Call for Seed Sovereignty: Protect Farmers’ Rights
Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (India Seed Sovereignty Alliance) – a nationwide network for conserving and regenerating seed diversity and self-reliance – celebrates the International Seed Day on 26th April. Newly formed, with about 100 present members from 17 states, including many outstanding seed-savers and farmer-breeders of thousands of crop varieties, it urges the great need to embrace, adopt, conserve, promote and exchange traditional seeds. Such seeds, evolved over millennia, offer immense possibilities to adapt to climate change without compromising farmers’ rights and seed sovereignty.
Seed is integral to agricultural progress and the survival and well-being of humanity. Our amazing heritage of seed diversity, adapted to diverse conditions and needs, has the boundless potential to sustain farming and allied rural communities in independence, health and dignity for generations to come! Founded on unique region-specific landraces bred by farmers, these seeds can meet local nutritional needs and adapt to changing climatic conditions.
As an indication of India’s enormous agro-diversity, the National Gene Bank of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) boasts that its base collections total 4,02,894 accessions of 1,586 crop species! These include 1,59,569 cereals, 57,523 millets, 58,756 pulses/grain legumes, 58,477 oilseeds, 25,330 vegetables, 6,872 medicinal and aromatic plants, and 3,847 spices and condiments. Many of these varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields under the onslaught of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’.
It was reported in the Wall Steet Journal that the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) is offering Multinational Corporations (MNCs) these thousands of rare varieties of crop germplasm for “a small share of the profit!” The Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch condemns all such naked abetment of bio-piracy, and calls upon all national/international agencies to desist from transfers of genetic material that will end up in private/corporate IPR claims over seed varieties that rightfully belong to the farming communities of India. It further urges all institutions and farmers/communities to keep away from involvement in privatizing community/collective genetic resources and knowledge that are an integral part of our biological, cultural and intellectual commons.
India’s rich heritage of traditional seed varieties in national and international germplasm collections are a vital resource collected from Indian farmers that must be returned to them to safeguard their livelihoods and the people they feed. This is now urgently needed in a scenario of rapidly depleting and increasingly expensive fossil fuels and chemical inputs, together with soil degradation, climate change, water scarcity and erratic weather conditions.
We thus demand the return of our traditional seeds to our farming communities; and we call upon our government to facilitate and simplify such access to our heritage varieties from national and international germplasm collections; and to support their decentralized conservation in the croplands/regions of origin. Unless our farmers can adopt bio-diverse ecological agriculture with their own locally adapted seeds, severe food scarcity looms ahead.
Two emerging great threats to Indian agriculture and crop diversity are: (i) the granting of private/commercial Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) over our heritage seed/plant varieties; and (ii) the release or field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops that can widely contaminate our traditional varieties; and such damage would be unstoppable and irreversible. We thus call for an urgent halt to any such releases or field trials of GM crops. Our priority must be to have in place a cautionary National Bio-safety Law and an effective implementation mechanism to comprehensively guard against the hazards that GM crops pose to human, animal, soil and eco-system health.
The attached ‘India Seed Sovereignty Declaration’ of the national seed savers’ alliance calls for the wide support of all for the urgent demands contained therein! It concludes with a united pledge to protect Mother Earth, the source and sustenance of humanity and myriad species; and it urges all to integrate stewardship and compassion in our education, culture and lifestyle.
We earnestly request all, including media friends and opinion makers, to endorse, publicize and encourage this collective initiative.
– Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (India Seed Sovereignty Alliance)
G. Krishna Prasad, Convener, Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch, Ph: 9880862058;
Soumik Banerjee, Co-convener, Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch, Ph: 8294062742;
Sanjay Patil, Co-convener, Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch, Ph: 9623931855
INDIA SEED SOVEREIGNTY DECLARATION
We, the undersigned, associated with Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (India Seed Sovereignty Alliance), united to achieve self-reliance and revival of diversity with regard to Seed, hereby declare:
1. Like the earth and the sky, the immense biodiversity of seeds, plants and life forms is our collective heritage. Gifted by Nature, and evolved through the cumulative innovations, adaptations and selections of many generations of indigenous farming communities, these seeds and life forms are sacred. They belong to all as an inviolable birthright, essential for survival and well-being; and it is our duty to preserve them for future generations. They cannot be seen as mere commodities or ‘proprietary intellectual resources’ for corporate profiteering.
2. We refuse to let our genetic commons and bio-cultural heritage be privatized and monopolized by a few; and we assert our sovereign rights to freely plant, use, reproduce, select, improve, adapt, save, share, exchange or sell our seeds – without restriction or hindrance – as we have done for past millennia.
3. India has an enormous wealth of crop diversity. It is a global centre of origin and diversity of rice, with over 90,000 distinct rice varieties collected by Indian agricultural research and germplasm centres. (Some estimates mention over 150,000 varieties!) These grew in farmers’ fields, adapted to diverse conditions. About 19,000 rice varieties were collected by Dr Richharia from just two states, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, of which 1600 varieties were found to be high-yielding. Each variety had distinct nutritional, medicinal, taste/flavour, fragrance, color, shape, size, stress tolerance, productivity-related or other qualities, as well as socio-cultural significance.
4. We have a rich diversity too of wheat, millets, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, tubers, fruits, spices, medicinal plants; and thousands of uncultivated forest foods. Over 25,000 Indian varieties of dry-land crops are held by ICRISAT alone. India’s ‘National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources’ states that the base collections in its ‘National Gene Bank’ total 4,02,894 accessions of 1,586 crop species! These include 1,59,569 cereals, 57,523 millets, 58,756 pulses/grain legumes, 58,477 oilseeds, 25,330 vegetables, 6,872 medicinal and aromatic plants, and 3,847 spices and condiments. Many of these varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields under the onslaught of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’.
5. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal broke news on what may be called ‘The Great Gene Bazaar’. It reported that the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) is offering Multinational Corporations (MNCs) 400,000 seed varieties for “a small share of the profit!” The ICAR Deputy Director General, Mr. Swapan Datta, is quoted saying, “We have crops that are being grown and adapted very naturally to different geographies. So we have drought tolerant rice, terminal-heat tolerant wheat and salinity-tolerant crop varieties.” It is well known that MNCs are eager to establish exclusive patent/proprietary rights over our heritage seed varieties handed down over millennia. We condemn all such naked abetment of bio-piracy, as reported in the Wall Street Journal or elsewhere, and we call upon all national/international agencies to desist from transfers of genetic material that will end up in private/corporate IPR claims over seed varieties that rightfully belong to the farming communities of India. We further urge all institutions and farmers/communities to keep away from involvement in privatizing community/collective genetic resources and knowledge that are an integral part of our biological, cultural and intellectual commons.
6. We unitedly resolve to work for the decentralized in situ conservation, regeneration and unhindered use and sharing of biodiversity by farmers, gardeners, indigenous communities, and people at large; and we urge the support of all, including our governments, for such work.
7. Many thousands of our crop seeds have ended up in distant gene banks like the IRRI in Philippines, CIMMYT in Mexico, or Fort Collins in the USA. These seeds represent the collective bio-cultural heritage – including biodiversity, food culture, ecological knowledge and value systems – of local communities that freely shared and passed them down from generation to generation. Such seeds are a vital resource that must be reclaimed to safeguard farm livelihoods and the people they feed, especially in a scenario of rapidly depleting and increasingly expensive fossil fuels and chemical inputs, together with soil degradation, climate change, water scarcity and erratic weather conditions. Unless farmers can adopt bio-diverse ecological agriculture with their own locally adapted seeds, severe food scarcity looms ahead.
We thus demand the return of our traditional seeds to our farming communities; and we call upon our government to facilitate and simplify such access to our heritage varieties from national and international germplasm collections; and to support their decentralized conservation in the croplands/regions of origin.
8. Today, the danger to our heritage of agro-biodiversity – from commercial, proprietary hybrid seeds and GM (genetically modified) crops – is graver than ever. GM crops pose a severe threat of unstoppable and irreversible contamination of our local crop varieties through cross-pollination, as witnessed extensively in the case of corn (maize) in Mexico. The aggressive marketing of GM crops also drives local varieties out of circulation, as seen in the near total erosion of cotton varieties in India. The serious hazards posed by GM crops to human, animal, soil and eco-system health are widely recognized. We thus demand a ban on GM seeds and species, and strict enforcement of liability for any contamination of seeds/plants, and any damage to the health of farmers, consumers, animals, croplands and eco-systems from the use, release or field trials of GM seeds and species. A National Bio-safety law and implementation mechanism must be immediately put in place to comprehensively guard against the hazards of GMOs.
9. We reject the existing patent and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime on life forms, including plant varieties, seeds, and related traditional knowledge; and we demand that all information and material in gene banks be declared as ‘prior art’ to prevent bio-piracy. Such information and material must remain as our collective, open-source heritage, which the governments – as trustees of/for the people – must safeguard from privatization, IPRs, or any kind of exclusive proprietary control/rights.
10. We call upon the Central and State Governments to promote and support diversity-based, holistic ecological agriculture, forestry and related livelihoods – to meet our basic, priority needs in a sustainable manner. Bio-diverse ecological agriculture/gardening should be integrated in the curriculum of schools and educational institutions, which should utilize a part of their premises for such purpose. We call for phasing out agro-chemicals which destroy biodiversity directly and in various pathways. We further call for the promotion of ecologically appropriate and nutritive food crops for local needs over cash crops for distant markets.
11. We are alarmed that the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – a promising international treaty for the conservation, sustainable use and fair and equitable sharing of biodiversity –has not only failed to meet its objectives, but seems to have degenerated into an international arrangement to facilitate corporate control of our biodiversity. We decry such abdication of original purpose and responsibility; and we reject the narrow definition of “access and benefit”, as a commodity to be traded via monetary payment. We uphold the world-view of Adivasis and local communities, who see “access and benefit” as the unhindered and continuous right over their territories, lands, forests, waters, air, livelihoods, knowledge systems, spirituality, culture and biodiversity. In any event, all ‘Access and Benefit Sharing’ agreements under the CBD must categorically debar the creation of any exclusive rights of ownership, use or control of any biological resources and related knowledge.
12. Biological diversity is intrinsically linked to the rights of Adivasis, farmers, pastoralists, fisher-folk, craftspeople and others to their land and natural resources, and is embedded in the ecological and cultural habitats of communities. We deplore the plunder of such habitats by short-sighted economic expansionism, fuelled by the commoditization and privatization of our biological diversity, natural wealth and ecological commons. Big dams, hazardous nuclear and thermal plants, all kinds of mining, SEZs, mono-culture plantations, land-grabbing, the rise of real-estate speculators, and reckless urban-industrial-consumerist expansion are a massive assault on our biological diversity, trampling the fundamental rights of local inhabitants to a healthy life and sustainable livelihood. We call for an urgent halt to all anti-people, anti-nature, destructive development based on unsound science that also endangers future generations, and the survival of other species.
We pledge to protect Mother Earth, the source and sustenance of humanity and myriad species, and we urge all to integrate stewardship and compassion in our education, culture and lifestyle.
[Note: The above India Seed Sovereignty Declaration (New Delhi, 2014) has been created by Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (India Seed Sovereignty Alliance), consisting of seed savers, breeders, farmers, gardeners and biodiversity/organic farming activists from all over India. Suggestions for further improvement remain welcome, and will be considered before the national seed alliance adopts a finalized ‘statement of vision’ in its next meeting. Such suggestions may please be sent with copies marked to: 1) Kavitha Kuruganti, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA): firstname.lastname@example.org; 2) Shamika Mone, Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI): email@example.com; 3) Krishna Prasad (Sahaja Samruddha): firstname.lastname@example.org; 4) Jacob Nellithanam: email@example.com; and 5) Bharat Mansata: firstname.lastname@example.org. ]