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Women And Seeds For Resistance

Gabriela De Cicco posted an article from AWID International Forum published on April 4:

FRIDAY FILE: The onslaught of transgenic food production, the advance of agribusiness driven single-crop farming, and the exploitative economic development model, are putting food sovereignty at risk.

Those supporting and reinforcing these practices, including transnational corporations, are more focused on profit than caring for food and natural resources.

Women and Seeds for Resistance[1]
AWID spoke to Chilean peasant activist Francisca Rodriguez[2]about a campaign to defend seeds as a resistance practice in the face of corporate power.

This article is part of a series examining some of the issues and discussions related to the theme of the 2012 AWID International Forum that makes connections between women’s human rights issues and economic power. More information on the private sector and corporate power is available here.

Gabriela De Cicco wrote:

“In 2001, women from Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC, Latin American Coordination of Peasant Organizations) met in Mexico for the 2nd Continental Assembly of Peasant Women “Peasant women sowing a millennium of life, justice and equality”.

Following this meeting, the women submitted the idea of launching a global campaign to defend autochthonous and indigenous seeds to the 3rd CLOC and La Via Campesina (LVC) Congress.

In 2002, during a Forum held in parallel to the World Food Summit, La Via Campesina and Friends of the Earth International together with other organizations launched the global campaign, initially called “Seeds as the Common Heritage of Humanity”.[3]

The Campaign is based on the multiple forms of indigenous and peasant knowledge about seeds, agriculture and biodiversity as valid in and of themselves, requiring no validation from outside sources, scientific or other. It seeks effective ways to involve and engage society as a whole, including requesting the support of technicians and scientists when the processes of biological and cultural erosion deem it necessary.

Leadership and final decision-making rests with LVC, peasant and indigenous organizations and communities. The Campaign is part of the struggle to defend, reinforce and/or recover peoples’ political, cultural, economic and food sovereignty, and its actions are framed within a broader struggle against the capitalist system and its neoliberal phase.

It is therefore also part of the search for alternative peoples’ projects and is closely linked to the defense of peasant and indigenous lands, territories and cultures.

In each country, the Campaign is conducted according to local realities, through biodiversity fares, local markets and seeds exchanges.[4]

AWID: Why did you choose seeds as the campaign?

Francisca Rodríguez (FR) said: “We were discussing food sovereignty (FS) in Mexico, and we reached the conclusion that we were doing food sovereignty in all its dimensions and while men were talking about it they were not fully taking it on.  We realised that FS was going to be at risk because even if agrarian reform happened, if we did not defend the seed, the reform was going to be left to the will of transnational seed corporations. It was therefore not an emotional, heart-driven identity; it was a political decision to propose the Campaign”.

AWID: Why did the name for the Campaign change?

FR: At Rio +10, in Johannesburg 2002, the transnational seed corporation Monsanto agreed that seeds were humanity’s heritage because in that case all of us would have a right to them, including the company. We almost had a heart attack! And we questioned our strategy, so it was in our second meeting in Caaguazu, south of Paraguay. We said: “No, they are not the heritage of humanity, they are the heritage of our indigenous and peasant people, of women who created and placed them for the good of humanity.”

The key to food sovereignty is in the seed – everything begins there. There can be no food sovereignty without the seed. There can be no agrarian reform without seeds. We cannot be sovereign people if we don’t have our own seeds.

We lost everything and now we are subjected to what the food industry – that took over our seeds – wants to offer and sell to us, influencing how we eat and also how we live.

AWID: How are women involved in the Campaign?

FR: With great conviction. We say the Campaign is magic because not only does it call us but it makes us visible again; it raises our self-esteem; we feel women are finally acknowledged as having wisdom.   To some extent we recovered the notion that we were the first farmers, the discoverers of seeds and we have kept taking care of them for centuries, reproducing them.

The Campaign empowers us. We are no longer mere housewives but those who take care of the vegetable garden, preserve the seed, reproduce the seed and reproduce life.

AWID: How is the Campaign contributing to women’s economic rights?

FR: It was a battle for recognition, but today they are much more visible. Nowadays, the very existence and survival of the peasant world has a woman’s strength, because many rural households are held together by women’s labour and agricultural practices.

This is why recovering and sharing our knowledge in the face of agro-ecology, not as a fad, but as indigenous and peasants’ own production systems, is integral to the campaign.

AWID: Why are you in disagreement with the notion of food security

FR: We are against it because the notion of food security, both that of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and of governments, is related to people’ ability to acquire food and not to their need to produce food or their ability to establish solidarity and horizontal relationships between peoples to guarantee the basic right to food.

We want healthy, culturally adequate food, produced by peasants themselves to be accessible to all. Food is a right, not a business. And so our claim is for governments to invest. That is where we need to have resources available, because it is their obligation and duty to guarantee people’s access to food.

Today people are not aware of what they eat and there is less access to information for most of those at the grassroots. This is why we are going to defend agro-ecology, so it does not become just another business. Urban agriculture is found at the middle classes, it is elitist, for those who can pay more for their health. We want to bring our production to people at the local markets; bring the country produce to town and get rid of the chain of intermediaries.

So that people know where their vegetables came from and who and what conditions produced them. To the extent that people in cities understand this, peasant agriculture will be saved. Agrarian reform is not a social process, it is a life process, guarding people’s right to food

AWID: Could you give us an example of a specific action that made a transnational company back down?

FR: In Chile, we demanded to be informed where the transgenic seedbeds were. By law, there can be no transgenic food production in Chile but still transgenic are all around. Monsanto argued they could not reveal it because there was a vandal organization, affiliated with La Via Campesina – that is, ANAMURI – that was ‘placing humanity’s advancements at risk’.

When the Tribunal ruled in our favour and Monsanto was forced to reveal the location of seedbeds, the company appealed but our claim against the UPOV Agreement was so strong that Monsanto withdrew the charges against us. In Paraguay, women along with the Agriculture and Plants Department went around plucking the clandestine transgenic fields of crops.

Having food sovereignty recognized as a right and the protection for our seeds included in the Constitutions of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia is a step forward. As is having food sovereignty and security laws including the issue of seeds in Uruguay, Paraguay and Nicaragua!

The notion of food sovereignty and the concern about the seed is no longer the peasants’ only; it is also a concern for environmentalists and ecologists.  It is growing in the awareness of grassroots people and it will be discussed in Rio +20, it is already in international fora.

AWID: What are the future challenges?

FR: Today we need land and seeds, because the market has appropriated the seeds. Our campaign to multiply seeds is urgent. We don’t need a vegetable garden we need fields.  We are willing to take risks and break the laws that recriminalize the production of peasant seeds. This means resisting State agricultural policies to build sovereignty in our fields. Food sovereignty goes beyond merely preserving the seed or securing food; it is our rights that are at stake, it is peasant survival.

It is hard work, demanding strong commitment, because it is not only about recovering the seed but also everything associated with it. And those are the values: spirituality, solidarity and camaraderie among us. Those value elements behind the Campaign allow it to be well received by the people we can relate to and can reach out to.

And because we are an organization, there is a huge demand for women to go out and talk about this. And the more we do it, the more we get committed and passionate about it. You mention the seed and I lighten up. You mention women and the same happens. Because I think the seed comes together with us, and we come together with the seed; they are seeds of freedom, seeds of autonomy, seeds of justice and seeds of dignity; seeds of resistance and we are women in resistance.

Note [1] “Seeds: Heritage of the People for the Good of Humanity” Campaign. This is the name by which it is currently known; its earlier name, as stated, was “Seeds: Humanity’s Common Heritage”.

Note [2] Belonging to ANAMURI (National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women) and to Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC-VC, Latin American Coordination of Peasant Organizations)

Note [3] Final document, CLOC-V.C. Seed Campaign meeting, Quito, July 22-24, 2010, drafted by Francisca Ramirez. We thank FR for sharing this document with us.

Note [4] In Chile there are seed curators’ schools. The purpose of these schools is not to lose this ancient knowledge. “The curator is who watches over, who guards, who protects the seed”. In Ecuador, there are huge food sovereignty tables, held in parks.

 

Food baskets for year 2050; (Nov. 14, 2009)

I decided to combine and edit 4 posts into a comprehensive essay that might forecast the world’s agricultural state in the year 2050, as it will be inhabited by 10 billion people. The posts are: The long-term “Revenge of Geography”; “Food BANG, not the Big One”; “The world’s food basket: Africa is heaven for agro-business investments”; and “Africa is targeted to be exclusively the world’s food basket”

We are barely feeding the current world population and millions are dying of famine related malnutrition.

In 1960, many developed nations had surpluses of food stuff; this is no longer the case.  Funny Mark Twain said “Buy lands; we are no more manufacturing those kinds of things“.

The UN branch for Food and Agriculture Organization predicted that agricultural products will witness increases in prices over 50% by the year 2017 and predicted that famine will be the lot of 70 impoverished States harming 1.2 billion human.

Global problems for water shortages

We are witnessing the era of “Anthropocene” which means man is doing more damages to the environment than nature can stabilize; the main reality to account for is acute shortages in sources of water. “It is man who has the power to create; it is nature that commands to a large extent” said Harold Mackinder in 1904.

The main problems cannot be summarized in population explosion.  Modern problems are exacerbating the conditions.

First, just in China and India the number of middle class “well off people” are 4 times the combined numbers in the USA, Europe, and Japan. These newly created classes in the last two decades demand equal standards of living that the developed nations have been enjoying for a century. Consequently, water has to be diverted from agriculture to urban centers that are fast increasing in numbers and in size.  Huge investments are being spent to building dams, diverting rivers, and constructing thousands of miles of water canals.

Second, most rivers are heavily polluted from mass industrializations, a process that has been going on for many decades. Fertile lands are deteriorating as they are irrigated with toxic and highly saline water.

Third, climatic changes are affecting rain delivery in sufficient amount. Deserts are expanding and sub-terrene water sources are dwindling in numbers and quantities.

Fourth, the USA and Europe are planting agro-energy products that are transformed into non-fossils sources for energy. The EU is shooting for a 10% sufficiency by the year 2010 from these agro sources.  Thus, vast fields of wheat and corn are being converted to agro products rich in sugar contents. This policy might resolve EU internal problems in the short run in several ways: first, instead of subsidizing agriculture for competitive exportation the EU could invest in land development in the large States of Poland and Ukraine; this alternative might enhance the internal food trade with adequate return for the poorer EU member Sates; second, the constant stream of law suits against infringements on Global Free Trade will be reduced; and third, experiments on alternative energy substitutes will be encouraged.

Fifth, the USA and the EU are leasing fertile lands overseas not to produce edible condiments for the famished population but products for their energy substitutes.

Political end games

The main power in the coming decades will reside in the States who control the sources of the major rivers.  China has conquered Tibet because three main rivers take their sources from the Himalaya mountain chains; mainly the Mekong (that flow into the South East), the Indus (that flow in Pakistan), and the Brahmapoutre that flow in India and join the Ganges River.

Thus, if China decided to use water as weapon it can disturb all the States from Pakistan, India, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam. China has already built 86,000 dams along the Blue and Yellow Rivers that take sources on the western plateaus. And China has not consulted with the South East countries and has already built four mega dams on the Mekong, including two huge lakes that will take about 10 years to fill in order to generate hydraulic power.

Turkey controls two huge rivers: the Euphrates and the Tiger that flow in Syria and Iraq.  Turkey has been building dams on these rivers without consulting with the southern neighboring States.  Ethiopia is in control of the Nile if it wishes to.  The US has been building dams along rivers that flow into Mexico.

China, Turkey, Russia, USA, and Brazil control sources of major rivers.

Latin America has enough water, except Argentina. The main struggle in the medium-term is who will control the Nile, the Niger, and the Congo Rivers in Africa.

There are 4 basic alternatives for securing water that can be used concomitantly.

First, desalination of Oceans and the towing of icebergs will do for a while but cannot resolve a long-term problem in water shortages.

Second, genetically modified seeds that can withstand many kinds of “natural enemies” may diminish the need for pesticides and herbicides and increase production.

Third, leasing or acquiring vast “fertile” lands by foreign agro-businesses in the under-developed States that have shortages in trained manpower for land development, or lacking the technological investment capabilities, or suffering from outdated modern institutions.

Four, enacting policies for large displacement of people from mega-polis to near water sources; that alternative will save on huge investment of supplying water to big urban cities and in order to recover sub-terrain naps and natural ecosystems.  This essay will focus on the second and third alternatives.

Genetically modified seeds

Antitrust laws are so far not being applied to the six industries for organically modified seeds that share scientific discoveries and have sole monopoly of 90% of organic seeds.  Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Syngena, Bayer, and DuPont have deposited more than 500 patents on genes “adapting to climatic changes”: they are figuring out how to profit from degradation of the environment.

In 2008, Monsanto has increased by 35% the prices on organically modified seeds that it has exclusive rights to produce and distribute.  Monsanto and Dow Agrosciences are associated to produce in genetically modified wheat seeds that can withstand 8 kinds of “natural enemies” of mainly herbicides and insecticides in year 2010.  Thus, 87% of modified seeds used around the world bear the label Monsanto.

The multinational oil companies of BP, Shell, Chevron, and Cargill are linking up with companies of nano-sciences of agro-technologies to transform biological matters such as (agricultural harvest, forests, algae…) into industrial sugar. Sugar is then converting into chemical products and nano-products with high added values. Chemistry linked to oil products could now be adapted to vegetable carbon.

Entire countries such as Madagascar and Angola are now being leased to cultivate modified breeds of harvests.

The scientific counselor to Barak Obama, John Holdren, is encouraging the application of geo-engineering to fighting atmospheric changes.  Among such engineering techniques is sprinkling the atmosphere with nano-particles of sulfates to veil the sunrays.  Monster farms of phytoplankton are created to absorb or capture CO2.

The UN views these geo-engineering projects as purely speculative in nature with unknown risks for collateral damages. A joint Indo-German oceanographic Institute discarded the decision of the Conference of the UN and carried on its project: it “fertilized” a large zone in the Antarctic Ocean by dumping tons of iron sulfates; the microscopic unicellular algae were meant to grow in abundance and capture CO2.

The zooplankton ate the algae and the experiment was not conclusive; this temporary failure is encouraging other multinationals such as Climos Inc. or (Planktos Science) to resume these kinds of projects under the name of “eco-restoration” for substantial financial returns.

Leasing or acquiring vast “fertile” lands by foreign agro-businesses

If you have lands with no water, if you have water and no fertile land, if you have accumulated enough in your Sovereign Fund then the way to go is to invest in foreign fertile lands for agricultural “self-sufficiency”, which means import food at much lower prices.

Japan, South Korea, China, India, and Saudi Arabia are leading these kinds of joint ventures. Many under-developed States with vast “fertile” lands are leased or acquired by foreign agro-businesses.  So far, 30 millions hectares (the size of 30 Lebanon or the size of the Philippines) are already in use for mass agricultural production. China, rich in water and fertile lands, is leading this policy of “getting out of the borders” since 2004.

Africa is the prime target continent because it has 4 large and long rivers such as the Nile, the Congo, and the Niger Rivers and the lands are barely worked.  The Sudan, Mozambique, and the Democratic Congo are prime targets in the medium-term.

Vast fertile lands are left unproductive for lack of investment and manpower.

Theoretically, we should have win-win situations, but the facts are that the contracts of the multinational agro-businesses are not transparent; there are no clauses on specificities that might benefit the population either in technology or land development.

Most of the contracts are barely three pages long and contain no precisions on investors’ obligations toward investing in infrastructures, durable management of the natural resources, or the training of the local peasants for developing small parcels of land and applying the technology.  The President of Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, “Essentially, the technologies used by these agro-investments are meant for massive commercial production and not adaptable to the concerned small local farmers.  There is basically no transfer of technology or training. Thus, what the foreign investors are acquiring in lands is not going to feed the local population as we might hope.

Let us consider the case of the oil rich Arab Gulf States: rice is their main staple and it has to be imported in totality.

These States imported a third from India and then India had to curtail its exportation of rice due to climatic problems in order to feed its citizens.  These States imported 10% from Thailand (the first exporter of rice in the world) but then Thailand doubled the price of its rice to $1,000 the ton.  How the Arab Gulf States were to counter this difficulty?  Their Sovereign Funds could be invested in rice fields in Thailand and that what they started to do. You could have a win-win situation: there are vast lands in Thailand that are not cultivated; increasing rice production should not hurt Thailand since rice prices are increasing and Thailand needs to secure oil provision.

Instead of purchasing 10% of its need in rice from Thailand, then the Arab Gulf States might increase it to 40%.

One happier story: Thailand needs to establish a rice warehouse in the Arab Gulf to distribute rice at affordable prices.  Things should look pretty promising.  Joint-ventures in agro-businesses where Sovereign Funds invest the money and the Thai peasants got to work in jobs they are proficient in should not raise so much fuss: should it? The problem is that internal politics in Thailand want a scapegoat: Arabs buying lands in Thailand; or rice production is a strictly national occupation and should be 100% reserved for citizens (as if the Arab is going to relocate to plant rice in Thailand!); or Thailand is not Africa and we are a developed nation.

Another case is Madagascar, a vast Island in East Africa.  The standard of living has fallen below the one in 1960.  Why Independence pride has to be highly correlated with miseries in the former colonial States?  Major deforestation is the norm in Madagascar: people need to cook their meals! The South Korean Daewoo wanted to lease 1.3 million hectares for 99 years. What it is with this taboo of 99 years lease of lands? Does every investor has in the back of his head to let his grand child witness his greatness and pray for his great spirit?

The deal fell apart after the President of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana, fell out of power. Apparently, not much transparency and communication were accompanied to that deal. In the meanwhile cattle thieves “dahalo” are on rampage. Even the tiny Maurice Island acquired lands (10,000 ha) in Mozambique for the island food sufficiency.

Ramakrishna Karuturi (the king of rose production, grown on 4 millions hectares) is leasing the hectare for two dollars a year in Ethiopia! Now, there can be no doubt that the Ethiopian government had received a fat bribe for such a lousy deal.

The Congo with Capital Brazzaville is half the size of France with barely 4 million citizens concentrated in the capital and the other city Pointe-Noire on the coast. This African States was a French colony and is rich in minerals and uranium.  It cultivates potatoes.  South Afrikaners who lost 30% of their agricultural lands for redistribution programs to the black citizens want to acquire or lease lands in this Congo; the Agri SA (South Africa) has 1,700 agro-businesses interested in producing soja, sugar cane, and corn.

Ten million hectares were literally offered to the Afrikaners (a land stretching 500 by 200 km, twice the size of Switzerland) and its location is not yet decided upon; maybe entire virgin forests might be burned for agriculture. The Agri SA is promising to build agro villages with ready made houses contracted to Israeli firms.  What if the deal demanded that thousands of Congolese be trained to develop and grow lands after two years of working in the Afrikaners’ lands?  This deal is a striking political and ecological scandal because the terms of the deal are fishy and not communicated to the citizens.

Kazakhstan is practically a continent in size and barely 1% of the land is privately owned.  This rich and newly independent State imports 40% of milk, 30% of meat, and 45% of fruits and vegetables. The population is mostly rural. The States lease lands for 49 years.

The State of Kazakhstan has set aside 35,000 square-kilometers to lease to foreign investors but only China is interested. The main States vying for foreign fertile lands are:

South Korea has acquired a total of 3 millions hectares (three times the superficies of the State of Lebanon); it is growing fields in Russia (500,000 ha), Sudan (700,000 ha), Madagascar (1.3 million ha), Mongolia (300,000 ha), Philippines (100,000 ha), and Indonesia (25, 000 ha).  The Korean agency for international cooperation (State owned) is creating private and public enterprises to invest into agro-businesses by loans or direct governmental investments. Leases of fertile lands are for 60 years and an extension of another 40 years. In return, Korea will extend technologies and development planning.  It appears that South Korea is projecting unification with North Korea and the flooding of North Korean refugees soon. South Korea is interested in the “krai of Primorie” in Russia with 2.5 millions of arable land.

China has invested for a total of 2 millions hectares.  It has 1.25 millions in South East Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos), in Mozambique (800,000 ha), in Australia (45,000), and in Cuba (5,000 ha). China acquired (80,000 ha) in Russia for just $22 millions.

Japan has acquired a total of one million hectares in Philippines (600,000 ha), USA (225,000 ha), and Brazil (100,000 ha).

India has acquired a total of 1.7 millions hectares in Argentina (600,000 ha), Ethiopia (370,000 ha), Malaysia (300,000 ha), Madagascar (250,000 ha), Indonesia (70,000 ha), and in Laos (50,000 ha).  The Indian government has extended loans to 80 agro-businesses to purchase 350,000 ha in Africa.

Saudi Arabia has invested in Indonesia (one million ha), Senegal (500,000 ha), and in Mali (200,000 ha).  The Arab Emirates has invested in Pakistan (325,000 ha), and in Sudan (400,000 ha). Egypt has invested in Uganda (850,000 ha).  Libya has invested in Ukraine (250,000 ha), and Liberia (5,000 ha).  Qatar invested in the Philippines (100,000 ha).

Global Resolutions

Africa is the remaining poorest continent with vast fertile lands and plenty of manpower to exploit for agro-business enterprises. Africa is targeted to be exclusively the world’s food basket in this century. The UN, the EU, economic superpower States, and private institutions and organizations need to step in to plan, organize, administer, inspect, and enforce appropriate deals for the best management and control of food and water resources.

Since the citizens of independent States that have experienced colonialism are weary of camouflaged colonialism in other forms then their governments are circumventing land laws by enacting laws of mixed private enterprises with lease or acquisition contracts that are not transparent to the public. The UN has to step in and write standard contracts leases that preserve peoples rights to training, sustainable resources, technology know-how, human dignity, right to work, right to share in the management and decisions at community levels, and that these contracts supersede what any other two parties agree on that lack the standard rights and responsibilities.

It is unconscionable that “privatization version” to colonizing Africa infiltrate from the windows. The fact is State funds are loaning money to their own agro-businesses to invading African fertile lands. This neo-colonial pact among State and agro-businesses has to be made clear and restrictions be implemented by world communities.  Territories are changing hands and are no longer under the control of the people and peasants.

The UN has to set up a special fund to purchasing organically modified seeds that have proven not to constitute health hazard; it has to limit the exclusive life duration for exploitation by multinationals that are escaping antitrust laws.

The UN is burdened by countless military conflicts that are interrelated with people seeking better life conditions for survival. An independent branch in the UN needs to be established that would link the causative factors that are generating constant conflicts among neighboring States.  Fair share for water resources is a right that supercede which country control the sources of the rivers.

We hope that the world community will pressure these investors to grow food slowly: resuming the old practices of mass production techniques will ruin the remaining land with fertilizers and pesticides.


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