Importance of having control over seeds – The Star Online


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SEEDS are our first link to the food chain. Throughout history, regular exchange of seeds among communities and farmers allowed crops to adapt to different conditions and climates, and soils, pests and diseases. But industrial agriculture and its push for commercial seed production is now threatening to erode not only the diversity of seeds but also farmers’ seed systems (the means through which farmers get good quality seed of new crop varieties they want and need). “Because seeds are so central to people’s cultures and food systems, to control seeds is to control life,” said Michael Fakhri, special rapporteur on the right to food in his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council. The report states that since humankind relies on plants for food, feed, fibre and a functional ecosystem, nothing less than the right to life is at stake when farmers’ seed systems are challenged or poorly supported. It is thus very important for us to maintain control of our seeds and keep them away from the clutches of huge corporations. Seed laws and plant variety rights are being constantly revised to adapt to the demands of the seed and biotechnology industries. The ultimate aim of business interests is to make it impossible for farmers to freely save, replant, exchange and sell seeds, thus making them dependent on commercially-produced seeds. For example, Kenya recently introduced a law restricting the informal distribution of seeds (such as farmers exchanging seeds) in a bid to ensure that all seeds sold or distributed in the country are certified. Farmers in Kenya say the law is now forcing them to purchase costly hybrid seeds, as they would need to go through a rigorous and costly certification process to legally share other seeds. This may very well happen in Malaysia if it signs on to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (commonly known as UPOV91). UPOV91 would impose some restrictions on the use of farm-saved seeds, propagating of PVP (plant variety protected) seeds, and exchange and sale of these materials by farmers. In Honduras, ANAFAE (National Association for the Promotion of Organic Farming), a group that has been advocating organic farming and food sovereignty, has fought to declare as unconstitutional the Law for Protection of Plant Varieties since it was passed in 2012. In 2021, the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice declared the PVP law as unconstitutional, stating among others that it represents an attack on the country’s sovereignty and right to self-determination besides violating constitutional principles for life, human dignity, and the rights of the Honduran people. For now, due to efforts by civil society organisations, we have been able to stymie the progress of Malaysia in joining UPOV91 and also the growing of genetically- modified crops in the country. Nevertheless, the pressure is mounting, including a Plant Seed Quality Bill being proposed for tabling in Parliament. Quality seeds are important to farmers and consumers. However, the Plant Seed Quality Bill may have a far-reaching impact beyond “seed quality” control by impinging on the farmers’ seeds system while supporting commercial seed producers. CAP (Consumers Association of Penang) has been promoting agro-ecology, urban farming and seed-sharing through events held on occasions such as International Seeds Day (April 26), which is dedicated to promoting patent-free seeds, biodiversity, and farmers’ rights. CAP has established a community seed bank with a collection of local herbs and vegetables that are organically grown. They are available to the public and can be exchanged and propagated freely. We must maintain control of our seeds, our natural heritage. MOHIDEEN ABDUL KADER President Consumers Association of Penang

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