Despite utmost efforts, one can't get any sign of what India's new seed legislation would look like. But a certain set of powerful international seed players may have already predetermined its bent!
The Second World Seed Conference was held at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome, September 8-10, 2009. The decisions taken there could determine what we eat in the near future, how it is to be grown and what will happen of our farmers.
This Seed Conference was organised by FAO. That's not odd. What is though, is the company that FAO keeps! And the anti-peasant message from a supposedly pro-farmer organisation as the conference conclusions send out, is explained by that.
The co-organisers of the conference with FAO were OECD, UPOV, ITPGRFA, ISTA and ISF. All in chorus concluded that urgent government measures and increased public and private investment in the seed sector are required for the long term if agriculture is to meet the challenge of food security in the context of population growth and climate change.
This 'investment' as in the conclusion statement of the Conference is suggested by five means: increased emphasis on plant breeding, exchange of plant material amongst countries, more intellectual property rights (IPR) on planting materials, seed quality determination and lastly, organised seed certification. All of these with intent to promote "the strong growth in international trade and development of seed markets". This is what the seed industry has been striving towards for years!
Even today small-farm agriculture and farm-saved seeds (FSS) are the mainstay for millions across the globe and particularly for farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In India, as per the Ministry of Agriculture Seed Division's own estimates of April 2009, the seed replacement rate (SRR) of farmers is 'only' 15 to 20%. SRR is the percentage of area sown out of total area of crop planted in a season by using certified seeds other than FSS.
So there is much more business for seed companies to monopolise if FSS were made illegal and industry standards of seed quality be made the norm. FSS remains the final frontier for the global seed industry to capture and reap millions from.
In fact seed laws that make the sale of uncertified and/or unregistered seed illegal are the oldest legal means of supporting the seed industry against competition from farmer-bred seeds. Such laws along with other policy changes are currently being introduced or strengthened in a number of places across the globe. And what pushes these changes are seed rules debated at such conferences.
Let's then take a closer look at the conference co-organisors. OECD headquartered in France is a collective of 30 developed countries that are committed to a market economy, it is basically a rich man's club. Most of the OECD member governments, for example the US, Germany, Switzerland and the corporations they foster have a strong interest in marketing their agricultural products and technologies to the rest of the world and get even richer. Most of these companies and national seed associations of countries are members of the International Seed Federation (ISF) - another co-organisor of the World Seed Conference. ISF works to further the interests of mainstream seed industry at a global level.
|There is much more business for seed companies to monopolise if Farmers' saved seeds (FSS) were made illegal and industry standards of seed quality be made the norm.
The ITPGFRA - International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, popularly called the Plant Treaty firstly systematises the transfer of plant genetic resources from the bio-rich countries to countries that are technologically more 'advanced' to do the formal breeding. Secondly, it does not stop the seed industry from claiming any IPR on 'new' crop varieties that it develops (whether through genetic modification or other means) from the planting material received through the facilitated access under the Treaty. This explains why the industry favours the ITPGRFA.
UPOV is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, a global agreement of 67 mostly European and developed countries that provides for IPR on 'new' plant varieties developed through formal plant breeding. UPOV has long been keen to have India as a member. UPOV most benefits corporate breeders. For example, through patent-like rights over plant varieties the likes of Monsanto, DuPont and its subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred can claim an exclusive economic control over planting materials they develop.
The Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is the Secretary General of UPOV and the two also share office in Geneva, Switzerland. UPOV is by design pro-IPR i.e. it is for the privatisation of planting material. The conference specifically recommends a country's membership of UPOV as an "important global signal for breeders to have the confidence to introduce their new varieties in that country".
Such a view comes from a mindset that farmers' seeds are neither of quality nor ought to be in the commercial seed market. The quality of seeds is also sought to be set as per industry standards. These standards are enforced through seed certification and registration requirements prior to sale. ISTA - the International Seed Testing Association, another of the conference co-organisers, is a global network with focus on achieving uniform seed testing across the world for trade in seeds.
Farmers have been breeders throughout the history of agriculture. Careful selection of plants, choosing what is locally appropriate with adaptive qualities and crossing these for desired characteristics in the resultant crop is informal innovation but science nonetheless.
However, today 'scientific breeding' is referred to that done by either the state's agricultural research systems or by private laboratories and seed entrepreneurs. By default formal breeding in its need to sell predictable uniform products is anti-diversity in the homogeneity it promotes. Yet it is this latter kind of plant breeding that is being pushed for by this seed conference. The very industrial agriculture and an energy-heavy chemical intensive farming system, one of the main causes of climate change, is instead being further advocated.
It is notable that the global seed conference had little representation of farmers. So what the conference advocated came as little surprise. Rules for seeds ought to be made by the real seedkeepers on the ground. Not by a global talk-shop supported by governments with political interests or sponsored by corporations for profiteering. Urgent government measures as well as investments are needed, but for and in an agricultural system that supports the farmers and relies on farmers' own seeds.
For more on seed laws: http://www.grain.org/seedling/?type=45