This is causing many farming communities to lose control over the seeds that they cultivate and select in their fields to feed most of the world’s population.
In a new policy paper, Time for Human Rights-based Seed Policies: Safeguard Biodiversity and the Right to Food, FIAN International warns that seeds are an urgent human rights issue. Protecting and promoting peasant and Indigenous Peoples’ seed systems is essential to safeguard the fundamental right to food and nutrition and protect the world’s rapidly decreasing biodiversity.
Just four agrochemical companies – Bayer-Monsanto, DowDuPont/Corteva, ChemChina-Syngenta and BASF – control more than half of the global seed market and three quarters of the global pesticides market. Intellectual property regimes have massively contributed to cementing their dominance over seeds and food systems in general.
“Governments urgently need to take action to protect and promote peasant and Indigenous Peoples’ seed systems. If corporations succeed in obtaining monopolistic control over seeds, this will have major impacts on all of us,” says policy paper author Philip Seufert.
“Over millennia, peasants and Indigenous Peoples have developed the crops and varieties that still feed most of the world. Their seed management systems ensure that crops are adapted to changing climatic conditions. Corporations, by contrast, are primarily interested in generating profits, not the realization of the right to food and nutrition.”
Peasant and Indigenous Peoples’ seed systems face existential threats from corporations’ gaining intellectual property rights over seeds. This restricts peasants’ and Indigenous Peoples’ right to save, use, exchange and sell their seeds. Contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the illegitimate appropriation and exploitation of traditional seeds through patenting of genetic sequences also undermine peasant seed systems, as does the rapid growth of pesticides – often in conjunction with wide scale promotion of hybrid seeds and GMOs.
The FIAN International paper comes ahead of a presentation to the UN Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, of a groundbreaking report on seeds and farmers’ rights to which FIAN International has contributed.
The Special Rapporteur rightly emphasizes that access to, and control over, seeds are critical for the realization of the right to food and hence the right to life. Peasant and indigenous seeds play a central role in enabling people to live with dignity, feeding themselves directly from productive land and developing resilience to the multiple challenges of environmental degradation, climate change, unsustainable development and the corporate capture of food systems.
These seed systems also offer solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the world today. They form the basis of sustainable, agroecological farming practices that conserve and promote biodiversity, provide healthy, varied diets and are more readily adapted to climate change.
FIAN International calls on states to adopt laws to protect peasant and Indigenous Peoples’ seed systems. Their human rights obligations further require them to ensure that all intellectual property laws, certification schemes, seed marketing laws and biotechnology policies respect the rights, needs and realities of peasants and Indigenous Peoples.
Finally, states should adopt measures to transition food systems to agroecology, including phasing out all pesticides with known harmful effects on human, environmental, and ecosystem health, starting with a ban on highly hazardous pesticides.
For more information please contact Philip Seufert at Seufert@fian.org