UPDATE 14. January 2021: Tanzania Ministry cancels GMO seed trials - Enhances scrutiny in verifying imported seeds. Also Mexico, Italy and Peru closed its borders to GMOs.
UPDATE 18. December 2020: Indian farmers’ 30 year struggle against corporate globalisation and 40 year struggle against the green revolution
UPDATE 08. September 2020: Bezo's Amazon Bans Int’l Seed Sales: Problem, Reaction, Famine: Technocrats Take Control of Seeds
A New Bill Could Help Protect the Sacred Seeds of Indigenous People
Traditional seed varieties cultivated for generations have far fewer protections than modified or hybrid seeds. Six senators have introduced legislation to level the playing field.
By Gosia Wozniacka - 09. October 2019
Clayton Brascoupé has farmed in the red-brown foothills of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains for more than 45 years. A Mohawk-Anishnaabe originally from a New York reservation, Brascoupé married into the Pueblo of Tesuque tribe and has since planted at least 60 varieties of corns, beans, squashes, and other heirloom crops grown for millennia by the area’s Native Americans.
For more than three decades, he has taught other indigenous farmers about sustainable agricultural practices, seed saving, healthy eating, and traditional food production. With seed diversity loss a grave concern in recent years, Brascoupé has been cataloguing the seeds stored by his own family. But earlier this spring, two of his tool sheds burned down, destroying several dozen varieties.
“I will have trouble replacing them. They may be lost for good,” said Brascoupé, who runs the Traditional Native American Farmers Association.
Left: Clayton Brascoupé holds several ears of indigenous corn. (Photo courtesy of SEED: The Untold Story / Collective Eye Films)
In recent decades, Native Americans across the U.S. have rallied to bring back the traditional crops that fed their ancestors, and the seeds they need to grow them. But many traditional seeds have been lost, and many of those that are still cultivated face environmental and human threats, including poor storage facilities. Assessing seeds’ history can also be challenging. And while several communities have created Native seed exchanges, seed banks, and sanctuaries, their scale is local and relatively small. Moreover, federal law, which protects tribal lands, human tissue, and cultural artifacts, is unclear when it comes to protecting Native traditional seeds—while it does shield hybrid and genetically engineered seeds.
Newly proposed legislation could help. The Native American Seeds Protection Act of 2019 would direct the Government Accountability Office to study the long-term viability of Native seeds and the programs and laws that could safeguard them. The study would assess the cultivation, harvesting, storage, and commercialization of these ancient seeds, as well as investigate the fraudulent marketing of seeds as “traditional” or “produced by Native Americans.”
The six senators who introduced the bipartisan, bicameral bill all hope the effort will “support health care, food security, and economic development in tribal communities.”
The legislation is a step forward, Brascoupé said. Native people urgently need to inventory the seeds they still have, interview elders about rare, old varieties, and create community and regional seed libraries and backup seed banks. “A seed represents potential and wealth,” he said. “There are thousands of older varieties with different strengths and flavors. My priority is keeping that diversity.”
Seeds as Ancestors
To Native Americans, seed protection isn’t just about maintaining diverse genetics and food sustainability, said Lea Zeise, a regional representative for the Intertribal Agriculture Council and a farmer who runs a corn growing cooperative on her reservation. “We need to know about protecting our seeds and foods… to protect the sacredness of our culture,” she added
“They’re not inanimate objects for us,” Zeise said. “The word for corn, o·nʌ́steˀ, is closely related to the word for breastmilk. That’s how intimate a relationship it is, and how closely we’re connected.”
Several years ago, when Zeise visited a Haudenosaunee community, her hosts sent her to a white farmer to buy the sacred Tuscarora White Corn. That’s when Zeise, a member of the Oneida Nation—also part of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy—realized Native Americans were losing control of the ancient plants that had once sustained them.
White corn had nearly disappeared from her tribe’s Wisconsin reservation. Much of the land was owned or leased by non-Native farmers growing conventional, genetically modified corn. And while tribal seed keepers had maintained subsistence plots for decades, most Oneida members no longer knew how to plant, harvest, or hull the traditional crop—nor how to save its seeds.
“We had an awakening and realized that we had to act quickly,” said Zeise. “There aren’t many experienced Native growers left, and we felt that our foods need to be grown by us because we know how to sing for them, hold ceremony for them, and maintain that relationship. When others plant our seeds, they see them as simple inputs to their system.”
But the Oneida people of Wisconsin lacked the seeds to start growing white corn—a challenge because Native seeds are not typically bought in stores or from catalogs but gifted and traded among family and community members. Eventually, Zeise traveled thousands of miles to trade wild rice for corn seeds with the Onondaga Nation in New York state, whose members also taught her how to plant and harvest the corn.
To help her community regain a relationship with the corn and safeguard its seeds for future generations, Zeise and her mother started a cooperative called Ohe·láku, which means “among the corn stalks.” Over the past four years, 20 families have grown the crop on six acres.
Along with community volunteers, they harvest the ears by hand, then husk and braid them and hang them to dry in a barn. In the springtime, the seeds are shelled and ready to be cooked or ground into flour, and turned into posole (hominy soup), cornbread, or Kan^stohale bread. Some of the seeds are set aside to be planted. Zeise’s cooperative now shares and gifts both the corn and its seeds to people within the Oneida tribe and others.
Cooperative members also participate in Braiding the Sacred, a series of regional gatherings that bring Native corn growers to harvest together, exchange seeds and stories, offer mutual encouragement, and talk about the threats facing sacred corn.
Braiding the Sacred also rematriates seeds to other trusted communities to help Native people re-learn to grow them. It’s frowned upon in the Native community to sell or buy seeds, and one must be very careful about who they share them with, said Zeise. “You need to have a relationship with that person, to understand what his or her intentions are. You’re handing off a relative, so it’s not something that’s done lightly.”
Threats to Native Seeds
Advocates like Zeise say indigenous seeds need protecting because they’ve been co-opted by businesses and corporations in the name of profit.
Some seed exchanges and catalogs sell varieties they claim are “traditional,” “ceremonial,” and Native American in origin. If that were the case, said Zeise, “there’s no way that a tribe would allow them to be sold in a catalog.”
The fact that agrochemical companies and seed breeders have altered ancient seeds’ biology to produce hybrid and genetically engineered (GE) varieties is deeply offensive to Native tribes, she added.
“When we hear about someone taking seeds into a lab, pulling them apart, and manipulating their genes… this does not sit well with our community,” she said.
Bioengineered and hybrid varieties also threaten to contaminate the traditional seeds still held and grown by Native people. Native farmers who plant corn too close to commercial fields may expose their crops to cross-pollination by GE and patented seeds (and could be opening themselves up to lawsuits). In Mexico, corn’s place of origin, GE crops have been banned after studies found that GE corn had contaminated traditional varieties.
And in Minnesota, where members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe still harvest wild rice on the state’s lakes by hand, the University of Minnesota helped develop commercial varieties that Minnesota and California farmers grow in flooded fields. After the university’s scientists announced they had mapped a portion of the wild rice genome, the tribe successfully pushed for a state law that prohibits the introduction of any genetically engineered wild rice paddy stands without a full environmental impact assessment.
Protecting traditional varieties is critical, said Brascoupé of the Traditional Native American Farmers Association, not just because of their cultural and spiritual significance. They’re nutritionally superior and can help fight the epidemic of obesity in Indian Country and across the U.S., he said. They can also better withstand extreme weather events such as droughts, making them more resilient to climate change and valuable to all farmers.
“These older varieties have traits that can handle all sorts of environmental changes and challenges,” said Brascoupé, whose organization participates in seed exchanges and runs trainings on the risk of contamination with GE seeds. The group has helped pass a tribal resolution in support of seed sovereignty and a state memorial recognizing the significance of Native seeds. “We need to educate people about their loss. Many have been around for millennia and once they’re contaminated or lost, there is no place we can go back to get them.”
Brascoupé recalled the recent case of a white farmer selling so-called traditional Hopi corn in the pueblo communities. “The corn looked similar (to Hopi corn), but we were concerned about its origins and whether it was not contaminated with GE corn,” he said. “We asked him to not come to our pueblo to sell anymore.”
Protection of Native Seeds
The loss of seeds is yet another injustice in the long history of discrimination and abuse Native Americans have faced over the last two hundred years, said Joy Hought, the executive director of Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit that banks and distributes heirloom seeds traditionally grown by indigenous communities in the Southwest.
Like the cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks used for decades by researchers and biotech companies, ancient seeds have been commodified, multiplied, and turned into profit. And while the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international, legally binding treaty that’s supposed to ensure that the benefits produced by biodiversity are shared equitably, the ideal is not reflected in reality. “Beyond cultural theft, there’s economic theft. Corporations take seeds, turn them into hybrids or GMOs and somebody makes a billion dollars,” said Hought.
Over the past century, the U.S. has lost about 93 percent of its food seed variety. The industry is controlled by just four corporations—Bayer, Corteva, ChemChina, and BASF—and the vast majority of the seeds planted across the U.S. are hybrid and GE, herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant. In 2019, GE seed was planted on 92 percent of U.S. corn acres, 98 percent of U.S. cotton acres, and 94 percent of U.S. soybean acres. And since 1996, when patented, GE seeds were first commercialized, the corporations have aggressively defended their intellectual property rights.
In 1970, the Plant Variety Protection Act granted patent-like protection to sexually reproduced plant varieties, those propagated by seed, though it allowed farmers to save the seeds for their own use. More recently, utility patents (patents for inventions) have been granted for living organisms and plants, including newly developed seed varieties. Farmers cannot save seeds protected under such patents. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 reaffirmed that new plant breeds are indeed patentable. Because of these rules, most farmers have stopped saving and replanting seeds and must buy new seeds every year.
Right: Blue corn harvest in Pueblo of Tesuque, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Brascoupé.)
Meanwhile, large seed breeders are working within a narrower and narrower niche of diversity, trying to eke out a last drop of what makes a variety distinct. The marketed varieties will all be nearly identical, even if each is protected by a patent, said Hought.
Ancient seed varieties are just the opposite; they’re paragons of biodiversity and that’s what makes them so invaluable. Called landraces, the oldest crop cultivars domesticated by farmers from wild populations come from diverse genetics that adapted over time to suit a local environment and climate. Landrace seeds have never been formally improved through plant breeding, though they developed their unique characteristics through individual grower selection. Some of the landrace seeds, those that have been selectively bred for a few traits and consistently passed down through generations, are called heirloom (they tend to be less genetically diverse than landraces because they are more in-bred).
The genetic diversity and adaptability that make landrace and heirloom seeds so desirable also make their legal protection challenging. “If you want to protect seeds, you need to be able to confirm their identity. And, at this point in history, for many traditional varieties it’s very difficult to say what their identities are,” said Hought. “Biological differences make it more difficult to assess and assign a single identity to an heirloom seed, compared to, say, a hybrid or GMO variety.”
It’s difficult to ascertain traditional seeds’ origins because farmers collect seeds from multiple plants and pull them together, resulting in a genetic mixture. Then over millennia, the seeds drift, are shared by thousands of people, and genetically adapt to different environments.
Seeds are also part of subjective cultural narratives such as creation stories, which may not always reflect historical realities. “Many seeds come out of the oral tradition,” said Hought. “And human cultures and their narratives are not fixed in time, they evolve.”
If two nearby farmers shared the same seeds hundreds of years ago, but gave different names to their varieties, who gets to claim it? “It’s hard to … definitively say that this seed came from the Hopi people or the Navajo people when thousands of years have transpired,” Hought added.
But Zeise of the Oneida Nation said Native people share common knowledge about their ancient seeds and foods. Every tribe has its own seed varieties and Native farmers can identify their characteristics. “How would you know this is an acorn squash? Everyone knows.”
Tanzania Ministry cancels GMO seed trials
* Enhances scrutiny in verifying imported seeds
ByGerald Kitabu - 14. January 2021
THE government has from today suspended Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) research trials in the country and imposed exhaustive scrutiny on imported seeds to ward off scientifically engineered versions.
Agriculture minister Prof Adolf Mkenda made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon at the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) Mikocheni centre in Dar es Salaam, saying the decision has been made to conserve genetic resources of the country and local seed varieties.
This implies that the drought-tolerant GMO maize trial that has been ongoing at the Makutupora Research Centre in Dodoma and another for cassava at TARI Mikocheni halt operations forthwith. The maize project sought to tackle periodic infestation of fall armyworm while the cassava trial was meant to end diseases such as the brown streak virus.
The minister raised concerns over the negative impact of GMO on farmers, saying that if the nation lets free entrance of foreign seeds, “there will be seed market dominance by a few agricultural companies with local farmers forced to buy from them every year hence creating seed dependence.”
He therefore directed that from today all imported seeds must undergo effective screening at molecular biology laboratory at TARI-Mikocheni, a lab that is mandated to carry out tests before such seeds enter the market, as it has a molecular biology lab, a diseases diagnostic lab and a tissue culture lab.
“As of now, this is the government position. We shall conduct other types of agriculture research activities to improve our seeds and increase yield and productivity through conventional methods but not GMO research,” he elaborated.
Underlining the government’s acute positioning on the issue, he pointedly tasked the media to spread the word, “as it is listening. We have big task to protect our seed sovereignty and so far we are doing well. If there are some imported seeds in the market that have not undergone testing, make sure that I get the report,” he directed the TARI leadership.
After assessing the centre’s capability, he said the process must start quickly to equip the centre with modern infrastructures and needed reagents so that it can efficiently conduct the screening exercise for good results.
“Today I have two samples of imported cotton and sunflower on my table. I want them to be tested to see whether they are GMO or not but the centre has no capacity to do this. We can’t go on this way. Make sure you improve performance of the centre by building capacity,” the minister intoned.
He also stressed the need for TARI-Mikocheni to network with similar testing institutions and labs in the testing and screening exercise on samples of imported seeds.
“I also direct you to go around and assess the capacity of molecular biology laboratories in other institutions and see if they have the capacity to test imported seeds,” he pursued, noting that transformation of agriculture will be brought about by science, technology and innovation.
By imposing GMOs, companies would put farmers and consumers at their leash by gaining property rights on seed.
To stop this effort, a Presidential Decree in Mexico to begin the phase out of “use, acquisition, distribution, promotion, and import” of glyphosate went into effect on January 1, 2021, with a transition period lasting until January 2025. The Decree also stops authorities from granting permits for the release of GM maize seeds to protect the country’s food security and food sovereignty, its native corn and their traditional cornfields (“milpas”). The ban is also meant to conserve the country’s biocultural wealth in order to “safeguard human health, the country’s bio-cultural diversity, and the environment” by replacing glyphosate with sustainable, culturally appropriate alternatives. Likewise, the biosafety authorities are to “revoke and refrain” from granting authorisations for the use of GM maize in food, which is heavily imported by the United States, with the phase out to be completed no later than January 31, 2024. A move which sparked much criticism from the agribusiness lobby, while providing relief to small farmer organizations.
On January 5, the president of the Peruvian Congress Mirtha Vásquez Chuquilin signed Law 31111 into action, approving and extending a moratorium for another 15 years on the entry and production of GMOs in the country to December 31, 2035. The new law amends the previous Law 29811, which originally established the moratorium in 2011. The passing of this extension was thanks to the PERU FREE OF TRANSGENICS Platform, and the hundreds of organizations, world renowned chefs and policy makers that supported the campaign in support of the law. Through this action, Peru will continue to be one of the most important agricultural gene banks in the world.
In Italy, twenty-six environmental organizations collectively launched a powerful campaign, which prevented the government from passing four bills inspired by the agribusiness lobby. The bills were proposed by the Minister of Agriculture and were set to permit GMOs and other New Breeding Techniques (NBT) to enter the country. After an intense media storm and direct public pressure placed on every parliamentarian of the Agriculture Commission of the Chamber, the pro GMO/NBT decrees of the Ministry of Agriculture were not passed in their original form. On January 14, the bills were strongly conditioned and therefore voided of all parts concerning GMOs and NBTs, as well as of the restrictions to free exchange of seeds. The attempt behind the decrees was aimed at forcing an illegitimate opening to “old” and “new” GMOs/NBTs and to deny farmers the possibility to carry out activities such as reusing seeds, and the exchange of part of the harvest as seeds or propagation material.
The Green Revolution left farmers discontented and indebted as the result of degraded soil, and pest-ridden crops, which caused slavery and disillusionment as well as tension in the State of Punjab between the farming community and a newly centralized state taking charge of agricultural policy as well as agricultural commodities’ prices, finance and credit. Before the Green Revolution, Punjab was the land of five rivers, prosperous, with hard-working farmers. By 1984 Punjab farmers were protesting against this slavery. It became a land of violence and war.
In 1984 Punjab farmers were protesting against the #GreenRevolution model saying if you cannot choose what you grow or how you will grow it , these are conditions of slavery . They have already paid a very high price with debt , suicides & a #CancerTrain https://t.co/FNOjapGo4e https://t.co/Dpu9fvOyLC
— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) December 9, 2020
The deregulation of commerce has been pushed by the corporate world since the onset of GATT and WTO where rules were written by corporations to enlarge their freedom to commodify and privatise land, water, seed, food, information, data, and knowledge.
By enclosing the commons, the freedom of people, their cultures and democracies is destroyed. It is about an end to real economies where independent producers exchange and sell goods at fair and just prices. Along the same lines, the World Bank’s structural adjustments imposed in 1991 dismantled India’s food security system. By removing the laws regulating markets, prices and stock-holding, it destroyed farmers’ livelihoods, people’s right to food and food as a public good, in order to create a “free market“ in corporate commodities.
Corporations have been trying to impose #freetrade #deregulation of #Agriculture since 1990s . Freedom for corporations translates into unfreedom for farmers & consumers . Farmers income collapse , consumer prices increase #PolarisationofPrices=superprofits for corporations pic.twitter.com/TTH9d8SpdZ
— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) December 7, 2020
Half a million farmers participated in a historic Seed Freedom – Bija Satyagraha rally In 1993 at Bangalore’s Cuban’s Park. This was the first international protest against WTO.
The Indian farmers’ protests we are witnessing today are a continuation of these earlier protests and are against the World Bank conditionalities being made law.
Millions of farmers are today protesting across the streets of Delhi to ask the government to cancel the so called “Farm Bills”, the new laws passed to deregulate the market. A step taken which ignores the trade unions that represent some 650 million workers of the sector, and which, clearly, is in the interest of the big agribusiness corporations.
As the strikes and public protests continue, Vandana Shiva, president of Navdanya International, underlines that the so called “Farm Bills” are in reality`Food System Bills’. They indeed will determine food production, farmers’ incomes, food prices, and will have impacts on soils, biodiversity and natural resources endangering 70 years of a regulatory system to protect small farms, small farmer livelihoods and food sovereignty of the country.
The government initiative does not come as a surprise. On the contrary, the attempt to hand over the Indian agriculture sector to international corporations is as old as Navdanya, created over 30 years ago by Vandana Shiva to stop such corporate takeover. As Navdanya’s founder attests: “The World Bank and Corporations have been trying to introduce these laws to dismantle India’s food Sovereignty since the 1991 Structural Adjustment. For 30 years we have stopped these laws. If they are not repealed, they will destroy what is still the biggest food system of the world, real farming by real farmers, created and sustained by small farmers over thousands of years”.
These laws embody the push towards corporate globalisation in the name of “free trade” and competitiveness, perpetuating the neoliberal illusion that “the market regulates itself,” while instead the consequences for local economies and small farmers are devastating. This so called “freedom“ is only for corporations and their masked owners, a term misused to destroy the Earth’s ecological fabric — the fabric of people’s economies and societies.
The farmers’ struggle in India is for the common future of humanity: Will we have a future of fake food without farmers, without diversity, without food democracy? or a future of healthy food for all grown by real farmers in abundant biodivesty, growing real food, taking care of our health and the health of the planet?
Background – Navdanya
When in 1991 the Dunkel Draft Text of the WTO agreement was leaked, and the patenting of seed leading to monopolies became a reality, Navdanya organised awareness campaigns and rallies to alert farmers across the country. It spearheaded the movement to protect and create awareness amongst farmers and also to sensitize policy makers and politicians on farmers’ rights to seed to prevent the discussion being determined by the corporate sector and interests driven by profit motives.
The organization has been instrumental in conserving biodiversity through the set up of over 120 community centered, decentralised indigenous seed banks across India, which are making farmers free of dependence on costly, unreliable, and nutritionally empty seeds and helping them move from vulnerability to resilience in the context of climate change. It’s work with small farmers has shown that small biodiverse farms based on agro-ecology and nutrition-sensitive agriculture can provide full and adequate nutrition to twice India’s population.
In 2006, with the growing farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, known as the suicide belt of the country, Navdanya, under its Seeds of Hope program, mobilized the movement to protect farmer’s rights to seed saving and seed sharing, providing guidance and assistance to the farmers, also distributing the indigenous variety of seeds to the farmers encouraging them to shift to organic and sustainable agriculture, as in 2015 when cotton farmers started loosing their harvest to the whitefly pest attacks.
Since the mid-2000s Big Agribusiness has been pushing for the introduction of new GMOs in India. Bt Brinjal was approved for commercialization in India in 2009. Navdanya joined the movement opposing the approval, and – after much public outcry and rounds of debates, the Indian government passed a moratorium on Bt Brinjal in February 2010, introducing a ban that is in place until today. Amidst the relentless push by biotech lobbies to impose GM Mustard in India, Navdanya along with multiple civil society organizations are once again since 2017 on the frontline to resist the GM Mustard. This is not the first time that Indian mustard is under threat. In 1998 India’s indigenous edible oils made from mustard, coconut, sesame, linseed and groundnut processed in artisanal cold-press mills were banned, using “food safety” as an excuse. The restrictions on import of soya oil were simultaneously removed. The result was that one million oil mills in villages were closed. And millions of tons of artificially cheap GMO soya oil continue to be dumped on India. During that time, women from the streets of Delhi joined forces with Navdanya and the National Women’s Alliance for Food Sovereignty (Mahila Anna Swaraj) to start the Sarson Satyagraha and succeeded in bringing back pure mustard oil.
Navdanya has been supporting farmers’ seed and food sovereignty and local food economies by exposing the imports of foreign commodities, such as soy to replace indigenous oil seeds and pulses, that kept increasing through the policy of dumping and manipulation. Along the same lines the organization has been defending artisans’ rights to produce oil seed, which were served a notice in 2015 under the corporate driven regulations of the new FSSAI Act.
The roots of the contemporary Agrarian Crisis lie in 50 years of the chemical intensive, capital intensive, monoculture based “Green Revolution”, and 20 years of corporate globalisation, which has transformed Indian Agriculture into a market for costly seed and chemical inputs and a supplier of cheap commodities. In the course of 30 years, the work flowing from Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation Farm and Earth University has helped more than 200,000 hectares of land to switch to organic and established the largest direct marketing, fair trade organic network in the country.
Amazon Bans Int’l Seed Sales: Problem, Reaction, Famine: Technocrats Take Control of Seeds
By Ice Age Farmer - 08. September 2020
Throughout human history, people have brought seed of their favorite foods — but no longer. The technocrats are now banning international sales of SEEDS on Amazon/Wish, due to the “dangerous Chinese Mystery Seeds” false flag — even as parts of the US experience seed shortages! This “Problem/Reaction/Famine” dialectic is actively being used in many areas to engineer food shortages ahead, in order to further a technocratic, transhumanist rewrite of our food system and takeover of society.
FULL SHOW NOTES: https://www.iceagefarmer.com/2020/09/08/amazon-bans-intl-seed-sales-problem-reaction-famine-technocrats-take-control-of-seeds/
Heirloom grains interview: https://www.iceagefarmer.com/2018/10/16/ancient-grains-for-the-grand-solar-minimum-with-brent-stumph-iafp-e036/
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