Oct 3, 2013

Amidst Global Effort to Outlaw Farm-Saved Seed, Traditional Seeds Provide Hope for Future.

In the midst of global efforts to outlaw farm-saved seeds there is some cheering news. Slowly and steadily, farmers in India are shifting towards traditional seeds in India. Climate change is making farmers go back to traditional seeds in Sunderbans, says a news report (See http://bit.ly/17gHpEd). Another report from Karnataka tells us how farmers are reaping happiness by cultivating traditional seeds. There are close to 2,000 seed savers now in Karnataka (See: http://www.goimonitor.com/story/reaping-harvest-happiness) and I happened to meet many of them at the 1st Bangalore Seed Festival that was organised by Sahaja Samrudha on Sept 28-29 2013.

Anupam Paul talking about the traditional crop seeds at the Bangalore Seed Festival 

Everywhere in India, traditional seeds are being reclaimed and brought back. Anupam Paul is a scientist from West Bengal who has been on the traditional seed trail for several years now. I met him at the Bangalore Seed Festival. West Bengal is among the few States where traditional varieties are not only being collected and conserved, but are also being tested under different agro-climatic conditions. He tells me that his research centre at Fulia has collected a few hundred traditional paddy varieties and also a large number of varieties of other crops. Interestingly, he showed me a traditional paddy cultivar called Kerala Sundari which under trails has given a yield of 4.5 to 5 tons/hectare with organic inputs compared with a yield of 4.5 tons/hectare of the high yielding MTU 7029 with application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This variety even fares better compared with 5.5 tons reaped by the hybrid KRH-2 (it uses a heavy dose of chemical fertiliser/pesticides).

Kerala Sundari is not the only variety performing well. He listed Bahurupi, Kabirajsal, Asit Kalma, Jhuli, lakalam, Radhatilak (scented) and Dudheswar as other high-yielding but traditional varieties. Some of them are also tolerant to saline and drought conditions, and some perform better under deep water conditions. In essence, the immense wealth that India has by way of traditional crop varieties is almost lost in the noise and din created in the name of improved crop varieties that cropped up in the post-Green Revolution period. It is however a high time to re-discover the strength of the lost germplasm, and bring it back into cultivation. This may perhaps be our only answer at times of changing climate, declining water table, poisoned soils and the widespread destruction of the natural resource base.

Well, the purpose of this blog is not to detail out the extent and potential of indigenous crop varieties but to focus on the global efforts being made to outlaw the cultivation of these farm-saved seeds. In August, after a three week seize of the national capital in Colombia by thousands of farmers, miners, truckers, workers, students and others, the Colombian Government finally promised to withdraw the controversial Resolution 970 that was enacted in 2010 under the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The resolution outlawed cultivation of farm-saved seed, and to ensure its implementation police had moved into the countryside grabbing, collecting and disposing off farm saved seed. According to a documentary made (Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkQ8U2kHAbI) close to 70 tonnes of seed collected from a community was eventually destroyed.

The outrage against destruction of seed was among the factors that prompted Colombian people to protest.

The process to seek control over seed had actually started several decades back when UPOV 1961 (International Union for the Protection of New Plant varieties) was crafted. Various version of the UPOV treaty had actually turned seeds gradually into a private property of seed companies. The UPOV 1991 agreement, which is now being enforced in Europe, gives seed companies almost control over which seeds are used, stored and processed. At the same time, seed companies will have the right to collect royalties not only on seed, but also when they sell their crop harvests. But under Free Trade Agreements, the US/EU are pushing for still more stringent conditions that outlaws farm-saved seed, like what happened in Colombia.

In Indonesia, a law introduced in 1992 made it obligatory for farmers to use only certified seeds. Since then, 9 farmers have gone to jail in 2007 for growing un-certified seeds, and another 3 were taken into custody in 2009. In Chile, fruit growers have to pay royalties, and if they can't then the trees are uprooted. In many African countries, pressure is building up for accession to the UPOV 1991 law. In 2011, France became the first country to approve UPOV 1991, and by a legislation prohibited the cultivation of farm-saved seed. An 'exemption' to this rule is allowed for 21 crops through a system of payment of royalties. The European Union has also proposed a "Plant Reproductive Material Law" which basically regulates the commercialisation of seeds that are registered and approved.

Under such difficult conditions, when small farmers are being criminalized for cultivating the indigenous crop varieties, the only way to fight the monopolistic power of the seed companies (along with governments that back the industry claims) is to build up strong alliances and link the struggles across the continents. If WTO could be defeated by a unique collaborative effort of the civil society across the countries, I see no reason why farmers and others cannot join hand to resist the takeover of the original seeds. Let us not forget, taking control over seed actually means taking control over the entire food chain, and thereby assuming control over life.

Time for a Seed Satyagrah? #

For more reading: Read the La Via Campesina document: Our Seeds, Our Future.


Ramesh Dubey said...

एग्रीबिजनेस कंपनियों की खेती के मूल आधार (बीज) पर कब्‍जे की मुहिम के बीच परंपरागत बीजों को बचाने का अभियान स्‍वागतयोग्‍य है। आज दुनिया की दस चोटी की एग्रीबिजनेस कंपनियां वैश्‍विक बीज बाजार के 67 फीसदी हिस्‍से पर कब्‍जा जमाएं हुए हैं और इनका हिस्‍सा लगातार बढ़ता ही जा रहा है। ये सभी कंपनियां विकसित देशों की हैं। इतना ही नहीं बौद्धिक संपदा अधिकार के जरिए हाइब्रिड प्रजाति के बीज तैयार करने के लिए जो शोध किया जा रहा है वह विकसित देशों के धनी किसानों की जरूरतों पर आधारित है। उष्‍ण कटिबंधीय फसलें इस शोध कार्य में पूरी तरह उपेक्षित हैं, जबकि इन फसलों से करोड़ों लघु व सीमांत किसानों की आजीविका जुड़ी हुई है। इन देशों के किसानों को बहुराष्‍ट्रीय कंपनियों के महंगे बीज खरीदने के लिए बाध्‍य होना पड़ रहा है। दूसरे, इससे विविध फसलों के स्‍थान पर कुछेक चुनिंदा फसलों की खेती को बढ़ावा मिल रहा है जिनकी अंतरराष्‍ट्रीय बाजार में भरपूर मांग है। इस प्रक्रिया में पेट के लिए नहीं बल्‍कि बाजार के लिए खेती को बढ़ावा मिला। तीसरे, बीज क्षेत्र में शोध कार्य हो रहे हैं उनमें विकासशील देश बहुराष्‍ट्रीय बायोटेक बीज कंपनियों के इशारे पर नाचने लगे हैं।

Lauren Howe said...

Hi Dr. Sharma. I hope you are doing well. Glad to read the current news on seed saving in India - I am currently at Navdayana. I am just wondering if you received the email I sent a couple of weeks ago about arranging a meeting. I will be in Delhi on October 22nd if you happen to be travelling then! It would great if you could email me (laulhowe@gmail.com). Thanks so much!