Last March my friend Lin came along and asked me to write about seeds and growing food and told me about a gathering movement of peasant farmers across the world and so may I introduce La Via Campesina, which translates as The Peasants Way.
200 Mazillion Farmers
It’s an international movement of some 200 million small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe, including 150 rural organisations from around the world, all supporting family-farm-based sustainable agriculture. La Via Campesina was the group that first coined the term food sovereignty – meaning the right to produce food on one’s own territory. The movement has carried out several campaigns, including an ongoing one to defend farmer’s seeds from corporate patents by opposing new laws that give multinationals like Monsanto a monopoly over seed and seed varieties.
Who Owns the Seeds?
Seeds are part of our common heritage. They have been passed from farmer to farmer for generations. Year upon year the best seeds from the strongest plants have been selected, in clever, peasantish ways. Today each variety carries a certain a set of attributes, especially adapted to country, region, climate and soil. In the real world, seeds are very valuable little things.
And these seeds are the very first link in the food chain. They are fundamental to survival and to locally based and independent food production. If we have seeds and soil and seasons then we also have the ability to feed our families or our community without having to pay some corporation for the privilege. So why shouldn’t these seeds stay in the hands of the farmers, who sowed, bred, saved and exchanged them for thousands of years?
Seed laws were first introduced to prevent unscrupulous seed merchants from selling poor-quality seed. There are some very sensible testing regimes around seed and plant health to reduce diseases, and protect consumers, which is all fine. But there are proposed laws in the pipeline that La Via Campesina campaign against because they are not beneficial to most small and family sized farms. Take the Plant Reproductive Material Law, which is about to set rules for the propagation and marketing of seeds and propagating material of agricultural crops in the EU. At first glance this new law is about ensuring productivity, health, quality and diversity of plant reproductive material. However, because of the rigorous testing and quality controls that have been proposed for seeds, so that they can go on the market commercially, there is no way small scale farmers and gardeners who routinely save their own seeds at the present time can afford to take part or compete. And so with nothing in the proposed legislation that allows small-scale producers exemption, this is actually an opportunity for the wealthy and powerful corporates to get their hands on all seed types by law.
Fair and Shared
On Tuesday 11th February, the European Parliament Agriculture Committee voted to reject the proposal of the European Commission on Plant Reproductive Material. The full Parliament will vote on this in a few weeks’ time and if it also rejects the draft law on seeds, the whole proposal will have to go back to the drawing board.
It’s good news, and if you want to help keep seed ownership fair and shared, in the hands of the family sized farmers and growers you can
1. Keep diversity alive: buy some open-pollinated varieties and save your own seed
2. Organise local seed swaps
3. Support small seed and plant companies by buying from them
And here are useful websites for more info