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SEARICE hits global control of agriculture by giant corporations as biggest threat to biodiversity and agri-food system transformation

Manila, Philippines, 14 May 2024--At an international conference that was held to highlight the role of agriculture and its stakeholders in the implementation of the Kunming-Montral Global Biodiversity Framework, SEARICE warned against states and governments paying lip service to agroecology and sustainable agriculture while continuing to support large-scale monocropping systems and destructive agricultural practices.

Speaking at the international symposium, billed “Agriculture, Biodiversity and Food Security: From Commitments to Actions,” held in Quebec City, from 30 April to 2 May 2024, SEARICE executive director Normita Ignacio hit the lack of “genuine support for the integration of biodiversity into agri-food systems.”

 

Ignacio asserted that, “in most cases, the influential and powerful corporate sector wields a lot of influence on how policies and programs are shaped in many countries. This is why even if there is consensus on the need to transform our broken agri-food systems into sustainable and resilient agri-food systems, we cannot move beyond the rhetoric.”

 

Another challenge to the transformation of agri-food systems is the prevailing “feed the world,” or productivist narrative, which fixates on the quantity of food and of calories produced. Said Ignacio, “This narrative has reinforced assumptions that we need to ‘double food production by 2050,’ and align our approach to food production with the Global North’s export-oriented models.”

 

Ignacio said that the productivist narrative posits that all other considerations—including social, health, or ecological costs—must take a back seat to the imperative of increasing food production. 

 

Suppliers of commercial agricultural inputs have profited the most from this flawed worldview. With the intensification of agricultural production, the sales of inputs have continued to soar, earning billions of dollars for these private companies.

 

Ignacio put the blame on governments for their role in giving these companies almost total control of the market. “By using government extension systems that are paid for by public funds to deliver chemical inputs to farmers, governments have ended up subsidizing giant agro-chemical corporations. Instead, governments should be supporting farmers to shift to sustainable farming practices, by for instance, helping them to access organic agricultural inputs,” she said.

 

Ignacio attributed the lack of government support for sustainable agriculture practices partly to the fact that international policies and instruments, such as the Plant Treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) “have no teeth.” They do not have the power to sanction States for their failure to support biodiversity conservation and sustainable agricultural practices.

 

Furthermore, Ignacio stated that a number of initiatives that appear to encourage biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices are designed to benefit farmers that are better-off and end up excluding resource-poor farmers.

 

This is partly the result of a clear bias of current scientific research for commercial interests. Ignacio said, “We need to bring back the integrity of scientific research as a public good. The intellectual property regime has eroded the values of scientific research to such an extent that most agricultural research is now being done to serve the interest of big corporations instead of serving the needs of small food producers.”

 

Just as importantly, the transformation of agri-food systems must be rights-based, and by necessity, participatory.

 

Ignacio presented SEARICE’s experience in participatory development of a local government ordinance supporting sustainable agriculture.

The Sustainable Agriculture Code of Arakan—a municipality in the North Cotabato province of the region of Mindanao in the Philippines—was adopted in 2017 with the support of SEARICE.

The Code contains groundbreaking provisions for: (1) the protection and promotion of the traditional seed system; (2) institutionalization of community seed banks & municipal-wide seed registry; (3) implementation of benefit-sharing for the support of the capacity building and livelihood projects of local communities; (4) prohibition of use of genetically-modified crops; (5) protection of farmer-bred varieties and access to seeds; and (6) provision of incentives for farmer-breeders.

However, the Code was made even more unique by the participatory  manner in which it was developed and pushed in the municipal legislative body. In 2012, SEARICE formed a partnership with the municipality to initiate the process. Following this, a multistakeholder workshop, participated in by farmer representatives from the different villages in Arakan and local government officials, was facilitated by SEARICE prior to developing the draft Code. From 2014 to 2016, farmer leaders, supported by SEARICE, lobbied with the municipality until the Code was enacted in 2017. The farmers made their advocacy for the Code an election issue during the 2016 national elections in the Philippines: they declared that they would not vote for candidates that did not support the Code. The Sustainable Agriculture Code of Arakan has become a model for other municipalities in the country that desire to shift to sustainable agriculture.

 

Ignacio spoke on “Engagement of local and regional communities: the case of Farmers in Arakan (Philippines).

 

The international conference was co-organized by Université Laval's Graduate School of International Studies (ESEI), the Quebec government's ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie (MRIF), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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