PAPA ALLAI MITAN PACHA. Time to unearth the potatoes.
Image credit: Felipe Huaman Poma de Ayala / Public domain
We are pleased to present a series of booklets that can help us understand the role of seeds in our global society, in each country’s national fabric, but above all in the extended daily lives of the people who live from their relationship with Nature by listening to the earth. These booklets can help us understand what is behind the resolve to instate intellectual property and the privatization of seeds through pacts, conventions, agreements, laws, standards, norms, registries, and certifications; why so much effort is invested in pushing aside what has been humanity’s fundamental task for thousands of years.
What’s happening now is like the worst of science fiction. Around the world, laws and free trade agreements are making communities’ age-old practices of freely saving and trading seeds illegal. All because large corporations (a sort of consortium of agribusiness, techno-science, finance, trade, international regulatory bodies, legal structures, and legislative bodies) have arduously pursued an angle of direct and complete attack to eradicate peasant agriculture, privatize it, substituting it with industrial agricultural production.
They seek to dilute the potential of the talisman that has allowed sowers to remain free: the seed.
Seeds are the key to food networks, to peasants’ true independence from the invasive and corrupting ways of the landowners, ranchers, drug traffickers, pharmaceuticals, agrochemical companies, food processors, supermarkets and governments.
Researchers from large corporations assume their restricted and weak (they would say homogenous) versions of the infinite variety of seeds can substitute the infinite genetic potential of crops and ensure the future of agricultural protection. But they are totally wrong.
Some background. In the 1980s, it was easy for people to believe that each country set its own public policies regarding national matters. Despite interference, invasions, or blockades (like the United States’ embargo against Cuba), there was a feeling that a certain balance was sought in international ties according to some basic principles in relation to other nations.
The assumption was that each country was economically and socially sovereign: it conducted its national production, maintained its national and international trade, its labour policies, those of science and technology, environmental protection, and many other issues.
There was an assertion that each country had its social rights and civil liberties (although there were some interferences – both open and covert).
With their constitutions, laws, norms, and regulations, each country claimed to protect its national industry and the ideas used in critical products and services by establishing special taxes and tariffs for their imports.
However, starting in 1989, certain international bodies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, along with the United States, imposed “structural adjustments” and began demanding that countries align their procedures, thereby launching “globalization”. In a somewhat coercive way, they demanded that countries abandon their regulations and adopt others that are “equal for all”.
With the excuse of “facilitating commercial trade”, they claimed to seek comparable regulations, criteria, and norms.
The interests of “developed” countries were instituted, and with them, the interests of the large corporations based there.
Arguing for “free trade”, they actually imposed reforms that affected all life, as they opened space for corporations to manoeuvre, removed restrictions, and did little to monitor the utility nor the negative effects of corporate activities.
Governments, judicial institutions, and rule of law began to erode. Profiteers sought to subdue justice. They even demand that corporations be able to sue States in special courts when they do not comply with the imposed reforms.
The large corporations and their “associated” governments began controlling trade in goods and services; the importance placed on production, food, healthcare, scientific development, natural resources, labour, individual and collective capacities; and today control many aspects of life.
Free Trade Agreements landed on us; instruments created to lock in the reforms mentioned above. Agreements in “trade”, “investment”, “technical assistance”, that commit signatory countries (non-dominant, among them Latin American countries) to comply with the demands of the countries that set the agreements’ rules along with the international bodies, although in theory they have been agreed to “freely” by the countries.
One element in this wave of international control by States and corporations was the decision by governments to – according to them – “protect” seeds for food and native biodiversity: the varieties of plants, animals, and beings that grow in forests, prairies, and deserts.
We now understand that this was the beginning of a dispute. Corporations were trying to control the keys to the reproduction of life: the seeds and other vegetative material (cuttings, bends, others) that enable the large-scale industrial production of food. They sought to put a end to independent agriculture. They wanted to control vegetative materials to produce medicines, fragrances, fuels, and other goods.
Other conventions were created regarding traditional knowledge, objects of daily life, and even the cultural symbols that distinguish specific indigenous peoples or local population.
The booklets that we present aim to detail every international convention and pact developed to subdue biodiversity’s richness and wisdom, and to stop peoples from maintaining their ancestral caring, their own production, their autonomy, and their territories.
At this time, we present four booklets (currently only in Spanish):
- A first introductory booklet that explains the causes and reasons for this increasingly restrictive control.
- A second booklet that describes the so-called Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol.
- A third booklet that discusses the so-called Seed Treaty (or International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture-ITPGRFA), plus a characterization of the laws that seek to register and certify seeds.
- A fourth booklet that differentiates peasant seeds from seeds that are certified or registered.
These are just a first look; they will be followed by other booklets that discuss the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) International Convention, the problem with intellectual property, and the resistance against these privatization attempts that are dangerous for humanity and life as a whole.
Seeds Collective - Alianza Biodiversidad - GRAIN