Why Seed Swapping is key to maintaining Food Sovereignty

  • It keeps a diversity of locally adapted varieties alive
  • It resists the privatisation of plant genetic material
  • It keeps seed making in the garden and out of the laboratory
  • It gets round the counter-productive aspects of the National List, which even the government admits are daft
  • It helps protect biodiversity
  • Not to mention introducing you to other local gardeners, cementing a sense of community and saving you money. Not bad for something you can do in your back garden!

Source: Seedy Sunday

SEED SWAPPING: NOT A NEW IDEA!

We are used to buying things when we need them. Our first impulse, if we want to grow vegetables, may be to go and buy a packet of seeds. But this is a recent option. For almost all the time humans have grown plants for food, they SAVED seeds to sow the following year, choosing the plants that thrived best or produced the tastiest or most plentiful foods. To expand the range of the plants they grew and to bolster supplies in times of shortage, they also swapped seed. In this way, since time immemorial, growers have harnessed the process of natural selection to develop the thousands of useful varieties of food plants we grow today. Modern seed-swappers are continuing this tradition.

FEWER VARIETIES, SUITED TO COMMERCIAL GROWERS

For more than a century, agricultural supply companies have been in the business of persuading farmers and growers to buy things which they formerly produced themselves, including seeds. This has brought about dramatic changes in the kinds of plants we grow. Seed companies sell most of their seeds to commercial growers, so it pays them to focus their resources on developing a relatively small number of varieties with the sort of characteristics these growers want. That means, for example, plants that come into fruit at the same time, so whole fields can be picked at once; or climbing beans sturdy and uniform enough to be harvested by machine; or strawberries that stay firm long enough to be distributed to supermarkets. Traits valued by gardeners (such as flavour, or a long fruiting season to avoid gluts) are not high on this list. Nor (since the seeds are sold all over the country), can the varieties be suited to local growing conditions.

SEED THAT CAN’T BE SAVED

An increasing number of the seeds now on sale are F1 hybrids, first developed in the 1920s. Growers traditionally collected seeds from ‘open-pollinated’ plants, meaning plants that pollinated naturally, where they grew. Hybrid seeds are produced by artificially cross-pollinating two plants from different varieties which have often already been self-pollinated for several generations. By crossing plants in this controlled (and expensive) way, plant breeders can develop and amplify very specific characteristics, such as high yield, disease resistance, or short straw length to facilitate combine harvesting. The seeds of these crosses, the F1 (or Filial 1) seeds, produce very uniform plants (in fact, they genetically identical, unlike the offspring of open-pollinated plants), and they are often very vigorous. These characteristics undoubtedly make them useful to growers. BUT — a big but — they do not ‘breed true’. When the F1 plants mature, the seeds they produce are either sterile or grow into weak plants with unpredictable traits. To replicate the F1 hybrid plants, the original cross must be repeated. So farmers and growers cannot collect these seeds and sow them again the following year. This is obviously convenient for the people who sell seeds, but very inconvenient for the people who grow them, because it means that for the first time in history, growers have to buy new seed every year.

LISTING: TRADITIONAL SEEDS OUTLAWED

Since the 1970s, UK and EU legislation has unintentionally exacerbated the decline in traditional varieties of fruit and vegetables. In the name of protecting growers from the risk of buying unsound or unpredictable seeds, governments produced National Lists, which prescribe the varieties that can be legally bought and sold. This means that even if you have been growing a variety for years, if it is not ‘Listed’ it is illegal to buy or sell it (which is why seed swaps, where unlisted varieties change hands, do not charge for seeds, but ask for a donation to cover costs). There is a fee to have a variety included in the List, and every Listed variety must have a ‘Maintainer’, who pays to keep it on the List. Consequently, varieties that don’t sell in large quantities are unlikely to make it onto the List. Seed swappers refer to these as ‘outlawed’ varieties, rather than the more polite ‘heritage’ or ‘heirloom’. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which administers the National Lists in the UK, admits that there is a problem and maintains a ‘B List’ which includes some older varieties. But a 2007 review by Defra found that there were many varieties that no commercial company wanted to maintain ‘as they see no benefit in doing so’.

SHRINKING SEED SUPPLY: BAD FOR BIODIVERSITY

It is frustrating for many gardeners that old varieties are often unavailable and that the F1 varieties that dominate seed catalogues cannot produce viable seed. But the potential consequences for the earth’s ecosystems are much more serious. Seeds are one of the fundamentals of life, and lie at the base of the human food chain. By pollinating freely and making seed, plants constantly experiment with the genetic material available to them, and adapt opportunistically to new conditions. As the reservoir of genetic material shrinks — because fewer varieties are grown — the potential for plants (and the growers who use them) to make successful new adaptations in the future is jeopardised. Globally, the United Nations estimates that 75% of plant diversity has been lost in the past 100 years. In Mexico, 80% of maize varieties have been lost. In the Philippines, only two varieties of rice are now cultivated, where once there were thousands. Saving and swapping seeds sounds like a small thing to do to combat this huge problem, but it is vitally important. Even the world’s 1400 seed banks, which hold the seeds of many varieties in cold storage, can not keep them indefinitely without growing and renewing them from time to time. This is what seed savers do every year -renew the stock, and preserve a bit of the gene pool for the future.

Source: Vandana Shiva

Seed is the basis of agriculture; the means of production and the basis of farmers’ livelihoods. In less than two decades, cotton seed has been snatched from the hands of Indian farmers by Monsanto, displacing local varieties, introducing GMO Bt cotton seeds and coercing extravagant royalties from farmers. Since Monsanto’s entry into India in 1998, the price of cotton seeds has increased by almost 80,000% (from ₹5 — ₹9/KG to ₹ 1600 for 450 gms). 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, trapped in vicious cycles of debt and crop failures, 84% of these suicides are attributed directly to Monsanto’s Bt cotton.

For 8 million cotton farmers awaiting the Kharif 2016 sowing season, access and availability to fairly priced seeds is a matter of survival. Any situation that threatens the livelihoods of 8 million Indians is a national emergency. The issue of Seed Price impinges directly on farmers rights. And since the high prices with the high royalty component has driven farmers to suicide, State Governments and the Central Government have acted to bring down the seed prices.

There are 3 issues related to the state of seed and the current conflicts related to Monsanto, Indian farmers and the Govt of India. First is the farmers rights to reliable and affordable seed and with it the duty of the government to protect farmers right to livelihood and right to life . It is the government’s duty under Art 21 of the constitution to protect the life of all its citizens. The Cotton Seed Price Control Order issued by the Government of India needs to be seen in the context of farmers rights.

Second is the issue of IPRs, patents, royalty ,technology fees in the context of false claims and a failing technology, and the duty of Government to act to revoke a patent according to Article 64 and Article 66 of the Indian Patent Act. There is a show cause notice served to Monsanto by the Central Government regarding the patent.

The third is the issue of monopoly on seed. The Government has a duty to prevent monopolies being established . This is why we had the MRTP commission earlier, and now the competition commission .

The issue of monopoly is before the Competition Commission of India which has stated that Monsanto has violated Competition laws and there is Prima Facie evidence of monopoly.

Just as Monsanto is forum shopping by going to different courts at the same time, it is also issue-shopping. First it is trying to reduce the contest over seed price as only between Monsanto and Indian companies which are its licensees, thus attempting to totally erase farmers and the fundamental rights of farmers from the case. Second, Monsanto is hiding the two other Government actions against it on the issue of Bt Cotton, the show cause notice on revocation of the Bt cotton patent, and the Competition Commission of India case.

All aspects impact farmers rights and farmers livelihoods.

FARMERS RIGHTS TO SEED = RIGHT TO LIFE

In the case of farmers, the right to seed is the basis of the right to life. Farmers are being trapped in debt and being driven to suicide because seed is too costly and the seed available is also unreliable. Since at the end of the day, royalty is paid by farmers, Monsanto’s royalties are violating the affordability criteria and are responsible for farmers debt, distress and suicides. First Bt I and now Bt II are failing to control pests and the pink bollworm has become resistant, Bt is failing the test of reliability.

Monsanto has collected royalty for its Bt I cotton since 2002 without having a patent for it. Instead it created a new category called “Technology Trait” for which it charged a “Trait Fee”. But it was royalty under a new name.

Monsanto could not sign individual contracts with farmers, as it does in the US, in India because a) there would be far too many contracts, and b) Monsanto did not have a patent for the intellectual property the contract would cover, i.e. the Bt gene (MON 531 event of Cry1Ac). So Monsanto locked in 28 Indian seed companies through one-sided license agreements to collect royalties on its behalf — very much like the British arbitrarily appointed zamindars to collect taxes and revenues from peasants in colonial times, ruining a rich and prosperous land and leaving us in poverty. The hefty royalty is collected from small farmers, even if it is routed through an Indian licensee, just as the peasant paid the lagaan to the British, even though it went through collectors and zamindars. Indian seed companies are feeling the squeeze, finding themselves between the price control measures exercised in the interest of the farmers and Monsanto demanding nine times more in illegal royalty and unilaterally terminating some of the license agreements.

The price, including the technology fee, was reduced in 2006 because of case brought before the MRTPC by the Government of AP, in which the Research Foundation intervened. The AP government also negotiated with the seed companies to set the prices of hybrid Bt cotton seed at $18/packet (of 450 grams) inclusive of technology fee which is much lower than the $29/packet that MMB had been selling it at. Soon other state governments adopted the same pricing policy.

At present a 450g packet of Bt cotton is sold at around Rs.830 in Maharashtra, while in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu it is sold at Rs.930. In the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan etc. It is priced at Rs.1,000. MMB currently charges trait fees of Rs.122.96 and Rs.183.46 per packet of Bt Bollgard-I and Bt Bollgard II seeds, respectively.

On March 8th, the Central Government issue a seed price control order slashing Monsanto’s royalty on Bt cotton seeds by 74% since the technology has lost its efficacy in resisting certain pest attacks and royalty fees on failed technology has to be reduced.

Governments regulating seed prices thus has a precedence, and Monsanto challenging the Centre’s Price control order is a desperate act.

Monsanto approached the High Court of Delhi to challenge the order. The Delhi High Court refused to put a stay on the Central Government order for regulating seed prices and the royalty component. Monsanto also approached the High Court of Karnataka through its lobby group ABLE. The Karnataka High Court also upheld the Government of India seed price order.

According to the interim order, the Karnataka High Court says the Centre cannot fix royalties because they are based on agreements between companies. It allowed the government to fix the Maximum Sale Price (MSP) of Bt cotton seeds for the benefit of farmers.

The attempt to externalise the gene from the seed in which it is, and the attempt to separate the Trait Value from the Seed Price is the malicious scientific and legal manipulation through which Monsanto has extorted millions from Indian farmers.

Bt is a gene, not a technology :The Bt gene is part of the Bt cotton seed, the “trait value” of the Bt gene is part of the Seed Price

Unlike other technologies, where the technology of production and the product are separable, in the case of genetically modified seed (GMO) like Bt cotton, the Bt gene, once introduced into the seed becomes part of the seed. The Bt gene, which Monsanto misleadingly calls “technology” and the “technology trait “ becomes part of the Bt cotton seed. It is not separable from it. On the same scientific basis, the “technology fees” charged for the “technology trait” of Bt is intrinsic to the price of seed that the farmer pays. The technology fees and seed price that includes that fees are not separable.

The mischievous use of “technology” for a gene introduced into the plant hides two important facts. First, that Monsanto is not licensing to Indian seed companies the use of tools of genetic engineering(used for introducing non related genes into a plant). These tools are only two: A gene gun, or an agrobacterium. What Monsanto is transferring to Indian companies is not the technology for creating transgenic plants, but the Bt cotton seed, which includes the genes within the seed, to multiply, hybridise, sell under their monopoly. So the mystification through the use of the term “technology trait” and “technology fees “ is hiding the fact that the case is about Seed, and the price of Seed. And the price of seed has become a life and death issue for Indian farmers.

Secondly, Monsanto changes its Technology trait value every season, showing again that the issue is seed price.

As the CCI records:

As per the information and documents contained in Reference, many Indian seed companies including the Informants entered into sub-license agreement with MMBL for procuring its Bt cotton technology in consideration of an upfront one time non–refundable fee of Rs. 50 lakhs and recurring fee called as, i.e. ‘Trait Value’. The ‘Trait Value’ is the estimated value for the trait of insect resistance conferred by the Bt gene technology. It forms a significant portion of the Bt cotton seed prices. It is stated that the trait value is determined by MMBL on the basis of Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of 450 gm seed packet (hereinafter ‘per packet’), in advance for each crop season. It is also stated that out of this trait value, some amount is disbursed as royalty to MIU and the royalty paid to Monsanto US by MMBL is a small portion (between 15–20%) of the Trait Value it collects.

Once an upfront fees has been paid for seeds with a Bt toxin trait, the “technology fees “ is an unfair, greedy means of increasing seed prices to increase profits in a monopoly market. The MRTPC had also made this observation forcing Monsanto to concoct “Trait Fees”.

In the meanwhile, MRTPC vide its interim order dated 11th May, 2006, observed that “There is a basic difference between royalty and trait value …and are not synonymous… In any case the lumpsum payment of Rs.50 lakhs may be considered as royalty for the same, but the future payments on sale cannot be termed as royalty” and held that “… by temporary injunction the MMBL is directed during the pendency of this case not to charge trait value of Rs.900/- for a packet of 450 gm of Bt cotton seeds and to fix a reasonable trait value that is being charged by the parent company in the neighboring countries like China”.

The Karnataka High Court arguing that the matter of seed royalty being “between (companies)… based on agreements entered into amongst themselves” and is beyond the jurisdiction of the Government of India suggests that any inhuman, unjust commercial activity can be allowed if corporations sign agreement with other businesses. And it ignores the governments duty to protect its citizens under the constitution.

Indian farmers are paying for Monsanto’s superprofits with their very lives. The State must intervene to regulate seed prices to end the emergency of farmers suicides.

Source: Huffington Post

HAITIAN FARMERS COMMIT TO BURNING MONSANTO HYBRID SEEDS

“A new earthquake” is what peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the news that Monsanto will be donating 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides. The MPP has committed to burning Monsanto’s seeds, and has called for a march to protest the corporation’s presence in Haiti on June 4, for World Environment Day.

In an open letter sent of May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the Executive Director of MPP and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left our environment in Haiti.” Haitian social movements have been vocal in their opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks. They have expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

For now, without a law regulating the use of GMOs in Haiti, the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup Ready GMO seeds. In an email exchange, a Monsanto representative assured the Ministry of Agriculture that the seeds being donated are not GMO.

Elizabeth Vancil, Monsanto’s Director of Development Initiatives, called the news that the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture approved the donation “a fabulous Easter gift” in an April email.[2] Monsanto is known for aggressively pushing seeds, especially GMO seeds, in both the global North and South, including through highly restrictive technology agreements with farmers who are not always made fully aware of what they are signing. According to interviews by this writer with representatives of Mexican small farmer organizations, they then find themselves forced to buy Monsanto seeds each year, under conditions they find onerous and at costs they sometimes cannot afford.

The hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram. Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on mice and rats caused concern to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them. Pesticides containing thiram must contain a special warning label, the EPA ruled. The EPA also barred marketing of the chemicals for many home garden products, because it assumes that most gardeners do not have adequately protective clothing.[4] Monsanto’s passing mention of thiram to Ministry of Agriculture officials in an email contained no explanation of the dangers, nor any offer of special clothing or training for those who will be farming with the toxic seeds.

Haitian social movements’ concern is not just about the dangers of the chemicals and the possibility of future GMO imports. They claim that the future of Haiti depends on local production with local food for local consumption, in what is called food sovereignty. Monsanto’s arrival in Haiti, they say, is a further threat to this.

“People in the U.S. need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds. They’re ruining our chance to support ourselves,” said farmer Jonas Deronzil of a peasant cooperative in the rural region of Verrettes.

Monsanto’s history has long drawn ire from environmentalists, health advocates, and small farmers, going back to its production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. Exposure to Agent Orange has caused cancer in an untold number of U.S. Veterans, and the Vietnamese government claims that 400,000 Vietnamese people were killed or disabled by Agent Orange, and 500,000 children were born with birth defects as a result of their exposure.

Monsanto’s former motto, “Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible,” has been replaced by “Imagine.” Its web site home page claims it “help[s] farmers around the world produce more while conserving more. We help farmers grow yield sustainably so they can be successful, produce healthier foods… while also reducing agriculture’s impact on our environment.” The corporations’ record does not support the claims.

Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half of the world’s seeds. The company holds almost 650 seed patents, most of them for cotton, corn and soy, and almost 30% of the share of all biotech research and development. Monsanto came to own such a vast supply by buying major seed companies to stifle competition, patenting genetic modifications to plant varieties, and suing small farmers. Monsanto is also one of the leading manufacturers of GMOs.

As of 2007, Monsanto had filed 112 lawsuits against U.S. farmers for alleged technology contract violations or GMO patents, involving 372 farmers and 49 small agricultural businesses in 27 different states. From these, Monsanto has won more than $21.5 million in judgments. The multinational appears to investigate 500 farmers a year, in estimates based on Monsanto’s own documents and media reports.

“Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else’s genetically engineered crop [or] when genetically engineered seed from a previous year’s crop has sprouted, or ‘volunteered,’ in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year,” said Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.

In Colombia, Monsanto has received upwards of $25 million from the U.S. government for providing Roundup Ultra in the anti-drug fumigation efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide, with additional ingredients to increase its lethality. Colombian communities and human rights organizations have charged that the herbicide has destroyed food crops, water sources and protected areas, and has led to increased incidents of birth defects and cancers.

Vía Campesina, the world’s largest confederation of farmers with member organizations in more than sixty countries, has called Monsanto one of the “principal enemies of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty for all peoples.” They claim that as Monsanto and other multinationals control an ever larger share of land and agriculture, they force small farmers out of their land and jobs. They also claim that the agribusiness giants contribute to climate change and other environmental disasters, an outgrowth of industrial agriculture.

The Vía Campesina coalition launched a global campaign against Monsanto last October 16, on International World Food Day, with protests, land occupations, and hunger strikes in more than twenty countries. They carried out a second global day of action against Monsanto on April 17 of this year, in honor of Earth Day.

Non-governmental organizations in the U.S. are challenging Monsanto’s practices, too. The Organic Consumers Association has spearheaded the campaign “Millions Against Monsanto,” calling on the company to stop intimidating small family farmers, stop marketing untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods to consumers, and stop using billions of dollars of U.S. taypayers’ money to subsidize GMO crops.

The Center for Food Safety has led a four-year legal challenge to Monsanto that has just made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. After successful litigation against Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for illegal promotion of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, the court heard the Center for Food Safety’s case on April 27. A decision on this first-ever Supreme Court case about GMOs is now pending.

“Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture,” Jean-Baptiste said in an interview in February. “We have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has a right to define it own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth.”