Foreword: Seed diversity and agrobiodiversity worldwide face the growing threat of market liberalisation, including the FTA between India and the EU that will only suit agribusinesses. To safeguard seed diversity and farmers’ rights, a number of seed festivals have been held in different parts of India, including a large biodiversity festival in Hyderabad, last year, parallel to the CBD-COP.
The seed is the first link in the food chain. It is a sacred code of evolution, an embodiment of life and memory, a latent world waiting to unfold. The seed gives itself to earth – warm soil, air and moisture – and comes alive. Drawing energy from the sun, it grows and multiplies manifold. Each seed and plant is unique.
Like the earth and the sky, the immense biodiversity of seeds is our collective heritage. Gifted by nature, and the cumulative innovations, adaptations and selections of many generations of farming communities, these seeds belong to all. They are our most vital wealth, essential for survival. They cannot be seen as mere commodities, to be bought and sold at will.
Allowing any variety of seed or plant to become a proprietary resource is a violation of natural justice, and a great suicidal blunder of modern economic civilization.
An estimated 80,000 plant species, and many varieties of each species, have been used as human food, though barely 150 species have been cultivated on a significant scale. But less than 30 crops now account for more than 95% of the human diet, and just 8 crops (of very few varieties) provide three-quarters of all human food.
India is a global centre of origin and diversity of rice. Over 60,000 distinct rice seed varieties have been collected by Indian agricultural research centres. Many more yet grew in farmers’ fields, adapted to diverse conditions. About 19,000 rice varieties were collected by Dr Richharia from just Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, of which 1600 varieties were found to be high-yielding. We have a rich diversity too of wheat, millets, pulses, coarse grains, oilseeds, vegetables, tubers, fruits, spices, and medicinal plants. About 25,000 Indian varieties of dry-land crops are held by ICRISAT alone.
But with the mono-cultural spread of a few dwarf exotic varieties of wheat and rice, and hybrid sorghum and corn, under the onslaught of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, much of our immense agro-biodiversity is now eroded or severely threatened in their original croplands. Only a fraction of such diversity yet survives, mainly in some areas populated by indigenous peoples.
Much of our crop seed wealth has ended up in distant gene banks – like the IRRI in Philippines, CIMMYT in Mexico, or Fort Collins in USA – far from its rightful owners and the cultures in which they were rooted. This wealth represents the collective bio-cultural heritage – including biodiversity, food culture, ecological knowledge and value systems – of local communities that freely shared and passed them down from generation to generation. It is also the most vital resource that must be reclaimed by them to safeguard their future livelihood options and the people they feed, especially in a scenario of climate change and increased farm vulnerability to erratic weather conditions.
With the inevitable growing scarcity and mounting prices of non-renewable fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers, as well as rising water shortages, the HIV (High Input Variety) seeds supplied by agro-industry – tailored to optimal conditions – are sure to face a sharp decline in yield. Unless our farmers are able to adopt bio-diverse agro-ecological agriculture with their own traditional, locally adapted seeds, severe food scarcity looms ahead.
Today, the danger to our priceless heritage of agro-biodiversity – from proprietary commercial hybrid seds and GM (genetically modified) crops – is graver than ever. The GM crops threaten severe contamination of our local crop varieties through cross-pollination, as seen in the case of corn (maize) in Mexico. The aggressive marketing of GM crops also drives local varieties out of circulation, as witnessed by the near total erosion of traditional cotton varieties in India.
The creation of ‘Intellectual Property Rights’ (IPRs) of plant breeders over seeds and plants, especially under the ‘Trade Related Intellectual Properties’ (TRIPs) provisions of the World Trade Organization, combined with restrictions on unregistered traditional seed varieties, is an assault on our agro-biodiversity and its free, unhindered use. Such criminalizing of the natural rights of farmers and farming communities, whose ancestors nurtured such diversity in the first place, is a mockery of natural justice. Together with the sanctioning of genetically polluting GM crops, this represents a concerted thrust by agri-business to wipe out our rich heritage of agro-biodiversity. All legislations and treaties that abet the biodiversity privatization of our collective genetic heritage, carving out proprietary spheres for exclusive use, must be discarded into the dustbin of history. Our failure to do so will ultimately destroy our agriculture and many millions of agricultural livelihoods, and the food and nutritional security of all.
We thus hereby adopt the following seed declaration:
1) We assert the farming communities’ and indigenous peoples’ sovereign rights over their collective bio-cultural heritage, including the right to freely plant, use, reproduce, select, improve, adapt, save, share, exchange or sell seeds, without restriction or hindrance, as they have done for past millennia.
2) We reject the validity of any private or corporate proprietary claim of ownership over any variety of seed, crop, plant or life form, and particularly any variety rooted in our natural heritage, cultural history and identity.
3) We demand a ban on GM seeds and species, and strict enforcement of corporate liability for any contamination of seeds/plants, and any damage to the health of farmers, consumers, animals, croplands and eco-systems from the use/release of GM seeds and species.
4) We urge our government to partner with our farmers, gardeners and civil society organizations in systematically and transparently recording and documenting in a freely accessible database our genetic wealth, particularly the diversity of our crops and crop varieties, originating in or found in various regions and cultures of India.
5) We demand that our government facilitate and simplify farmers’ and cultivators’ access to our heritage seed varieties from national and international germplasm collections, and support their decentralized conservation in the croplands and regions of origin.
6) We assert our unconditional right to pass on our collective bio-cultural heritage and the health of our croplands and eco-systems to future generations.
7) We demand that our government fulfill its responsibility of safeguarding and regenerating our collective bio-cultural heritage and the health of our croplands and eco-systems.
8) We call upon our government to pro-actively promote and support bio-diverse and holistic ecological agriculture to meet our basic, priority needs in a sustainable manner.