Farmers Upset over Seed Industry’s Indifference to Climate Change, Farmers’ Rights


Farmers in Central Visayas are terrified that their chances to survive, amid the emerging effects of climate change, would be slimmer should the world’s policy makers decide to give multinational companies more control over the seeds they plant.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, world leaders, policy makers, stakeholders and multinational companies engaged in the breeding and production of seeds would gather at the headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome for the World Seed Conference. In the conference, policies would be drawn up “to provide an enabling environment that encourages the development of new varieties and facilitates the production and distribution of high quality seeds… in relation to a changing world, including a changing environment, market developments and evolving human needs, and their role in achieving future food security and economic development, especially in developing countries.”

Farmers are, however, concerned that the policies that would be formulated during the conference would drag them down further to poverty and would result in another food crisis.

Estrella Catarata, executive director of the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center (Fardec), believes that the proliferation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and high-yielding seeds is one of the primary reasons for the food crisis that affected almost every country in the world in 2007 and 2008. These “modern” seeds have been widely promoted as the answer to the impending food crisis.

Catarata cited as an example the implementation of the Green Revolution in 1965 to 1983, which promised better rice production through the use of high yield rice cultivars, but instead created dependence among farmers. And because these seeds were programmed to be infertile, the customary rights of farmers to save farm seeds for use and exchange had been forfeited. Farmers are now obliged to buy seeds from seed breeders every time they plant. And with the decreasing income brought about by the added expense of procuring seeds, they are faced with the dilemma of decreasing production, some converting to other more profitable crops.

As a result, the country, which once was one of the world’s top rice exporters, has become the world’s number one rice importer, sourcing its grain from Vietnam, Thailand, and other neighboring Asian countries.

“This is our situation now,” says Catarata. “The seeds are being controlled by multinational companies like Monsanto. These companies used to produce poisons, now they control the production of seeds. Our farmer’s food security is being threatened. These seeds produce crops that are chemical dependent, and farmers would need to buy seeds every time they plant. Farming is fast becoming expensive. And what’s worse is that these companies dictate the price.”

Krystyna Swiderska of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) said “modern” seeds that are “heavily promoted by corporations and highly subsidized by governments… have less genetic diversity yet need more inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers and more natural resources such as land and water.” This means that these seeds might be lacking in valuable traits such as drought and pest resistance.

“It is so unfortunate that our government is promoting the planting of GMOs and high yielding seeds,” says Catarata. “These ‘certified seeds’ which are now being sold at subsidized prices are not practical for farmers because eventually, when the farmers have grown dependent on them, these companies will set exorbitant prices,” she said.

Instead of addressing this concern, Swiderska said, world leaders and the seed industry might be helping worsen a malignant tumor plaguing farmers.

“Western governments and the seed industry want to upgrade the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) Convention to provide stricter exclusive rights to commercial plant breeders,” said Swiderska.

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