Local Farmers, Advocates Unite to Push for Reforms in National Seed Law
“Save our seeds!”
This is the united call of small farmer-breeders, local agriculturists, organic farming advocates, and other stakeholders after a two-day multi-stakeholder workshop facilitated by the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) held in January, 2019 in Quezon City, Philippines.
Entitled “Taking a Stand for the Future of Seeds, Food, and Agriculture,” the workshop which included participants based in Luzon and Visayas, is the last leg of the nationwide capacity building and consultation drive organized by SEARICE to engage various stakeholders in the ongoing revision of the Republic Act 7308 or the Seed Industry Development Act of 1992. The Mindanao leg of the drive was held in October 2018.
“We exerted all efforts to include a wide variety of stakeholders to widen the democratic space and give them—especially the small-scale farmer-breeders—the opportunity to voice out their concerns and needs as regards amending RA 7308,” said Normita Ignacio, Executive Director of SEARICE.
The workshop introduced the participants to extant international treaties and agreements that the Philippines is party to and are essential in shaping the landscape of the seed industry. Such agreements include the World Trade Organization, particularly the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).
The workshop also discussed the impact of the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Act of 2002 or Republic Act 9168 and RA 7308, especially to small-scale farmer breeders.
Participants in the workshop shared how corporate interests, which are largely protected by trade-related treaties and even backed by local laws, make it difficult to the point of being impossible for farmers to continue their traditional practices of breeding, exchanging, and selling farm-saved seeds. The circuitous process of seed registration, for example, is a deterrent for small farmers to even register the varieties they create.
Melchor Candia, a local farmer technician in the Bicol Region, shared that while he and his community exert all efforts to create new breeds of rice, they usually do not even bother to officially register the varieties they produced, citing the labyrinthine requirements asked of farmers such as the required documentation. Though the yield from the farmer-produced varieties have increased—also nominally increasing their income—Candia said that the farmer-breeders in their community do not in any way earn from the varieties they create.
"Given how small-scale farmer-breeders are susceptible to such difficulties and considering how current laws favor big corporations that essentially monopolize the seed market—to the detriment of plant genetic diversity on farm—limiting the options available to farmers and even restricting their potential to contribute to providing diverse and locally-adapted seeds, it is high time to introduce amendments to RA 7308, which can benefit communities," Ignacio told the participants.
SEARICE shared to the stakeholders developments in the drafting of key amendments to the law. These include pertinent provisions regarding the conservation of seeds, the inclusion of provisions on sustainable use, and the recognition and empowerment of farmer-managed seed systems.
Participants unanimously agreed to pore over the proposed amendments and conduct consultations and information drives in
Normita Ignacio, Esecutive Director, SEARICE
Melchor Candia, a local farmer-technician from the Bicol region
The workshop participants
their communities to ramp up the campaign to craft a law that will empower smallholder farmers, as well as strengthen and sustain farmer-managed seed systems.
As the Philippines is also set to enter into the midterm election period, the participants agreed to exert all efforts to make the issue on dominant corporate control of the seed system and how small-scale farmer-breeders can take control back and develop a more sustainable seed system an election issue that should be discussed by candidates and ensure that the reforms the farmers are seeking will gain headroom in the candidates’ platforms.
“Farmers and advocates are up against moneyed and highly influential corporations and their minions embedded in government. To fight for a sustainable seed system that will equip farmers not only to breed but also conserve indigenous crop varieties is a long, arduous fight, and we need all the help we can. The move our stakeholders are making—to trumpet this issue as an election issue—can lend a voice to this important yet often disregarded concern,” Ignacio said.