Seed laws that criminalise farmers: Resistance and fightback

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Table of contents




1. How seed laws make farmers’ seeds illegal

2. African seeds: A treasure under threat

3. The Americas: Massive resistance against “Monsanto laws”

4. Asia: The struggle against a new wave of industrial seeds

5. Europe: Farmers strive to rescue agricultural diversity






Seeds are one of the irreplaceable pillars of food production. Farmers all over the world have been acutely aware of this throughout the centuries. It is one of the most universal and basic unders­tandings that all farmers share. Except in those cases where they have suffered exter­nal aggressions or extreme circumstances, almost all farming communities know how to save, store and share seeds. Millions of families and farming communities have worked to create hundreds of crops and thousands of varieties of these crops. The regular exchange of seeds among communi­ties and peoples has allowed crops to adapt to different conditions, climates and topo­graphies. This is what has allowed farming to spread and grow and feed the world with a diversified diet.


But seeds have also been the basis of pro­ductive, social and cultural processes that have given rural people the resolute ability to maintain some degree of autonomy and to refuse to be completely controlled by big business and big money. From the point of view of corporate interests that are striving to take control of land, farming, food and the huge market that these factors represent, this independence is an obstacle.


Ever since the Green Revolution, corpora­tions have deployed a range of strategies to get this control: agricultural research and extension programmes, the development of global commodity chains, and the mas­sive expansion of export agriculture and agribusiness. Most farmers and indigenous peoples have resisted and continue to resist this takeover in different ways.


Today, the corporate sector is trying to stamp out this rebellion through a global legal offensive. Ever since the establish­ment of the World Trade Organisation, and almost without exception, all coun­tries of the world have passed laws giving corporations ownership over life forms. Whether through patents or so-called plant breeders’ rights or plant variety protection laws, it is now possible to privatise micro-organisms, genes, cells, plants, seeds and animals.


Social movements worldwide, especially peasant farmers organisations, have resisted and mobilised to prevent such laws being passed. In many parts of the world, the resistance continues and can even count some victories. To strengthen this movement, it is very important that as many people as possible, especially in the villages and rural communities that are most affected, understand these laws, their impacts and objectives, as well as the capacity of social movements to replace them with laws that protect peasants’ rights.


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