Rural KwaZulu-Natal farmers contest proposed seed bills in Parliament
Richard Mthembu and Thombithini Ndwandwe in await the start of the public hearings on the Plant Breeders’ Rights and Plant Improvement Bills in the South African Parliament in May. Photo courtesy of Biowatch.
Biowatch, along with farmer representatives from two rural northern KwaZulu-Natal communities, Richard Mthembu from Ingwavuma and Thombithini Ndwandwe from Mtubatuba, travelled to Cape Town in May to give oral submissions in Parliament at the public hearings on the recently tabled Plant Breeders’ Rights and Plant Improvement Bills.
Biowatch believes it is the duty of South Africa’s Parliament to approve seed policies that will benefit the majority of its population, denying laws that give private ownership to what used to be commonly held for centuries. Private commercial rights can never override the rights of farmers and humankind to save seed and to grow food which feeds communities.
In the absence of any policy or legislation that recognises and provides legal space for the vital contribution of the informal seed sector, public breeding and conservation activities, seed regulations and trade laws have become tools aimed at preventing farmers from producing seeds independently.
Seed regulations are increasingly restrictive and are now used in tandem with plant breeders’ rights to protect the interests of seed companies and private breeders at the expense of agro-biodiversity and the independence of farmers. It is therefore critically important to consider and determine the impact that seed regulatory systems developed for industrialised, commercial agriculture have had and will have on the informal seed sector, small-holder farmers, conservation and public breeding priorities.
On Saturday 23 May, Biowatch and rural farmers in northern Kwazulu-Natal joined the global March Against Monsanto, saying loudly and clearly: No to GMOs; No to industrial agriculture; No to the corporate control of our seeds and our food!
Farmers in Mtubatuba, Pongola and Ingwavuma marched to their local municipal and Department of Agriculture offices, demanding recognition of their right to practice agro-ecology and to grow, save and share traditional seeds, safe from the risk of contamination from unwanted genes and poisons.
The March Against Monsanto (MAM) is a global protest against Monsanto and GMOs. Since the first march in 2013, MAM has grown into an international grassroots movement and at least 428 cities in 38 countries around the world took part in MAM 2015.
Although this global protest targets Monsanto because it represents some of the worst products and practices, it is also aimed at other agribusiness multinationals responsible for the globally damaging industrial agriculture system. The other major corporations profiting from toxic agricultural chemicals and GMOs are Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Dow Agroscience and Dupont Pioneer.
Agro-ecology farmers called a press conference in April during the Biowatch advocacy workshop in Hluhluwe where they outlined their plans to join the worldwide MAM. Their message was clear: We reject GMOs and pesticides, which are products of the industrial agriculture system that is poisoning our soil and our water. This system makes farmers dependent on expensive corporate products and puts our entire food system at risk of collapse in the face of disease outbreaks and climate change.