Farmers' Right to Seeds

(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)

Seeds are gifts of nature and cultural diversity.  They are not a corporate invention.  Passing on this ancient heritage from generation to generation is our duty and responsibility. Seeds are a common property resource to be shared for the well being of all and saved for the well being of the future generations.  Hence they cannot be owned and patented. 

Seed saving and sharing is religious, moral and ethical duty of every society that cannot be interfered with by any national or international law which makes seed saving and seed sharing a crime. The first right and duty of farmers is to conserve and rejuvenate biodiversity. 

The conservation of biodiversity requires of necessity the saving of seeds.  Laws of compulsory registration and polices for “seed replacement” undermine the freedom of farmers to save seed varieties.  “Intellectual Property” laws, patent laws and breeders' rights laws violate the “law of the seed” by making it illegal to save seeds. 

Farmers are inherently breeders, though their breeding objectives and methods might differ from the objectives and methods of the private seed industry.  Farmers breed for diversity while the seed industry breeds for uniformity. 

Farmers' breeding strategies and intellectual contribution must be recognized in order to stop the practice of using farmers' seeds as “raw material” with no intellectual contribution of farming communities.  Farmers' rights arise from their past, present and future contribution to the conservation, modification and exchange of plant genetic resources.  Farmers' innovation in plant breeding takes place collectively and cumulatively. 

Therefore farmers' rights arising from their role as conservers and breeders have to be vested in farming communities not in individual farmers. The practice of using farmers' varieties as “raw material” to then claim patents and intellectual property rights on the basis of invention of the traits derived from farmers' varieties must be stopped.

These phenomena can be referred to as biopiracy.   The global seed industry misuses the concept of “common heritage of mankind” to freely appropriate farmers' varieties, convert them into proprietary commodities and then sell them back to the same farming communities at high costs and heavy royalties.  Such privatisation through patents and intellectual property violates the rights of farming communities and leads to debt, impoverishment and dispossession of small farmers.

Access to seeds and plant genetic resources must not be restricted by private property claims and patent laws, nor by withholding germplasm stored outside the region of origin. “Open Source” seeds are open pollinated varieties, which can be reproduced from year to year, generation to generation and can be saved and replanted. 

The knowledge about the information embedded in seeds and germplasm is by definition not an invention but the result of cumulative collective discovery upon which additional discoveries may be based in the future.

Farmers' rights include freedom from genetic contamination and biological pollution.  The introduction of untested and unknown varieties of seeds and plants must take into account the potential environmental risks as well as other potential detrimental agricultural effects.

The “Terminator” technology, better known as 'Genetic Use Restriction Technology or GURT to produce sterile, suicidal seeds that cannot reproduce is an assault on the fundamental right of farmers and the people. The introduction of such traits is designed to create a monopoly on seed and food and must be banned on a global level.  Seeds embody the past and the future.

Seeds for the future have to evolve on the basis of the conservation of the widest seed diversity and crop varieties to manage the multiple challenges of food and nutritional security, food quality, climate change and sustainability.