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“Seed Treaty” empty without small-scale farmers
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Biodiversity and food sources under threat despite legal tools.

More than 100 nations have signed the United Nations-backed International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, but threats to food sovereignty, food security and biodiversity loom large.

Participants in the fourth session of the Governing Body of the Seed Treaty, which went into effect in 2004, held in Bali, Indonesia, March 14-18, said the treaty is necessary to combat the effects of climate change, by ensuring food supplies for the world’s growing population.

Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay are the only Latin American countries to have signed and ratified the treaty.

“With climate change already altering growing conditions and populations rapidly increasing, preserving and sharing crop diversity on a global scale is no longer optional,” said Dr. Shakeel Bhatti, secretary of the Treaty’s Governing Body. “No country — rich or poor — has within its borders the crop diversity required to meet future food needs. All countries need to improve the way they share their seed crop material as a matter of great urgency.”

The exponential growth of monoculture, particularly soy for biofuel production, which governments from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay have promoted despite ecological risks and amid an emerging food crisis, has caused the deforestation of vast swaths of the Amazon and other forested areas around South America. The industry also threatens the environment and the health and lives of local residents.

The Treaty falls short, critics say, of protecting campesino and indigenous farmers from large multinational companies taking their seeds and patenting them, and later on, forbidding these small-scale farmers from saving their seeds.

The Treaty created a “multilateral system” in which signatories establish a mechanism to increase access to plant genetic resources, through a type of food bank, for food and agriculture.

“More than 90 percent of seeds stored by the multilateral system were taken from farmers’ fields: small-scale farmers who select and save their own local seeds should have unconditional access to these seeds,” said international peasant farmers’ movement Via Campesina. “Similarly, industry must unconditionally pay the debt it incurred by freely taking seeds from farmers. The repayment of a debt in reparation of a theft has never allowed the same theft to continue.”

The issue is especially tense in Mexico, where genetically-modified seeds threaten the biodiversity of corn — the native staple crop of the country.
—Latinamerica Press.

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