Proposed new Seed Act is seriously flawed - let’s stop it in its tracks!

Bureaucratic controls and corporate greed usurp farmers’ right to seeds



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"Seed is the first link in the food chain. It is both a result of farmers breeding over centuries, as well as the primary means of production. Any Act on seed that does not address farmers’ rights is anti farmer. The Act should be Seed and Farmers Rights Act. The proposed Act is designed for the Seed Industry, which by promoting uniformity destroys indigenous biodiversity, and by promoting its rights, undermines farmer’s rights. Farmers should be exempted from all restrictions placed on commercial entities and the seed industry.


"Farmers Rights to save, exchange, sell, breed, and improve seed is a birthright. It is not alienable."


Dr. Vandana Shiva (Renowned environmentalActivist and champion of farmers’ rights)


By Ranjit Mulleriyawa


If you have been in the habit of exchanging a few vegetable seeds, seedlings, banana suckers or any other planting material with your neighbors, forget it. The proposed new Seed Act prohibits such sharing/exchange of planting material unless you are registered with the ‘Seed Certification Service’. If you ignore this ruling, you will be liable to prosecution leading to a fine or imprisonment. This is one of the most draconian pieces of legislation ever contemplated. It effectively deprives farmers of a basic right which they have enjoyed since time immemorial.


Since the dawn of agriculture, about 10.000 years ago, farmers have been the custodians of seeds. All the major and minor food crops and animals (livestock) upon which mankind survives today, have been discovered, selected and domesticated from the wild by farmers . "Early cultivators knew about the characteristics, food and medicinal value of over 1,500 plant species" (Braid Wood, 1967, Prehistoric Man). The bond between farmers and seeds is akin to the primordial bond between mother and children. Running into 35 pages, and couched in a lot of verbiage, the proposed new Seed Act paves the way for a Seed Certification Authority stuffed with bureaucrats and academics (sans farmers), to exercise complete control over farmers birthrights - rights to save, exchange, sell , breed and improve seeds.


In a document running into more than 10,000 words, not once is the word farmer mentioned. It conveniently ignores the fact that farmers and farming communities are the principal users of seeds .Here’s what it proposes in a nutshell. A leading local NGO working closely with farmers referred the proposed Seeds and Planting Materials Act to Dr. Vandana Shiva- an internationally recognized expert on issues of bio-diversity an environment. Her comments are highlighted and appear within parenthesis.


1. This Act may be cited as Seed and Planting Material Act No. ... of 2013


2. The Director General of Agriculture will be the supreme authority administering the Act.


3. He will be assisted in this task by a Registrar, Assistant Registrars and Authorized Officers; Technical and advisory committees etc.


4. All the above officers are either bureaucrats or academics. (Farmers have the highest experience and expertise in seed matters. There is no representative from the farming community. There is no biodiversity expert to ensure the conservation of genetic diversity).


5. "When carrying out the duties assigned under this Act, the Director-General, the Director in charge of the subject, the Registrar, the Assistant Registrars and the authorized officers, shall be considered as police officers who discharge the powers under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedures."


6. "Technical and Advisory Committee shall advise and give recommendations to the Director-General, Director in charge of the subject and Registrar on following activities:


(a)  To prescribe conditions, guidelines and instructions on registration, import, export, production, packaging, storage, selling, transportation, use, permission of varieties/kinds of seed and planting materials and matters connected or incidental thereto, and give advice on other related matters stipulated by the regulations made under this Act;"


(b)  To determine the standards and resolutions relevant to genetic modification and other new scientific technology applicable to crops of agricultural importance; (This is a backdoor entry for GMOs. There should be a separate Bio-safety law for GMOs)


To co-ordinate with public sector agencies in working towards the development of the private sector seed and planting material industry and to address issues related to seeds and planting materials; (Private Public partnerships mean public subsidies for private profits. The public system will provide genetic material, research, extension. The private sector will take the intellectual property rights and walk away with super profits).


"To provide facilities for the conservation of indigenous, traditional and improved seed and plant genetic resources."(This cannot be done without farmers’ participation. And farmers have no place in the current draft)


7. PART V REGISTRATION PROCEDURE


"All seed and planting material handlers shall register and obtain a certificate under the provisions of this Act."


(Across the world such compulsory registration is being rejected. In India, we organized a Seed Satyagraha to stop a 2004 Seed Law requiring compulsory registration. .The European Parliament has sent back a law presented by the European Commission on Compulsory Registration. In Columbia, peasants marched till such a law was withdrawn. Compulsory registration is doubly wrong. First it puts burdens on small farmers. Second, by being based on uniformity, such laws criminalize biodiversity and farmer’s seed saving and seed sharing at local levels.


"It empowers Registrar, Assistant Registrars or authorized officers, after showing their identity to enter with or without assistants, at all reasonable times, upon any premises where seed and planting materials are produced, kept, stored, sold or stored for sale for the purpose of inspecting and examining such seed and planting materials found therein and any material used or to be used for production, keeping or storage of such seed and planting materials and to take samples of such seed and planting materials for examination and testing". (Farmers and farmer’s varieties should be exempted)


8. SEED AND PLANTING MATERIAL CERTIFICATION SERVICE


For the purposes of this Act, the Director-General shall from time to time publish types and varieties of crops that shall compulsorily be subject to seed and planting material certification.


"The certification of seed and planting material in Sri Lanka shall be done by the Seed Certification Service of the Department of Agriculture and the Director in Charge of the subject shall exercise the exclusive right to certify seed and planting material in Sri Lanka. As and when required, the Director in Charge of the subject may obtain the services of the Registrar, Assistant Registrars, authorized officers or any person with technical expertise in a relevant government institution to carry out or giving effect to the procedures of certification of seed and planting material." (Farmers and farmers’ varieties should be exempted from such certification requirements.)


9 PROTECTION OF INDIGENOUS TRADITIONAL PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES IMPORTANT FOR AGRICULTURE


"For the purposes of this Act, the Director-General shall exercise through the Plant Genetic Resources Centre of the Department of Agriculture the exclusive right and responsibility for ex-situ conservation and maintenance of plant genetic resources important for Agriculture in Sri Lanka."


(Farmers and farming communities have been in the forefront of protecting indigenous and traditional plant genetic resources for generations. Are they to be deprived of this opportunity? What right do bureaucrats have in deciding which varieties are most valuable/important to farmers and their communities?)


10. OFFENCES AND PENALTIES


"Any person who is guilty of an offence under this Act shall be liable on conviction before a Magistrate after summary trial to imprisonment of either description to a term not less than one month and not exceeding six months, or to a fine not less than 50,000 rupees, or to both such fine and imprisonment. On the successive occasion, the penalty shall be doubled with cancellation of registration for five years, and on the third occasion, the penalty shall be three fold with cancellation of registration and blacklisting, and measures shall be taken to publish it in all three languages in national newspapers."


Why this haste?


A pertinent question that needs to be asked is why has it become so necessary to introduce this draconian Act now? The existing Seed Act of 2003 provides adequate safeguards to prevent illegal import and export of seeds, and protect indigenous varieties. Is this not another insidious attempt to pave the way for private seed companies to exercise a stranglehold on the production of all seed, paving the way for patents and the establishment of monocultures?


"The seed industry works on spreading monocultures and uniformity; it destroys biodiversity and indigenous seed. According to the FAO more than 75% diversity in Agriculture has been destroyed due to the spread of industrial monocultures."


A patent is an exclusive right granted for an ‘invention,’ which allows the patent holder to exclude everyone else from making, selling, distributing and using the patented product. With patents on seed, this implies that farmers’ rights to save and share seed is now in effect defined as "theft", an "intellectual property crime"


"When those that need to be regulated write the laws to get absolute ownership over seed, which is life itself, while freeing themselves of all ecological and social responsibilities of the impact of monopolies and genetically engineered seeds associated with it, we do not just have a crisis of food and agriculture, but a crisis of democracy" (‘Nava Danya’ - Law of the Seed)


* The writer has been a farmer and researcher in the Department of Agriculture. He is currently a rural development activist. He can be contacted at: rangoviya2013@gmail.com


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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