Peasant seed systems, which have fed most of the world’s population for centuries, are endangered by the imposition of intellectual property rights and patents, says a church-backed campaign.
Peasants’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell seed have been increasingly neglected by states in order to advance a corporate agenda, advocates say, and food as well as food-related rights need to be protected.
On 13 October the World Council of Churches (WCC) launched the civil society Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2016 at the Ecumenical Centre, coinciding with its international launch at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
“Despite feeding the world and providing resilience to natural disasters, peasant seed systems face severe threats of accelerated destruction of agricultural biodiversity,” said Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA).
Kurian said: “This is due to the appropriation of nature by industrial agriculture and corporations. Increasingly, seed and agrochemical business seeks to privatize, monopolize and control seeds by patenting and commodifying this very source of life.”
“The seed issue is very important,” said Kurian, noting that the EAA is distributing a resource entitled “The 10 Commandments of Food.”
“What we are trying to do is, at the congregation level, understand the importance of bio-diversity and small farmers.”
The EAA is part of the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition.
“How we deal with corporate powers is to get congregations thinking and engaging with these issues and then people ask questions…and then government will change policy,” said Kurian.
Romain Houlmann, a research assistant at FIAN International, said, “It is important to remind the state that people have the right to food and nutrition. We need to have primacy of human rights over intellectual property. We need to focus on seed, land and natural resources, as they are essential for the future.”
To illustrate this, Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for Economic and Ecological Justice explained, in the Philippines, women from the indigenous Blaan tribe play a key role in seed preservation as the designated seed selector.
“But today the Blaan tribe’s sources of sustenance and way of life are threatened by large plantations of cash crops such as palm oil, rubber, pineapples, bananas, etc.. for export…and at the same time, those opposing such plantations including indigenous leaders have been subjected to threats, harassment and even extra-judicial killings.”
Dinesh Suna, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Water Network (EWN), said, “It is important to focus on agriculture and the water that it consumes.”
Industrialization of agriculture has a very different connotation to the peasant farmers who produce food, he said.
“When we talk about food on a plate let’s also talk about water. Controlling one will positively affect the other,” said Suna.
Simangaliso Hove, secretary for Planning and Finance at the Lutheran World Federation, who is a Zimbabwean, said, “I grew up in a peasant farmer environment. We never knew we had to buy seeds and as time moved on we became aware that we had to do this.
“We used to keep what was left over from the harvests, but the new seeds spoil before the new planting season…You are no longer in control of your own food.”
Right to Food and Nutrition Watch gathers the views of civil society organizations, social movements and scholars worldwide, and it exposes how business seeks to privatize, monopolize and control seeds.
The watch is also the most prominent monitoring tool of the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition.
It is published by groups such as Bread for the World in Germany, FIAN International, and ICCO Cooperation (Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation).