(c) Javier Carrera - Feria de Semillas Cotacachi 2003
(c) Javier Carrera – Feria de Semillas Cotacachi 2003

Original source [Spanish]: http://www.allpachaski.com/2016/07/semillas-y-soberania-alimentaria-en-riesgo/

A statement from the civil society of Ecuador regarding new seed laws

We, representatives of farmers, indigenous people, afro-descendants and social movements of Ecuador; after analyzing the situation regarding seeds and the debates around the proposal of a new Seed Law promoted by the National Assembly of Ecuador, declare the following:

Seeds are common goods that belong to all of humanity. They cannot be the objects of appropriation by the State or any other private entity. Like air and sun, seeds belong equally to every human being on the planet, and cannot be treated as a strategic resource by any nation. Access to seed is a basic human right, and includes the right to acquire, adapt, improve, multiply, exchange, give away and sell seeds. This right is an essential tool for food sovereignty today and for the future food security of our species.

The rising concern is that other countries have implemented laws, which limit this right, imposing mandatory registration of all seeds and thus preventing its free circulation and management by the population. These legislations are a result of the UPOV91 agreements, international convention (which regulates the rights of plant breeders), and other international regulation agencies which oblige signatory countries to set up national seed control systems and catalogs full of technical requirements, allowing mostly uniformed, hybrid and GMO commercial seeds to enter while excluding the rest. These laws benefit big corporations, at the expense of the population’s interest. We are witnessing the appropriation of Nature´s reproductive capacity by private capital, with approval and facilitation of the State.

It is important to recall that Ecuador is not a signatory of the UPOV 91 treaty, and instead, our Republic´s Constitution explicitly contradicts such treaty and defends Food Sovereignty and people´s rights regarding access to seed. Article 281, paragraph 6 tells us that it is the responsibility of the State: “To promote the preservation and recovery of agricultural biodiversity and ancestral knowledge linked to it; as well as the use, conservation and free exchange of seeds.”

Currently, the Ecuadorian State is a member of an Alliance that includes giant corporations of the seed sector, such as Monsanto and Syngenta, local agrochemical retailers like Agripac and Ecuaquímica, and State organisms such as INIAP and Agrocalidad, as can be seen on the Ecuadorian Association of Seed Producers (ECUASEM-website: www.ecuasem.org). We are profoundly concerned about the obvious conflict of interest arising from this alliance, and we do not fail to perceive that the State holds no similar alliance with farmers’ organizations, producers associations, or consumer groups. The current debate over seed laws fails to include the voices of small and medium scale producers, including family farmers and organic and producers in the agro ecological sectors, which should instead be binding on such debate.

Another area of concern is the insisting support from the State towards the agribusiness sector by means of grants and technical assistance oriented towards the use of certified industrial seeds and the associated technological package. Testimonials from the agriculture sector show that the use of certified seeds and its technological package have led to the destruction of the soils and ecosystems, a total loss of productivity and the subsequent impoverishment of the population. Under the frame of an agricultural model where peasants depend on debt, these crises represent for many the loss of their land and other assets. Therefore, we consider that the certified seed in Ecuador is far from being a solution for the entire agriculture sector, and we demand respect and support for the alternative and more sustainable models that are being developed in the country.

We point out that the agribusiness sector argues that mandatory certification is necessary based upon two points, both easily rebuttable, and which lack current scientific support:

Agribusiness argues that low productivity is caused by the use of uncertified seed. This argument is false due to various reasons:

Productivity in Ecuador is affected by the depletion of soils and ecosystems, due to the agribusiness model.

Productivity relies directly on seed adaptation to local conditions. On a mega diverse country such as Ecuador, this means that the seed must be adapted to fit different climate zones, a task which peasants have been doing since the dawn of agriculture. In a future of energy shortage and climate change, it is essential that these practices continue and strengthen.

Productivity cannot be measured solely by the product´s metric tons per hectare, which, besides, is evaluated only for its commercial value for the big industry. We have to take into account other factors, such as energy efficiency, where farmer and family agriculture easily defeats the industry. Other important way of properly evaluating productivity is the one proposed by the seed defender, Vandana Shiva: measurement of Health per Hectare, which evaluates the amount of real nutrients and other benefits produced in the farm; according to these parameters, diversified agro ecological orchards and farms are the most productive units in the planet.

Agribusinesses also argue that the free flow of seed represent a sanitary threat since uncertified seed leads to plagues and disease. Two points are useful in rebutting this notion:

  • There are no scientific studies that prove that this is a widespread problem across the country. On the contrary, we have empiric evidence that peasants have not ceased to exchange seed on a national level, and this has not led to any epidemic.

  • Agro ecological farming in the country have shown that organisms considered plagues and diseases can coexist within a diversified crop without causing problems, if the soil is fertile and the seed has been locally adapted. The expansion of these organisms to plague and disease levels is caused by monoculture, the use of agro toxics, the weakening of soil and the use of poorly adapted seed; in other words, by the use of the agribusiness model.

We believe that seed laws in Ecuador must focus on Food Sovereignty, ancestral knowledge, diversity, intercultural diversity, the permanent exchange of genetic resources and the associated knowledge.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that there is not only one type of seed, but instead a diversified realm of seeds that come directly from ecological and cultural diversity. The seeds we defend are: organic farmers’ seeds, native, Creole, ancestral, heirloom, and other seeds that hold special relevance for local cultures or for natural ecosystems. All these concepts are of great significance for various economic and social sectors in the country. These vast variety of seeds have a high genetic diversity and variability, they are resilient and adaptable, and they provide cultural identity. They represent an essential resource for the ongoing creation of agro biodiversity, as they are a direct result of a lively farming culture that continually practices seed selection and multiplication processes. According to the Encyclopedia of Useful Plants of Ecuador (De la Torre et al, 2008), our country has 5.172 vegetable species with known uses by the population. This heritage is put at risk when access to seed is limited and genetic contamination introduced. Industrial certified seed is notoriously poor in terms of genetic diversity, and proposes only a few species for the nation’s basket.

Seeds in Ecuador entail different ecological, social, and nutritional traits, among other attributes and characteristics, which determine their quality. Therefore, it is absurd to impose on them the narrow parameters of quality used to certify agribusiness seeds. Only the people who save and use the seeds can establish its quality parameters.

Therefore, we state that:
NO regulation, registration or certification can be imposed on native, Creole, peasant, ancestral, organic or ecologically important seed, nor in any other form of plant reproduction used by the people, including plant cuttings, seedlings, or trees.

NO limitation should be imposed on the people’s right to save, transport, exchange and sell seeds according to their cultural criteria and their own ways of management.
The seed must NOT be declared as a “strategic resource of the State” or any other categorization which threatens the free use of seed by the people.
Industrial-type seeds, belonging to corporations, MUST be controlled. This control includes the explicit prohibition on any form of privatization regarding peasant, native, Creole, ancestral, patrimonial seed, and seed of ecological or cultural importance.
Constitutional prohibition on GMOs MUST be maintained and the constitutional mandate and must be regulated by the creation of pertinent, regulating and sanctioning organisms.

Constitutional prohibition on Intellectual Property Rights (patents) over living organisms and ancestral knowledge MUST be maintained. These should also not be used as strategic resources that the State can give away to the highest bidder; they are common goods that belong to all the population and to Nature itself.

We make a call to all population to defend these points, on which our future and our children´s future depends.

Finally, we propose that the following points should be included in the new Seed Law and subsequent regulations:

The State must encourage the production of farmers’ seed adapted on a local level and its free circulation, by means of:

  • Education about characteristics and importance of farmers’ seeds,

  • Creation of commercialization and exchange instances and systems, such as fairs, festivals, markets, etc.,

  • Provide training for farmers on seed selection and local adaptation, including organic seeds in agro-ecological systems,

  • Acknowledging the population´s contributions arising from ancestral knowledge, the different ‘cosmovisions’ of the various nationalities in the country, the autonomous practices of families and communities and their role in the continuous creation of agro-biodiversity processes on a local level,

  • Facilitation of access to the state seed banks, by simple agreements and follow ups which lead to multiplication of seed and strengthening of such banks.

  • The State must implement and fund regulations against transgenic contamination.

  • The State must facilitate access by local seed producers to non-native seed species recently introduced to the national cuisine, such as some leafy vegetables. This will allow the population to adapt this seeds to local conditions, creating new “Creole” varieties and seed sovereignty.

  • The general goal of the State must be to ensure agro biodiversity, diversification of seed and the population´s sovereignty over seeds, and to defend the interests of the population above the interests of private capitals. In this sense, this new seed law must interact with all other laws, such as Water and Land, Inventiveness Codes, sanitary norms and trade agreements with other countries.

  • Finally, that the new seed law must be helpful to build a new agricultural model, which seeks sustainability and is oriented towards food production for the population, encouraging diversified local economies, promoting Food Sovereignty and Good Living, recognizing ancestral knowledge and practices, defending agro biodiversity and seeds as a common heritage and a people´s natural right and understanding that agro biodiversity is the result of a dynamic and permanent process led by Nature, culture and economy.

This statement was prepared and supported by: COPISA, Observatorio del Cambio Rural, Red de Guardianes de Semillas, Colectivo Nacional Agroecológico, Campaña Al Grano, Coordinadora Nacional Campesina Eloy Alfaro, and about 120 participants on a personal level.

Written in Quito, July 6th, 2016.

Translation kindly provided by Javier Carrera, revision by Eugenia Gemmo

Related Publication


The Law of the Seed

Also read:

Ecuador Grassroots Launch Fight Against GMO Seed Firms

Telesur, 20 July 2016


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This post is also available in: Spanish