Argentine farmers oppose bill that will extract royalties for re-planting of seeds

According to the new law that will be discussed in parliament on November 22, seed corporations such as Bayer-Monsanto and Syngenta would be authorized to collect royalties from the farmers even when the re-plant seeds from the previous harvest

November 17, 2018 by Marcha Noticias
Norita Cortiñas speaks to the rally outside Argentine Congress against seed privatization. Photo: Nico Cardello

On November 13, peasants and their families, leaders and members of several farmers’ organizations, as well as social, political, environmental, indigenous and human rights groups, held a demonstration in front of the national congress of Argentina during the plenary debate of the Agricultural Commission in the chamber of deputies. The organizations gathered to reject a bill that would enable the further privatization of seeds. The bill will be debated in the National Chamber of Deputies on November 22.

The new law will curtail the right to re-plant seeds obtained from previous harvests. In this way, seed corporations would be authorized to collect royalties from the farmers each time they use a seed, subject to ‘Breeder’s rights.’ In other words, a charge for the reuse of seeds would be established. In countries where this law is already in force, the open and free use of seeds is dangerous and their exchange is criminalized. The farmers who cannot pay the royalties are persecuted and their harvests are destroyed.

The organizations that oppose the law said it would give seed producing corporations (Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta etc) the power to end the “right to self-use” of the farmers, something that constitutes the very essence of agriculture. Currently, when a farmer buys seeds, she is also paying for the intellectual property rights (or breeder’s rights). This allows her to keep a portion of the seeds obtained from the harvest and reuse them and sow them in the next cycle. The proposed law will prevent these traditional practices of agriculture.

For a better understanding of the problem, Marcha Noticias interviewed Carlos Vicente, a member of Grain, a Latin American platform for Biodiversity Alliance and a representative of the “No a la nueva Ley de Semillas” [No to the new seeds law] campaign.

What does the new seed law of the government imply?

The new law aims at the collection of royalties each time a farmer keeps a seed. This means that if someone bought a seed for which she paid the royalty in the beginning, every year when harvesting and separating seeds to re-sow, she must declare how many seeds she is saving and pay the corresponding royalties again.

This is a further step in the privatization of seeds. Seeds have been privatized for years. The law that we have in force in Argentina since 1973 already allows the collection of royalties and applies breeder’s rights. But with this law, it will be intensified, forcing everyone to pay royalties each time they want to save seeds.

In addition, the law vests the power of control with the INASE (National Institute of Seeds). If INASE receives a complaint (from the corporations) that someone is storing seeds without having declared them, at any stage of the production, either when the seeds are been collected or when they are been transported, it can conduct an inspection and control the seeds, to check if they [the farmers] are violating this new law. That is why we oppose the new seed law and marched to the Congress to express our rejection.

Why do you think this bill was done in secret, behind people’s and small producers’ back?

This bill was negotiated between the executive power, [Luis Miguel] Etchevehere, the secretary of agro-industry, the Argentine Rural Society and the seed- producing corporations in secret.

A few months ago, they signed a memorandum of understanding, which was never made public. It is only now that the people are getting to know what they were planning.

Is the bill unconstitutional?

Although the Agricultural Commission last month did a show of conducting consultations and listening to a number of sectors, the thing about the bill is that it was absolutely secret. Neither the indigenous people nor the peasants’ organizations were consulted. This is one of the reasons why we reject it and we will even demand its unconstitutionality if the commission’s opinion comes out.

Argentina adhered to the Convention 169 of the ILO (International Labor Organization). This requires that any issue affecting the indigenous people must be discussed in a prior, free and informed manner. This was not done in any way.

Who benefits from this law?

The new law mainly benefits the seed producing corporations (such as Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta and others). The large producers are not directly benefiting from the law. On the contrary, they first rejected it because it forces large and small producers to pay even greater royalties than what they are already paying. However, the large producers, the allies of right-wing party Cambiemos, receive other benefits through various government policies, such as the removal of retentions.

In this alliance with the government, the large producers have decided to submit to the interests of seed manufacturing corporations.

Could you tell us a bit more about this model of patented business

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an organization that works exclusively and explicitly for the privatization of seeds worldwide through the imposition of intellectual property rights over plant varieties. The member states must adhere to the UPOV Convention and make it a national law. The convention was first drafted in 1961 and has been amended thrice (in 1972, 1978 and 1991), each time strengthening the rights of the corporations and restricting what others can do with the seeds.

As Carlos Vicente says “somebody who did the job of multiplying the seeds, when saving them to re-sow will be charged royalties. The seed producing corporations like Monsanto and Bayer, which are said to be the owners of seeds, benefit because they have the possibility to charge royalties while doing absolutely nothing. It is a huge business that goes against the essence of agriculture. Agriculture exists because seeds are saved, because they are multiplied and because they are shared. This new law establishes that seeds are not saved, they are not shared and they are not exchanged without paying royalties. That is why we will fight so that this law is not approved”.

The so-called breeder’s rights laws include certification laws, variety registration and marketing laws that legalize overuse and dispossession. The objective of this attack is to eliminate peasant and indigenous agriculture, especially the independent food production. It aims at closing the future to food sovereignty, making us a population without land, which can only be cheap and dependent labor. The seeds are peoples’ heritage.

On November 22, the law will be debated in the National Chamber of Deputies and the social organizations are preparing to protest in front of congress to demonstrate the extent of the resistance and opposition to this law that benefits the corporations.

(Translated by Tanya Wadhwa)