Ecuador's campesinos and civil society have launched a campaign to protect food sovereignty against transgenic firms, as they seek to impose intellectual property rights on seeds which campesinos have been cultivating for centuries.
The campaign comes as Ecuadorean lawmakers debate a new Seed Law in the National Assembly, which could possibly empower transgenic firms to patent traditional seeds which have been used by small farmers for years.
To address the risk, campesino groups encouraged Ecuadorean citizens to register with electoral authorities before Tuesday April 19, so they can participate in a public forum on the issue which lawmakers have agreed to hold before the formal vote.
The campaign was led by Ecuador's Seed Guardians Network, a Latin American organization which promotes agro-biodiversity, agro-ecology and food sovereignty, defending free access to over 3,000 seeds cultivated in the Andean country as a common good.
“A law on seeds is unnecessary because seeds are a common good, and access to seeds should be a basic human right, not a strategic resource,” Javier Carrera, head of the organization, told teleSUR.
According to Carrera, the Law on Agro-biodiversity, Seeds and Agro-Ecological Promotion should concern the wider public and not just campesinos. Imposing property rights on seeds, he argued, could have far-reaching consequences for the entire population and not just small farmers as the former depend on the produce of the latter.
“The bill is part of a global offensive launched by transgenic firms, as they compel Latin American countries to adopt these laws one by one,” he added.
In Colombia for instance, the government used controversial seed legislation to order thousands of tons of rice seeds to be burned in 2010, on the grounds that they had not been registered as part of new seed legislation passed a year earlier and were therefore considered illegal.
But unlike Colombia, where the right-wing government openly serves the interests of agro-industry at the expense of small farmers, the world's main transgenic companies do not have as much power and influence in Ecuador.
The fear among campesino groups, however, is that by registering their seeds with the Ecuadorean state a common good could be transformed into a strategic resource for commercial consumption.
But while Carrera expressed serious concern over the future of sustainable, family-based agriculture in Ecuador, he nonetheless pointed out that the Constitution of Ecuador, approved in 2008, backed the rights of campesinos to freely use their traditional seeds.
However, Carrera emphasized that developing agro-industry and exports in food matters as much to any government as protecting the interests of small farmers who feed the country.
“When we talk about seeds, we basically refer to food production, what we eat but also what we export,” said Miguel Carvajal, president of the legislative Commission on Food Sovereignty, who highlighted the importance of scientific investigation in order “to improve production and productivity.”
The popular consultation, he said, will not only take into account the point of view of campesinos, Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorean peoples, but also the agro-industry and other types of food producers. Crucially, it will also address topics related to ancestral knowledge, agro-biodiversity and seeds, guarantees on human rights and social participation.