chapada dos Veadeiros
  • Mutirão Agroflorestal
  • Núcleo de Agroecologia e Educação do Campo - GWATA -UEG
  • Núcleo de Estudos Ambientais e Saúde do Trabalhador -ISC-UFMT
  •  Núcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas Sociais em Desastres –NEPED
  •  Núcleo Interdisciplinar de Pesquisa e Extensão Científica e Tecnológica em Agroecologia da UFRRJ
  • Red de Coordinacion en Biodiversidad
  • Rede Brota Cerrado de Cultura e Agroecologia
  • Rede CSA Brasília
  • Rede de Comunidades Tradicionais Pantaneiras
  • Rede de Educadores Ambientais do Paraná - REA PARANÁ
  • Rede de Mulheres Negras para Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional
  • Rede Ecovida
  • Rede Moinho
  • Rede ODS Brasil
  • Rede Puxirão dos Faxinalenses
  • Rede Sementes da Agroecologia - ReSA
  • Rega Brasil
  • Slow Food Brasil
  • Sociedade Brasileira de Etnobiologia e Etnoecologia - SBEE
  • Teko Porã Permacultura
  • Terra de Direitos – Organização de Direitos Humanos
  • Union de Los Cientificos Comprometidos con la Sociedad y la Naturaleza de America Latina - UCCSNAL
  • Via Campesina Brasil


Author: Brazilian civil society