Citizens of the world oppose intellectual property over seed, reclaim and restore local food systems and agricultural biodiversity [Title]
1st June 2020
On 26 April 2020, civil society organisations from across the world collectively called for a celebration of International Seed Day, and not World Intellectual Property Day. 348 organisations, from 46 countries united to condemn the unashamed greenwashing of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and their expedient promotion of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants’ (UPOV) draconian plant variety protection (PVP) and patents, as a driver for a green future, when the opposite is the case.
Amid global lockdowns and social isolation, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were ablaze – illustrating the collective indignation and resistance against the increasing corporate control of our seed and food systems.
#Internationalseedday reached over 300 organisations and individuals across the world who supported the campaign. Organisations like the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), Right to Food, GRAIN, Weleda Health and Pharmacy (SA), the Gaia Foundation (UK), Irish Seed Savers and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) shared photos of seed diversity and indigenous seeds that they were protecting. Through this show of force, individuals and communities planted seeds of defiance in all corners of the earth, celebrating the wealth of wisdom of farmers, sharing knowledge on how to care for seeds, acknowledging seeds as priceless gifts, and a vital resource for their livelihoods.
The global response indicates the extent to which farmers and citizens of the world recognise that patents on seeds and UPOV-dictated PVP systems restrict and prevent innovation. As Nori Ignacio from SEARICE explains, “this is especially true regarding innovation by farmers who have created our crop biodiversity, and which is vital for the survival of us all.”
Leading up to 26 April, global civil society groups jointly called for action to: celebrate indigenous and farmer seed and seed systems; realise Farmers’ Rights; and refute the claims made by the seed industry for the need for intellectual property on seeds. In response, we have seen citizens and farmers across the world standing up to fight for the future of our seed. (See the Statement and call to action here
Lim Li Ching from TWN and IPES-Food explains: “The COVID-19 health crisis has fomented an economic crisis, and exposed the underlying risks, fragilities, and inequities of industrialised food systems.”
As poor and vulnerable communities scramble to secure access to healthcare, medicine and food during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are signs that local food systems are being reorganised and restructured by small scale farmers and social movements across the world, in the interests of people and the planet. These movements are building alternatives, finding ways to link small producers with local communities to continue providing food even under difficult circumstances, and offering a glimpse of what new and more resilient food systems look like in the future.
The COVID-19 outbreak points to the complex interactions between deforestation, reduced biological diversity, ecosystem destruction, and human health and safety, driven largely by the globalised agricultural and industrial corporate-controlled food system, of which UPOV is an intrinsic part.
UPOV is part of the global architecture of intellectual property laws, alongside seed laws, that support and entrench current corporate-industrial food and monoculture agricultural systems. This system is based on the commodification of nature and knowledge, and severely undermines Farmers’ Rights and peasant farming systems, erodes biodiversity, and has caused great destruction to the earth’s life-supporting systems.
“If you poison the seed, you are poisoning the food. You are poisoning the plant and interfering with
the food system – if you don’t have the wild, we are killing ourselves through the food system.”
Mphatheleni Makaulule, seed and food systems program, Dzomo la Mupo.
At this pivotal moment in history, it is essential for us to reclaim our seed diversity, biodiverse ecosystems and bio-cultural landscapes, that support safe and nutritious local food systems and safeguard millions of livelihoods. In light of the pandemic, we demand the full protection and fulfilment of the rights of small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples across our planet.
We as civil society call for the urgent transformation of our agricultural and food systems by creating localised, circular economies built on ecologically-based practices leading to resilience at all levels, and protecting farmers’ rights and traditional seed systems. Barriers to diversity must be removed, particularly those over agricultural genetic resources, and must not inhibit the full and free use and exchange of genetically diverse varieties and breeds amongst peasants, their communities or public breeders.
We call on governments to redirect and institutionalise agricultural subsidies and research investments towards agroecology, and to invest in and support farmer seed systems and local markets. All seed and agriculture laws and policies must be reassessed and redrafted to support such food systems.
Together, we must resist an encroaching privatised seed system and restore ecosystems through agroecological production and localised food systems. A much better food and seed system is possible - one that is responsive to the needs of the people, and mindful of caring for the earth! Let us all make it our responsibility to protect those that safeguard our future.
 Braun, V and Herstatt, C., 2009. User-Innovation: Barriers to Democratization and IP Licensing. Routledge
 See: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/7664/Frontiers_2016.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y ; https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/sunday-review/the-ecology-of-disease.html; https://www.acbio.org.za/en/monoculture-effect-and-covid-19