| Seedling - February 1993, Vol. 10, N°1 |
Seedling is a bi - monthy publication of genetic resources action international
This is not an ordinary issue of "Seedling". But we decided to produce it in the ordinary spirit of "Seedling": to inform and share, bring new people into the struggle for better genetic resources management and keep old-timers up to date. Rather than focus on the most recent developments in people's work with genetic diversity -- the foundation of food and farmer security -- we have decided to took back and reflect collectively over what has happened over the past ten years. While NGOs hardly have the time or reason to get nostalgic, our ostensible excuse to stop rushing into the future for a moment is a simple one. "Seedling" is ten years old.
The anniversary could have easily gone unnoticed. And it's not even a real one. We simply realised amidst the fanfare filling 1992 and ravaging our office -- from UNCED to the Barcelona Olympics -- that the first issue of Seedling we have on file at GRAIN dates from 1982. So we decided to call it a birthday.
No reason to throw a party, though. Our review of the past decade, which was tough to do in such a short space, shows us one thing: while it's great that many more people are actively involved in the practical and political work to keep our genetic heritage alive and kicking for the benefit of the people who nurtured it in the first place, the forces working against this endeavour are formidable and have grown stronger as well. Powerful technologies protected by powerful legislation are being developed to cater to the interests of mighty economic fortresses, not the legitimate needs and- rights of the poor. We hope, nevertheless, that our review helps people situate how far we have come and how much more creative work we need to carry out together to ensure food security and a more just role for local people in regaining control over the "seeds of the earth".
To broaden our thinking on the past ten years, we also sat down with Pat Mooney, the original founder of Seedling. Pat is an old friend and many of our readers are familiar with his excellent research work on genetic resources and biotechnology, produced with his cohorts from RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International). Most people, however, surely don't know that GRAIN and RAFT share the same institutional roots: both got their start in, and grew out of, the ICDA Seeds Campaign. Pat's personal account of what has happened over the past ten years adds a colourful insider's view to how we have lived -- and survived -- the challenges and changes bearing upon this ongoing struggle.
We hope you don't mind this break from a normal Seedling, usually devoted to news and innovative analysis. But we thought the ten year mark was a good opportunity to took back, catch up and get armed to forge ahead.
Over the past ten years of "Seedling's" history, what was once known as "the seeds issue" has passed from teeing a concern of very few individuals on this planet to the highlight of controversy among the 30,000 attendees of the UN Conference on Environment and Development -- the "Earth Summit"-- in Rio last June. To a large extent, the only progress traceable through Seedling's trajectory over the past decade is the enormous growth of public awareness about the importance and causes of genetic erosion in world agriculture. The real work to effectively reverse this threat to global food security, to implement equitable and integrated strategies for genetic resources management, and to put farmers at the wheel of agricultural development, and their own destinies, still lies ahead of us.
Seedling is ten years old, but "the seeds issue" -- as an NGO campaign focus -- was really born as such in 1977, when North American activists Pat Mooney and Cary Fowler organised the first international meeting on "the politics of seeds" in Saskatchewan, Canada. What was the fuss? Their realisation that with the spread of the Green Revolution's "high yielding varieties" we were losing the basis for the future of agriculture in the very centres of diversity of our crops; that multinational seed companies were trying to get intellectual property rights over "the first link in the food chain"; that this link largely originated in the fields of poor farmers in the Third World; and that the global genebank system, meant to safeguard these resources in giant refrigerators for everyone, was under the control of no one.
That meeting galvanised people into action and put the "Seeds Campaign" formally on the agenda of the International Coalition for Development Action (ICDA), an umbrella organisation of development NGOs in the industrialised countries. ICDA was born out of UNCTAD Vl, when northern NGOs working on trade and development issues realised that they needed a common front to exchange information and cooperate better on a permanent basis. ICDA was thus established as a clearinghouse and set up an office in London. From its inception, a special programme on the seeds issue was launched into action by ICDA's co-founder Pat Mooney.
The first major output of Pat's research into the extent and causes of genetic erosion, the changing directions of the seed and chemical industries and the impact of intellectual property on access to genetic resources took the form of a popular book called, Seeds of the Earth: A Public or Private Resource?. Published by ICDA in 1979, Seeds of the Earth caused nothing short of a fury throughout the world. NGOs, governments and farmers' organisations were simply unaware that there was anything to suspect of the likes accounted for in the book. For the first time, many people learned how dependent we are on so few crops for our survival and that most of them originated in the Third World. (Who, aside from a few scientists, had seen Vavitov's map of the centres of crop diversity before?) Few people had known that despite millennia of crop breeding by farmers and gardeners throughout the world, that precious resource base of food security was shrinking dramatically under the blanket of high-yielding varieties and being monopolised by a few. Seeds of the Earth put the blame on the northernfunded Green Revolution, the biases in corporate breeding strategies and the spread of plant breeders' rights in the industrialised countries, which controlled most of the world's genebanks.
Citizen's groups, journalists and Third World diptomats took the issue up with fervour. Agriculture -- the focus of so many people's Development attention -- had never been seen through the geopolitics of seeds before. But the industry reacted most violently. Shell Oil company -- pointed at by Mooney as the world's biggest seed company breeding crops that deliberately feed on chemical fertitisers and biocides -- circulated a virulent 50-page disclaimer of every point, comma and footnote in Seeds of the Earth in 1980. Shortly after, ASSINSEL -- the gtobal seed industry association -- issued a more sober but equally biased response in a colourfulbooklet entitled "Feeding the 500 Million". ASSINSEL even went so far as to redraw Vavitov's map of the world's centres of crop diversity and put North America, most curiously, as number one!
Despite industry's disgust, Third World governments and citizen's groups got moving and the issue was put on the table at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) at the turn of the 1980s. Since then, the momentum of action, the depth of NGO analysis of the problem and the scope of participation in what became a worldwide campaign has grown tremendously. To trace this history for Seedling's anniversary -- the evolution of the issues and of the people and institutions involved -- we decided to take Pat Mooney's second major publication, "The Law of the Seed", as a benchmark reference. "The Law of the Seed" was published as the 1983 issue of the Dag HammarskjÃ¶ld Foundation's journal Development Dialogue, for the FAO Conference that year. Since it was printed exactly ten years ago, we can take the main issues point by point and see how things have changed over the decade behind us -- and what is left to be done.
* The erosion
Back in 1983, NGOs -- as well as the scientific community -- did not have all that much hard data on the pace and extent of genetic erosion in world agriculture. Right now, we still don't. Obviously, clearing forests, building dams and constructing roads or airports has and continues to have devastating effects on biological diversity. In the farmers' fields, though, the evidence back then was hard to come by, but appeared serious enough. As reported in 1983, "Over the last half century, India has probably grown over 30, 000 different landraces of rice. The situation has altered drastically over the past 15 years, however, and Dr. H.K lain of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi predicts that in another 15 years this enormous rice diversity will be reduced to no more than 50 varieties, with the top ten accounting for over three-quarters of the subcontinent's rice acreage." Jain's pessimism in the early 1980s is turning into reality. In 1983, high-yielding varieties covered 54% of India's ricelands. In 1987, 69% of India's harvested rice area was grown to the uniform HYVs. Were the displaced varieties collected and conserved? Again, it's hard to say. The National Genebank in Delhi has the capacity to hold 600,000 accessions, but currently less than 7,000 rices are in tong term storage there. Over in Sri Lanka, farmers were growing 2,000 traditional varieties of rice in 1959. Today they grow essentially five.
There is no reason to believe that genetic erosion is not equally advancing in other cereals, fruits, vegetables and root crops throughout the world. Most of South Africa's sorghum landraces have been replaced by Texas hybrids, while the enormous diversity of traditional tall wheats in countries like Portugal, Greece and Pakistan has disappeared from farmers' fields, where mainly uniform semi-dwarfs are now grown. Turkeys heritage of beet varieties has been sold off to the Detroit Globe, introduced from the German industry. In Latin America, home of maize, nearly half of the region's crop is sown to modern or hybrid varieties. Czechostovakia, gearing up for the market economy, has ripped up its apple orchards of hundreds of traditional stocks and now three modern varieties cover two-thirds of the apple area.
Clearly, the process of genetic erosion has not declined over the past decade(s). But frankly, the only information we have is anecdotal and unsystematic. No serious surveys -- be it by crop, by country, by region or other -- have been carried out, despite the growing evidence that genetic uniformity is a direct threat to food and farmer security.
* The politics
The politics of conservation was the issue that spurred the Third World diptomats at FAO into action at the beginning of the 1980s. Of major importance there were the NGO analyses and figures on what was happening with the seeds collected from their countries: how they were being transferred to the North and stored there in genebanks, how they were being privatised by legislation there, and how all this was done under the banner of "free exchange" and the coordination of the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR). Exact figures on the size of this "gene drain" were -- and still are -- impossible
to get hold of, as nobody really bothered to count. However, if we compare estimates from the beginning of the 1980s with more recent ones, the bulk of the world's collected genetic resources continue to be stored under the control of the North. Yes, the total numbers of seeds stored in the banks have increased, and a tot more genebanks have been built in the South. But some two-thirds of the genes in the bank are still under control of the North, either directly through their national genebanks, or indirectly through the seed stores of the International Agricultural Research (''entree (lARCs), which are largely funded and managed by the industrialised countries (see graph).
But then, raising the question of who controls or owns which seed collection -- and the discussions and mechanisms on how to redress the current bias towards the interests of the North -- is only part of the headway made over the last decade. Perhaps more importantly, a fundamental question was put on the table in the process: what form of conservation do we want? Apart from alarming reports on seeds dying in genebanks; no one really questioned the genebank system as such back in the early 1980s. Ten years later, everybody seems to agree that the exclusive focus on genebanks as a way to conserve genetic diversity in not only politically wrong, but also technically risky. In one decade, NGOs managed to obtain international recognition that a parallel, on-farm, seed saving system is desperately needed. A tot of that recognition is still merely in the form of documents of UN bodies and papers of enlightened scientists, and little of it has trickled down to the local realities. But still, the foundation is there to build a more reliable, more equitable and better controlled conservation system.
* The industry
Ten years ago, NGOs were alarmed that the once family-operated seed industry was falling prey to large multinationals -- and those which had a vested interest in increasing their market for chemical and food trade sales. In 1983, the count was 500 companies bought out and another 300 under contractual relations with large transnationals since the early 1970s. According to "The Law of the Seed", the top 17 seed companies controlled 21)% of the world's $13 billion market in 1983. Ten years later, the market has risen to $15-17 billion, with the top 15 firms accounting for nearly a third of it. The concentration has numerically increased.
More significant than the dollar figures, though, is a took at the configuration of the industry. Back in the early 1980s, food traders and petroleum companies were among the main players on the market. Even a car manufacturer joined in at some point. Many of these companies pulled out, though, in the course of the 1980s to diversify and strike better profits elsewhere. Who took their place? The chemical, drug and big seed companies which were starting to invest in biotechnology. Companies like ICI were foreign to the seed industry ten years ago. Today, ICI and its top competitors from Sandoz, Ciba-Geigy and Upjohn are putting huge resources to work not only in conventional plant breeding hut also in devetoping molecular innovations to insert into crops: individual genes that code for herbicide tolerance or insect resistance, change the composition of seed oils or proteins, or stow down the ripening process of fruits and vegetables so they last longer on the shelves. The graph below gives an overview of the evolution of seed sales of some of the major companies.
ON THE DIPLOMATIC FRONT
What started as outrage over the politics of conservation in the beginning of the 1980s, resulted in a set of international agreements negotiated throughout that decade or into the early 1990s The originally proposed legally-binding FAO "Convention. on Plant Genetic Resources ended up as a voluntary "Undertaking., coupled with an Intergovernmental Commission to monitor and implement it. As such, this is not a minor achievement. The Commission was, and still is, the only platform in which governments worldwide can discuss the politics and praxis of conservation of plant genetic resources. A tot has been achieved in the process. We have an environment for discussion in which the desire to reach consensus and move forward has taken over from mere controversy and polemics. We have formal recognition that genetic resources come from the countries of South, and that it should be them to benefit from it. And we have "Farmers Rights" to balance the rights of breeders. Although many of these achievements still exist only on paper, a decade of discussions in FAO served to lay the groundwork for concerted action
Of a more recent vintage is the global Biodiversity Convention, signed at the Earth Summit last year. After five years of negotiations, the Convention crystallizes a commitment to new action, but also an impressive list of shortcomings. The obvious achievements are that it forms a legally binding instrument and that it brings together -- for the first time -- a whole series of concerns related to biodiversity in a North-South context. The obvious shortcomings are that it leaves out an important pan of biodiversity (all that stored in genebanks), it opens the way for the patenting of genetic resources, and the text is at times confusing and highly watered down. How useful the Convention will be depends to a large extent on what will happen at the upcoming intergovernmental meetings where diplomats will have to further define and clarify many of the outstanding issues.
If the 1980s witnessed the boom in biotechnology investments, it also witnessed the increased privatisation of agricultural research. Until the 1970s, a tot of plant breeding work in the North was carried out in the public sector. By the early 1980s, multinationals were not only buying up small seed houses as a conduit for increased control over agriculture, they also started buying up university research teams and public breeding programmes. Much of it was to get a fast entry into biotechnology and have the university researchers do the work for the multinationals. This trend introduced a whole new culture of corporate secrecy and privacy at public institutes created for the very purpose of sharing information. In some cases m Europe, whole public breeding sectors were sold off, as governments figured the private sector would be more efficient. In 1987, the British government sold its prestigious Plant Breeding Institute to the Angto-Dutch congtomerate Unilever. In 1990, the French almost sold off the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), their equivalent of PBI, to the chemical giant RhÃ´ne-Poulenc.
Numerically, participation in the plant breeding effort to supply farmers with decent seed has grown more concentrated and is increasingly driven by the private, rather than the public, sector. Most important though is questioning whether the new seedsmen are offering farmers more or less diversity in their crops. With the concentration of breeding programmes, the little use breeders make of genebank collections, and the current focus on single super-genes rather than broad genetic complexes, the answer to that question seems obvious.
* The technology
When writing about genetic resources and agriculture ten years ago, NGOs tended to mention biotechnology with trepidation. Now they are writing entire books about it. One important reason for the restructuring of the seed industry was the emergence of new technologies that altow for a much more deterministic approach to modifying crops and animals and ultimately the food we eat. Rather than messing around with complicated crossing and back-crossing breeding programmes, hopes within the industry were set high to develop a technology that isolates and inserts specific genes into crops and microbes to do just about anything you want. Before anything of such a nature was even technically (let atone commercially) possible, company officials went around promising a chemical-free agriculture and a world without hungry people. Still, apart from the initial hype about its possibilities and promises, the new biotechnologies are profoundly restructuring not only the industry, but also the way agricultural science is being done. It basically altows scientists to took for solutions at the molecular/cellular level, rather than at the level of plants in their environments.
There might be no other issue taken up so quickly by NGOs than the prospects of the biorevolution. Initial concerns were limited to the environmental implications of the release of genetically engineered organisms, but quickly the concern broadened to the socio-economic impact of the new biotechnologies on food, farming and health. In the past few years, NGO reports were put together on the corporate quest for engineering crops that provide for tolerance against herbicides, or crops that rely for their resistance against pests and diseases on one or very few genes. Campaigns were organised against the use of biotech-manufactured growth hormones in cattle. NGOs were quick in drawing attention to the control of the new biotechnologies in the hands of the same few companies that took control of the seeds sector a decade ago. And discussions were forced into international fore and national policy institutions on the implications of all of this for the developing countries.
To a large extent the new biotechnologies still have to find their way to the farmers' fields, but the decisions on what they will bring and whom they will benefit are being taken right now. The struggle which we have commenced to ensure that people benefit from biotechnology rather than see it used as another tool to concentrate political and economic control is a vital one.
* The rights
The push to patent life goes back several decades when plant breeders began calling out for a means to get a return on their investment in crop improvement. The European lobby started among fruit tree breeders in the 1920s, and the US breeders got a limited "Plant Patent Act" in 1930. After decades of debate, it became clear that the patent system was not adequate to cover biological "inventions". Plants were not like typewriters. They reproduce themselves, they are part of nature, they are the basis of the food supply. For these reasons and others, a specialised system of protection for new plant varieties was set up in 1961 at the signing of the UPOV Convention (Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants). "Plant Breeders' Rights" (PBR) were intended to be a soft form of intellectual property right. The monopoly was limited to the commercial use of the variety without covering the germplasm of the plant itself. Thus, plant breeders could freely use protected varieties as sources of initial variation for new varieties, and farmers were free to re-use seed from their harvest grown from PBR-covered varieties.
In the early days of the ICDA Seeds Campaign, putting a halt to the spread of Plant Breeders' Rights legislation -- both in the North and the South -- was a major focus of energy. In the early 1980s, countries like Canada, Austria, Australia were heavily debating whether to adopt PBR legislation. NGOs played an important role in these debates, and managed to have parliamentary decisions postponed over and over again. Around the same time, UPOV officials were very actively pushing Third World governments to go for the PBR system. Without too much success, though. For those countries were at that moment fighting at FAO about control over genetic resources and denouncing the privatisation of them through PBR.
A decade later, much of the debate on PBR has been overshadowed by public concern over a much stronger form of intellectual property rights: the industrial patent system. Again, NGOs played -- and continue to play -- a strong role in the fight against its extension to plants and animals. For many of us in the early 1980s, the patenting of life forms sounded like nightmarish science-fiction. Today, we now find ourselves in the middle of heated policy discussions, aggressive tobby activities and unprecedented legal battles to prevent this from becoming reality. The push for patents on life initially focused entirely on the OECD countries, with the US patent office granting its first plant patent in 1985 and its first animal patent in 1988, and the EC Commission proposing a biotech patent "directive" in 1988. However, soon the patent question showed its North-South dimensions when Third World countries pushed the debate into FAO and onto the negotiations for the Biodiversity Convention. At the same time, the North managed to introduce the issue into the GATT negotiations, and if the agreement is signed it would oblige the South to accept some form of intellectual property rights on life forms.
A tot can change in a decade. While ten years ago the fight over the privatisation of genetic resources focused on a limited system and involved few actors (a few NGOs, the UPOV crew and some ministries of agriculture), now we are facing an issue with tremendous implications for the future of agriculture, a growing number of negotiators around the table in a growing number of fore, and a whole tot more NGOs who have taken up the issue and are campaigning on it. The huge interests involved and the industrial lobby behind it, make intellectual property rights an issue on which NGOs are fighting with their backs against the wall. But, compared to ten years ago, the fact that so many more people's organisations are realising the profound implications and are joining the fight against it is truly encouraging.
What should not go unnoticed in reviewing a decade of action against the privatisation of life forms is that NGOs managed to introduce a new element in the discussions: the push for the rights of those who until now have gone completely unrecognised, that is the rights of farmers and indigenous peoples who conserve and keep available genetic resources worldwide. We have moved the concept of "Farmers Rights" through discussions and endorsement by the international community at FAO. We have an "Agenda 21" and a Biodiversity Convention stressing the contributions of indigenous peoples to the conservation of biodiversity, and ruling on "the equitable sharing of the benefits" arising from the use of their knowledge. It remains to be seen whether these new concepts and recognitions will make a difference and stand up against the demolishing effect of the ongoing privatisation biological resources and technologies through the industrial patent system. But the point is that ten years ago we were mostly fighting against, while now we're also fighting for.
* The people
Surprisingly enough, it took quite some time before "the people" found their place in the NGO agenda on genetic resources. As Pat Mooney admits in the interview further on in this Seedling, in the beginning, the seeds campaign was hardly cognizant of the role and contribution of millions of farmers, and thousands of NGOs, in safeguarding the planet's genetic resource base. Over recent years, however, there has been a "rediscovery" of the role of small-scale agriculture as a cornerstone of Development and the importance of local people in managing their genetic heritage and the local knowledge linked to it. It is now increasingly recognised that indigenous farming systems based on mixed cropping, soil and water conservation, and biological pest management not only conserve and utilise a tremendous mosaic of genetic diversity, but can produce more output and a wider range of harvested products, particularly in marginal environments. The recognition that farmers can and do play a crucial role in the conservation and management of genetic and other natural resources has largely coincided with a call for environmentally sustainable Development which conventional, western-based, models of capital-intensive agriculture are increasingly being seen as unable to provide. After decades of neglect by official circles, the knowledge of farmers, herbalists, herdspeople and fisherfolk and their unique innovative capacity is beginning to be seen by policy makers as the key to sustainable agriculture, not only in the South but also in the North.
While these are positive trends, major obstacles obviously remain. International policies on trade, aid and finance tend to ignore their impacts on genetic diversity and on the role of small-scale farmers in conservation and Development. And most of the responses of the formal plant breeding and agricultural research system are still limited to mere policy statements while the overall tendency in most countries is to continue to promote systems based on monoculture. Also, there are many new and dangerous trends. In particular, the new challenges from biotechnology, which coupled with the continuing privatisation of genetic resources through patenting, threatens to scupper the meagre advances achieved to date. Still, the increasing convergence of and cooperation between peoples organisations working at the local level and NGOs working on these issues at national and international levels, is probably one of the most encouraging Developments that took place over the past decade.
INDIANS FIGHT FOR THEIR SHEDS
Indian farmers have begun a massive action to save their inalienable rights as breeders and users of seeds. Protesting against the entry of large multinationals in India's seed sector and denouncing the GATT proposals on intellectual property, some one thousand farmers stormed the office of Cargill Seeds in southern India late December. Cargill is the world's top grain trader and sixth largest seed company in the world. It set foot to import and sell seeds in India in 1988, when the government opened the market to foreign companies. Farmers belonging to the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) thronged the Cargill building, entered the office on the third ftoor, and threw all the documents and seeds they could find in the bureau onto the street, where they were burned in a mid-morning bonfire. The farmer-activists on the street voiced their protest and handed out leaflets stating that their action is to protect the rights of farmers to produce, modify and sell seeds. "Seed freedom is freedom of the Nation", they hailed. Their appeal urged that genetic resources are national property and farmers have the right to produce, reproduce and innovate on seeds -- a right the multinational seeds companies want to restrict, through intellectual property rights (IPR). KRRS plans to broaden and strengthen the protest movement with other farmers" organisation and sensitive scientists throughout the country.
For a set of press clippings and a commentary on what the farmers call the "Seed Satyagraha", please contact: or. Vandana Shiva, Third World Network, 105 Rajpur Road, Dehra Dun 248 001, India.
* The future
Weve come a tong way in transforming the issue from a concern of a few into the worry of many. Which, obviously, does not mean that we can sit back and relax. In many ways the problems related to genetic resources are worse now than they were ten years ago. Many, if not all, the issues NGOs warned about in the past have happened or are happening right now: genetic erosion continues at an alarming rate, seed companies have not only been bought up by larger transnational congtomerates but the whole seed sector is being submerged into much wider industrial interests including those related to biotechnology. As predicted with alarm, we now have companies breeding for tolerance to agrochemicals, we now see others working to replace export commodities from the South with substitutes from the North, and we have tots of institutions churning out yet more genetic uniformity. On top of it, we have an enormously powerful legislation invading all of this and giving the pseudo-public and private sectors monopoly rights over the very basis of life.
The challenges ahead are tremendous. First of all, we need to continue to explain the problem. We need to document what is going on -- be it with genetic erosion, political power plays, industry control or North-South inequities. And we need to continue to popularise our information, to reach an ever wider audience and empower people through an understanding of these complex issues.
Secondly, we need to increase our efforts to promote popular control over genetic resources. The current diplomatic talk and international agreements have to be urgently and creatively translated into concrete action. We cannot leave discussions on this to diplomats and bureaucrats atone. "Farmers Rights" must not only be recognised but also aggressively implemented. Indigenous knowledge must not only be seen as important, but be taken as the basis for peoples Development strategies.
Thirdly, we need to upgrade our fight for an agricultural research system meaningful to all of us -- be it public or private -- and geared towards sustaining the resource base rather than destroying it. We need to continue critically assessing the technology that is being developed "for us" and fight for a technology that is developed "with us". And we need to prevent the worst: that genetic resources and the technologies based on them became the exclusive monopoly of a few.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, we need to continue creating and fostering the alternatives. At the local level, we need to increase our expertise, our technical competence, to really move ahead in popular management of genetic resources for the benefit of farmers and local Development. At the international level we need to better understand what are the real problems and needs of the peasant sector, and update our activities and campaigns accordingly. All of us working at different levels -- be it local, national or international -- need to continue to talk to each other and build stronger alliances, more than ever.
In January 1993, GRAIN staffers and "Seedling" co-editors Henk Hobbelink and RenÃ©e VellvÃ© sat down with Pat Mooney of RAFI to took back together over the first decade of "Seedling". From a sporadic two-page telex written by Pat for 30 close collaborators in 1982, "Seedling" has become an internationally recognised platform for NGO networking on plant genetic resources and biotechnology. Since Pat was the first publisher of "Seedling", before it was passed on to Henk in 1984, it was only appropriate for us to review together the history of the journal, the history of the issues it reflects, and the history, of the NGO struggle it has served.
The oldest issue of Seedling on file at the GRAIN office is a barely legible, two-page carbon-copy memo dated June 1982. It was written by Pat Mooney, a Canadian researcher and NGO activist who was then with the Seeds Campaign of the International Coalition for Development Action (ICDA). Nobody really remembers, but it is probably not the first issue of Seedling. It's merely the oldest relic that has survived -- on this side of the Atlantic -- the moving of the Seeds Campaign headquarters from Pat's portable house in the prairies of Brandon, Manitoba (Canada), to a tiny NGO office in the youthful funk of Amsterdam (1984), before settling down in the curves and grooves of a newly awakening Barcetona (1985).
As Pat recalls, Seedling has gone through an enormous Development. The initial issues were basically an internal memo distributed discretely to a few individuals who were alarmed about the erosion of genetic resources, the North-South political debate over seeds that was emerging at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the corporate lobby to establish plant breeders' rights laws -- a soft monopoly system to control seed markets -- in the OECD countries. When Pat left ICDA to join the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) in 1984, and Henk took up the Seeds Campaign work in Amsterdam in his suit, Seedling went public, grew in size and changed function, mainly because NGO interest in the issues was growing and needed a broader networking tool.
Today, Seedling is pursuing its growth. While the earlier issues mainly reported on governmental debates over who owns the world's plant genetic resources and the corporate push for plant breeders' rights (PBR), Seedling now covers a breadth of issues surrounding plant genetic resources management and agricultural biotechnology. Before, the official debates mainly took place at FAO. Now they have spread to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the European Parliament, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and other fore. Before, the push for corporate monopoly rights on seeds was limited to plant breeders' rights legislation in the OECD. Now, the companies are fighting for full-fledged patent rights on plants, animals, and even parts of the human genome, all over the world. Before, NGO criticism of conservation strategies was largely focused on genebanks and their political and technical weaknesses. Now, while we still lament the failings of the genebank system, our attention is much more focused on the struggle to develop grassroots alternatives, starting with the farmers.
Perhaps the growth of NGO work in the field of genetic resources -- our information exchange, lobby work and support to increasing practical initiatives -- should be seen against the stagnation of the formal sector. Ten years ago, the "informal" sector was unheard of, inexistent -- a band of radicals hiding in the corridor at FAO fomenting Seed wars" and a anonymous mass of people saving genetic diversity from its demise on their fields, in their gardens and throughout the forests. Today, the work of grassroots organisations is increasingly considered vital, relevant and in desperate need of financial technical and political support. On the other side, the far more visible and institutionally-supported genebanks, public research institutes and International Agricultural Research Centres are all struggling with dwindling finances which clearly translate uncertain priorities and the dangerously declining role of the public sector in agricultural research.
The early years
RenÃ©e: What do you remember about publishing the first issues of Seedling?
Pat Very little. Well I do remember doing it. In the work I had been involved with before ICDA, I had done a publication in a similar style called The DEAP Newsletter, for Development Education Animateur Programme. It wasn't related to seeds. But it was only togical for me to do something similar with the seeds work when we founded ICDA's Seeds Campaign. So I started to type things up just to keep a very small group of people informed as to what was going on. I think the initial copies were mostly done with carbon paper and sent to ten or twenty people. Literally. Maybe not even that many. There was not a whole tot of interest in "seeds" and "genetic resources" then, like there is now.
Henk: The first Seedling we have is from 1982 and talks about plant breeders' rights (PBR) battles in Australia, Canada and India. Then an article about the CGIAR.
Pat You're kidding! What does it say?
Henk: "The Consultative Group met in Rome to talk about PBR."
Pat: That's funny. Ten years later they met in Istanbul to talk about patents!
Henk: Looking back at the old Seedling articles, they're heavily biased either towards a discussion on plant breeders' rights or what went on at FAO. Those are the two major topics which from 1982 way down to 1985 almost dominated Seedling.
Pat: Well you know we weren't looking much at the seed saving side of it. At least I wasn't. In fact I don't even think I thought about farmers saving their own seeds until I was in Austria doing a speaking tour in 1982 and I met the hill farmers. And I remember the guys at the plant breeding station in Linz saying how the hill farmers were better breeders than professional plant breeders were. But until then it never occurred to me particularly. I mean we knew there was the Seed Savers Exchange and stuff like that, but it never really entered my thinking that it was part of the whole thing. The real issues then were fighting plant breeders' rights all over the world and trying to get some basic provisions established for germplasm in FAO.
The corporate challenge
RenÃ©e: How did the industry react to the early issues of Seedling and the campaign against plant breeders' rights?
Pat: One issue I clearly remember is the one on pesticides and seeds, "The Chemical Connection" or whatever it was called. I remember that because there was quite a strong reaction from Shell. Shell Oil went around trying to stop Seedling. They went to ICDA funders in England, trying to cut off the funding. Two ICDA donors in London had a visitor, an elderly person, saying he was from Shell Oil. He was upset about the funding for Seedling and he wanted to have it cut off. And there were rumours of the same thing happening in Germany, with the Bishop of the Protestant Church in southern Germany also being upset about it -- maybe because his brother was Hegey of Hegey Seed Company -- and in Canada the same thing. The seed companies were complaining to ICDA's Canadian donors about Seedling and "Seeds of the Earth" and the whole thing.
Henk: Back in those days, the companies did things like that. But now we're actually talking to the multinationals. Things like Shell or any other company trying to stop our funding or breaking into our office would at this point seem rather ridiculous.
Pat: It wouldn't have been hard to break into our office back then because at that point ICDA headquarters in London didn't even have a door in the office. It was propped in the hallway. I don't think there were any break-ins, it was more like companies going around saying this is an upstart thing and should be stopped. But you're right. They would be crazy to try it today. However, I suspect that if someone from one of the major companies had a way of stopping Seedling they'd still probably like to. If they could see it disappear off the face of the earth they'd be glad but they wouldn't be stupid enough to try.
Henk: In those times, it looked like such a simple thing of "they", the industry, against "us", the NGOs. Now it seems much more complicated. Now we talk openly about our contentions and everything seems more reasonable. What's the difference? Did we change the issues?
Pat: No. I think it's still "they" against "us". At that stage, ten years ago, the seed industry was what it was: there were a tot of companies trying to be merged, wanting to be bought, thinking that they were the one thing in the world that was pure, clean, environmentally friendly, honest and decent. And, on the other side there was a bunch of upstarts, the NGOs, saying that they weren't and that in fact the companies were ripping off the Third World, monopolising seeds, causing genetic erosion and breeding plants to suit chemical sales. All of a sudden, this was a big political problem. So the companies got worried about what might happen to them, whether the market might drop. They didn't know. It was absolutely new to them. It was like suddenly being accused of something you never thought you could possibly do yourself. And there was a tot of personal outrage. A tot of the individuals in the companies were individually outraged. And others were scared, corporately scared. That's why they took it badly. Now they're much more sophisticated. They're not individuals afraid of losing their fiefdoms or their little companies or not being able to hold the marketplace. That has changed. Now they're used to having us around.
Henk: Is this because the issues changed, the companies changed, or we changed?
Pat Undoubtedly all of us have changed to some degree. What we always want to say is no, we haven't changed, we're exactly as we were and the rest of the world has changed. That would be exaggerating. But I don't think it's that far off from that. Again, when you took at who it is we're talking to, the companies have changed. Dramatically. There's a whole new generation almost; We're not dealing with the patriarchs who ran small family seed companies, we're dealing with multinationals, we're dealing with the corporate reality. Second, they've been dealing with the issues now for a dozen years -- ten years through Seedling -- and they're used to the idea, in fad they understand now that there are political implications to germplasm control and germplasm flows, that patents are contentious and all these things have been manifested very clearly to them now. And I think without exception they would say "Yes, we've changed, we understand these implications." They would also want to say the we have changed and we've become more reasonable and all that kind of stuff. But I can't think of any position that we took before which has moderated. I don't think there is one. I think we use language perhaps more carefully now, but I don't think our positions have changed and I don't think they're perceived to have changed.
Henk: Could we say that the world around us has changed so much that our "punchiness", our criticism, doesn't harm that much any more and thus makes it less relevant and less harmful to the guys we want to hit?
Pat No. I think you could even put it the other way around: that our punchiness and our criticism ten years ago were pretty harmless. The most it did was worry a few small seed companies; it didn't particularly worry the governments, it just sort of irritated them. But I don't think we've been particularly effective. What we've been doing is building an educational base so that people understand the issues. On the other side, the issues have moved along. Biotechnology has been born in the minds of people and the practical grassroots work has surfaced. The companies have done all the things we feared they would. If you took back at the early Seedlings or Seeds of the Earth" and the fears that were there about the future, they either have happened already or are imminently likely to happen, almost indisputably. Genetic erosion has accelerated, corporate consolidation is there as well as the new technologies, and much tougher, much more dangerous intellectual property systems are spreading in the world. On the other side, the world knows these issues are there, things are happening. And there is some remote possibility both at the level of the community and at the level of the international governments -- the global governments -- that something might happen, the course of things might become constructive at some stage. That's the best you can say now. I mean Seedling is not a full-grown plant; it's still got a tong way to go.
The growth of Seedling
Henk: But then, what do you think if you took at Seedling in the old days, 1983-1986.
Pat: Boring and unreadable.
RenÃ©e: Do you read Seedling?
Pat: Yes! But not all the time. I don't read anything all the time. I haven't even read my own book "Shattering" yet.
Henk: That's because you wrote it.
Pat: Perhaps, but in general. I don't read anything systematically, except for maybe biotechnology journals. But I'd say the scope of Seedling is obviously much, much wider than it was then. If it wasn't wider, you should be ashamed of yourselves. And it's certainly better written vastly more attractive, and most importantly, it's actually being read. What's the mailing list of Seedling now?
Henk: 1,2001 think.
Pat: And it goes to how many countries? RenÃ©e: 95.
Pat: Well that's an incredible difference. In 1982 there were probably about a hundred people, two hundred people, on the planet who knew something about plant genetic resources. And that includes the scientific community. And everybody at FAO. And now there are 1,200 people in nearly 100 countries who subscribe to Seedling. And it gets quoted endlessly -- everybody refers to Seedling, it comes up constantly in conversation. I don't mean constantly in everyone's conversation but in agriculture it's well-known. And that's a sign of increasing sophistication. The issue which was once "the seeds issuer, which is now the biodiversity or the biodiversity-biotech issue, is at least in its 20s. It's past its teenage years but it's not exactly a fully mature operation. But it certainly is as sophisticated, I would think, as any campaign the NGO community has ever put together. In some ways much more sophisticated, I would argue. And that is manifested in Seedling. Some of the other NGO campaigns have tended to be very rifle-shot campaigns. But this issue has succeeded in addressing such a sphere of elements, from IPRs to biotechnology to seed conservation at the community level to looking at the implications from seeds to the wider agricultural biodiversity. This is a much wider range than has been covered by any other campaign. The fact that it has managed to expand to that scope and still be comprehensible -- still have specific targets and strategies -- is impressive. And I think Seedling has played probably the major role in taming and building that support. It certainly hasn't been the books that any of us have written, frankly. Short things like Seedling get read -- and used.
COTTON HAS BEEN PATENTED
NGOs have been warning the scientific and political community all along. Opening the doors to the patenting of life forms will result in a dangerous expansion of corporate control over crops, animals, basic breeding techniques and perhaps one day even human beings. Nov., in the midst of the wrangling over whether the human or rice genomes can be someone's exclusive property, cotton - as a crop - has fallen victim to corporate greed. The USbiotech compay Agracetus, fully owned by WR Grace, has been granted a patent on all genetically engineered transformations of the cotton plant. According to Agracetus' vice president of finance, Russell Smestad, "We were the first to devetop a transgenic cotton plant by any method.. In his reasoning, this gives Agracetus the legal and togical right to claim ownership of any and all transgenic cotton. The news has thrown scientists and NGOs into a fury. Cotton, which originated in Asia, is an important crop for the Third World, both in terms of export and domestic use as a source of fibre and oil. In total, cotton represents a market of $13.6 billion for Third World farmers. Agracetus' patent constitutes an enormous disincentive against transgenic cotton research to ameliorate production conditions in the South.
Although Agracetus says it is prepared to license out segments of the transgenic cotton market, nobody knows under what conditions. The first transgenic cotton to hit the market expected sometime in 1994 - will be marketed by Calgene, under license to Agracetus. It is resistant to RhÃ´ne-Poulenc'e bromaxynil herbidde, which inhibits photosynthesis. Armed with Calgene'e patented Bromotol gene, the transgenic cottons can be "safely" sprayed with the lethal chemical. Thus the new cotton will carry at least two patents, which farmers will have to pay royalties on when buying the seed. How all this may help foster sustainable agriculture in the Third World is pretty much a mystery.
See "AgBiotechnology News", December 1992.
Henk: Give me two or three points of how you would improve Seedling.
Pat: I personally think it could be bigger. I would like to see more on biotech in it, more updated sort of stuff. So I'd like more detail in Seedling, rather than less. I know that it can't be a tot more but I'd like to see more briefs on what's happening on the biotech side especially. And perhaps here or there more additional articles on specific areas or adventuring into one thing in every issue of Seedling that goes into the wider climate of the issue, one step beyond. A guest editorial or a guest essay from some related aspect. Also I think what we're all missing is something that gets out fast and breaks news. The thing about the earlier Seedlings was, and I remember this rule well, was not to take more than a day to produce it: it should be started in the morning and in the mail at the end of the day. But it serves a very good purpose the way it is and it would be dangerous to play with it too much. So I would be cautious about my advice if I were you.
Henk: What we don't find in the earlier Seedlings, and what is increasingly important in our activities, is information about what's going on at the grassroots level. That's completely absent, I think, in our earlier works.
Pat: Absolutely. We had no idea what was going on at the grassroots level. Not the remotest idea. And the thing is, there were things going on at the grassroots level then, of course. It's just that no one had a name for it and, by and large, no one thought it was important. At the same time, to be fair, because of things like Seedling a tot more is going on. A tot more has been stimulated. I mean there has been a major explosion of knowledge about the issue -- that is certainly true. And it's certainly also true that if it hadn't been for NGOs, there would not have been that explosion of knowledge. There would still be Trevor Williams directing IBPGR, nothing happening at FAO, very little activity by Third World governments, no knowledge about NGOs and probably many more genebanks in deterioration. So it's not a bad record, after ten years.
It really isn't.
Gene Campaign in India
The Gene Campaign is an Indian organisation of scientists, economists, farmers representatives, environmentalists, activists and journalists who are determined to fight for the protection of the Third World's genes and the rights of Third World people to use their genetic resources without hindrance. The campaign is engaged in mobilising public opinion against the patenting of genes and living organisms like plants and animals. It is also working towards generating an awareness about the value of genetic resources and the need to conserve them, as well as to develop strategies that would make it lucrative for farmers to adopt diversity in agriculture as against high yielding varieties only.
Contact: Dr. Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign, F-31 Green Park (Main), New Delhi 110 016, India.
"The Cerealist" Launched
The Kusa Research Foundation has launched a new publication called "The Cerealist". Kusa is a non-profit organisation promoting awareness, understanding and exchange of ancient cereal grasses and other edible seedcrops. "The Cerealist" is published twice a year and reports on experiences and Developments in utilising and conserving traditional cereals at the local level. The first issue delves into the lingering life of einkorn wheat in Provence (France), the history of grains in world agriculture and the quest to devetop hull-less barley.
To subscribe ($50), please contact Lorenz Schaller, The Kusa Society, P.O. Box 761, Ojai, CA 93023, USA.
Tree Seeds from HDRA
Over the past three years, the Henry Doubleday Research Association -- an independent research organisation devoted to organic growing techniques -- has been running an initiative to select and supply seeds of tree and shrub species to groups involved in tree planting in developing countries. Although primarily aimed at groups working in Africa, additional funding has altowed them to expand their work to include groups from Asia and Latin America. Under this programme, HDRA has so far assisted over 200 groups in 39 African countries to select species for their required purposes and provided, free of charge, sufficient seed of tested quality for local evaluation. Seed supplies are accompanied with full technical and practical details on the cultivation and use of the chosen species. Due to the continuing success of the programme, HDRA invites requests from groups working on tree planting programmes. Applicants will be asked to complete a Tree Seed Request Form giving full climatic and practical details of their requirements.
Requests for seeds or further information should be addressed to: Ms. Stephanie Harris, HDRA, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Coventry CV8 3LG, United Kingdom. Tel: (44 203) 30.35.17. Fax: (44-203) 63.92.29.
"No Culture Without Agriculture!"
The Greens in the European Parliament invite all interested NGOs, farmers organisations, consumer and environmental groups, and Third World activists to gather in Brussels to discuss alternatives against the reform of the EC Common Agricultural Policy and GATT agreement. "No Culture Without Agriculture! A Green Debate on Urban-Rural Relations" will take place in Brussels on 15-16 April. The idea is to bring NGOs and Europe's Green parties together to openly discuss the issues of food, agriculture, trade and local alternatives to feed into preparations for the next European elections.
Ms. Pilar Mari, European Parliament, Green Croup, MON 307, 97-113 rue Belliard, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: (32-2) 284.33.62. Fax: (32-2) 284.91.54.
Brewster Kneen, independent Canadian researcher and writer, has written an excellent account of the social history of canola -- a "high-grade" form of rape or colza -- recently developed in Canada. Aptly entitled The Rape of Canola, Brewster's book examines how and why canola was deliberately engineered to further industrial agriculture and capital accumulation. The case of canola provides a poignant illustration of who sets the agenda for agricultural research, the role of industry in shaping the social organisation of farming and how technology forcefully embodies class structure, power relations and dynamics of social change. Brewster's research is based on personal interviews with the main protagonists of "the rape of canola". Highly recommended reading for anyone who is concerned with the privatisation of agricultural research and the forces shaping our food anti farming systems.
Brewster Kneen, "The Rape of Canola", NC Press, Toronto, 1992, 230 p., ISBN 155021-066-1. Available from: The Ram's Horn, 125 Highfield Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4L 2V4. Please enctose a cheque or bank draft for Canadian $19.95 (including postage and handling) made out to "The Ram's Horn".
Sowing Beyond the State: NGOs and Seed Supply in Developing Countries is a review of 18 NGOs working in Asia, Africa and Latin America to assure seed supply for farmers in marginal areas. The fruit of years of research by ODI researchers, the book takes as its starting point the fact that "high potential", institutionally-bred seed hardly reaches or is inappropriate for the vast majority of Third World farmers who lack access to the resources and infrastructure required by modern varieties. The researchers took closely at the alternative seed projects carried out by the NGO sector and conclude that multi-institutional approaches are necessary, building on the strengths of existing community managed seed networks throughout the devetoping world.
Elizabeth Cromwell and Steve Wiggins, with Sondra Wetzel, "Sowing Beyond the State: NGOs and Seed Supply in Devetoping Countries" Overseas Development Institute, London, 1993. Order from: ODI Publications, Regent's College, Inner Circle, Regent's Park, London NWI 4NS, United Kingdom. The price for orders outside the UK is £ 13.45 surface mail, £ 13.95 air mail.
In 1991, the Dutch Development NGO called NOVIB organised an international public debate on the question of biotechnology and Farmers' Rights. The meeting brought together government officials, NGOs, Third World and Dutch farmers' organisations and seed companies to discuss the opportunities and threats offered by biotechnology to small-scale producers in the South in the context of the Development of the concept of "Farmers' Rights". A whole range of questions are brought forward and debated: what biotechnology has to offer Third World farmers and how; the impact of intellectual property rights on access to genetic resources; how Farmers' Rights can be implemented, etc. The booklet drawn up from the meeting offers a wide spectrum of case studies, opinions, analyses and ideas for action.
Hans Brouwer, Erik Stikof and Joske Bunders (editors), "Biotechnology and Farmers' Rights: Opportunities and Threats for Small-Scale Farmers in Developing Countries" VU University Press, Amsterdam, 1992, 122 p., ISBN 90 5383-193-2. Available in English or Dutch from NOVIB, Amaliastraat 5-7, NL-2514 JC Den Haag, Netherlands.
Another conference report pulls together the passionate debates held in London last April at the "The Gene Traders" conference, co-organised by Intermediate Technology and the New Economics Foundation. The report contains the summaries of presentations made by highly engaged and high profile NGO and government officials who are tong active in promoting local control over genetic resources for sustainable agriculture. Their interventions, and the lively discussions that follow, are controversial, innovative and strongly presented. The heat of the discussions focus on intellectual property, the role of farmers in conservation and breeding, and the economic and political constraints that marginalise farmers and destroy diversity.
"The Gene Traders: Security or Profit in Food Production?", proceedings of an international conference, 14-15 April 1992, IT/NEF, London, 51p.. Available from IT, Myson House, Railway Terrace, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 3H, United Kingdom.
Third World Network (TWN) has recently published an English translation of an earlier work by Daniel Querol, Peruvian geneticist and TWN activist tong involved in setting up peasant-oriented genetic resources conservation programmes. Genetic Resources: Our Forgotten Treasure is a simple and straightforward guidebook to the technical and political parameters-of setting up grassroots conservation activities. Very accessible to local NGOs and farmers organisations, this book was previously only available in Spanish.
Daniel Querol, "Genetic Resources: Our Forgotten Treasure.", Third World Network, Penang, 1992, 252 pp., ISBN 9839747-01-0. Available from Third World Network, 87 Cantonment Road, 11250 Penang, Malaysia. Orders must be accompanied by a bank draft in US$ made out to "Third World Network". The cost is $10 for Third World country residents, and $51 elsewhere. Add $2 for surface mail postage or $7 air mail, per copy.
"TREASURES OF ETHIOPIA.
Treasures of Ethiopia is a new 70-minute film about the genetic and agri-cultural diversity of the Ethiopian farmers. Put together by WlLDart, a Dutch/Austrian team including GRAIN Board member Vincent Lucassen, the film takes us into the fields of Ethiopia's highland farmers to discover the vital importance of their indigenous landraces, welladapted to the stressed environment and local cultures, for their very subsistence and livelihoods. The media often portray Ethiopians as destitute beggars, overtooking the tremendous value and contribution of farmers' seeds to North agriculture and the need to help farmers continue to conserve and devetop local varieties for self-reliance. Treasures of Ethiopia undoes this bias and shows the powerful contradiction between the dedicated work of the Ethiopian genebank to help empower small farmers in maintaining this diversity, and the efforts of the Northern industry to exptoit and displace it for their own benefit.
"Treasures of Ethiopia" is available in three language versions: English, German and Dutch. The VHS PAL standard costs 400 Austrian schilling (US$36), including postage and handling. Other formats (Betamax U-matic Hi- and Lo-Band, Betacam) and other standards (NTSC, SECAM) must be specially requested. Order from: WlLDart, Wilhelm Exnergasse 23132, A-1090 Vienna, Austria. Please enctose a cheque in Austrian schilling payable to "WILDart". Funding is being sought to make the film available to groups in the devetoping countries free of charge.
The SAFE Alliance, a UK coalition of farmer, environment and consumers organisations, has recently published two timely reports of interest to Seedling readers. "Food Fit for the World?", by Tim Lang, is a pertinent and original analysis of how the current GATT negotiations will affect our food systems. The document goes through every aspect of the GATT trade talks -- and the institution itself -- as they relate to food and food trade and makes very critical and constructive proposals for popular mobilisation to reform the talks in favour of the public interest. In a sister report, "Bringing Rio Home: Biodiversity in our Food and Farming", Robin Jenkins raises the issue of how we are managing the biological and genetic resource base of European food and agriculture. Pooling together accounts from various researchers, Robin summarises the importance of biodiversity for European agriculture, the forces destroying it, the extent of the problem and a ten-point plan to turn the situation around.
Tim Long, "Food Fit for the World ? How the GATT food trade talks challenge public health, the environment and the citizen" SAFE Alliance & Public Health Alliance, March 1992, 43 pp., ISBN 1-87351407-7. Robin Jenkins, "Bringing Rio Home: Biodiversity in Our Food and Farming" SAFE Alliance, November 1992, 31 pp. Both reports are available from: The SAFE Alliance, 21 Tower Street, London WC2H SINS, United Kingdom.
Two international NGOs focusing on policy issues around biodiversity, biotechnology and indigenous people in the Third World -ACTS and Third World Network -- produce their own series of publications that Seedling readers would be interested in. ACTS, the African Centre for Technotogy Studies, has its main office in Nairobi and a Biopolicy Institute in Maastricht (Netherlands). In the past few years, ACTS has published about 50 books that analyse biodiversity management, public policy, transfer of technology and intellectual property rights. Their Biopolicy International series produces monographs that focus each time on a specific theme, such as: biopesticides in developing countries; genetic resources and sustainable agriculture; intellectual property rights, biotechnology and trade. From its side, Third World Network, based in Malaysia, produces a series of publications on biodiversity and biotechnology, available from their office in New Delhi. They offer a selection of original and critical books that strongly defend the rights of small farmers and local people with regard to genetic resources management, GATT and the Development of corporate biotechnology. The Delhi office has also launched "Binja", a critical news monitor to strengthen the national campaign on biodiversity, biotechnology and patenting life in India.
Full publications lists and ordering information can be requested from each organisation. Please contact: ACTS, P.O. Box 45917, Nairobi, Kenya or ACTS Biopolicy Institute, Witmakersstraut 10, NL-6211 JB Maastricht, Netherlands and Third World Network A-60, Hauz Khas (2nd Ftoor), New Delhi 110 016, India.
Greenpeace International has issued a report on the implications of the EC Common Agriculture Policy for the future of ecological farming. "Green Field, Grey Future" scrutinises the costs of industrial agriculture, the EC's promises for a "greener" future and the real impacts the CAP reform may have on sustainable agriculture. Recommendations for restructuring European farming are proposed.
"Green Fields, Grey Future: EC Agriculture Policy at the Crossroads" Greenpeace International, Amsterdam, 1992, 98 pp., ISBN 1-871532-66-3. Available from Greenpeace International, Keizersgracht 176, NL-1016 DW Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
GRAIN'S BIOTECH BOOK IN SPANISH
GRAIN's 1991 book, Biotechnology and the Future of World Agriculture, by Henk Hobbelink, has just been published in Spanish by REDES, the Uruguayan chapter of Friends of the Earth. La biotecnologia y el futuro de la agricultura mundial brings this thorough review of the techniques, actors, markets and laws shaping the emergence of agricultural biotechnology and its impact on Third World agricultural accessible to the Spanish-speaking public. The debate over the policy issues surrounding biotechnology and the implications of these new Developments for local agriculture is of increasing concern in Latin America. This book should make a contribution to popular understanding of this complex but vital affair.
Henk Hobbelink "La biotecnotogia y el futuro de la agricultura mundial", REDES/NORDAN-Comunidad, Montevideo, 1992, 205 pp. Copies can be order from REDES, Avda. Millan 4113, 12900 Montevideo, Uruguay. Tel: (598-2) 35.62.65. Fax: (598-2) 38.16.40.
A recent publication from the International Centre for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT) -- a Green Revolution institute based in Mexico -- provides up-to-date information about maize: production, research, trade, prices and policies. CIMMYT's "1991/1992 World Maize Facts and Trends" gives a storehouse of recent data on the world's third most important crop and where it is going, country-by-country.
CIMMYT, "1991-1992 CIMMYT World Maize Facts and Trends: Maize Research Investment and Impacts in Devetoping Countries", CIMMYT, Mexico, 1992, 57 pp., ISBN 0257-8743. Available from CIMMYT Publications Department, Lisboa 27, Apartado Postal 6-641, 06600 Mexico, DF Mexico.
The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and World Wide Fund for Nature International (WWF) are collaborating together on a research programme to assess the economic and social importance of wild foods (fruits, insects, grasses, vegetable, oil crops, bush meat, etc.) in local agricultural systems of Africa and Asia. The programme, called "The Hidden
Harvest", challenges the gross neglect for wild foods in mainstream research and Development projects and aims to examine the vital role these resources play in the livelihoods of the rural and urban poor and the political, social and economic forces that are threatening their useful contribution to nutrition, income, environmental management and other needs of local people. In the framework of this ongoing project, IIED has just published a review of the literature relevant to wild foods in local farming systems. It is an annotated bibliography covering a thousand titles of articles, books and monographs dealing with the key issues of land use, tenure, policy issues, the economic and nutritional value of wild foods, their various uses, etc.
Ian Scoones, Mary Melnyk and Jules Pretty, "The Hidden Harvest: Wild Foods and Agricultural Systems. A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography" Sustainable Agriculture Programme, IIED, 1992, 260 pp., ISBN 0-905347-93-5. Order from: Marilyn John, Publications Department, IIED, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, United Kingdom. The price is £12.95 plus postage and handling.
For those interested in the genetic resources of medicinal plants -- their value, conservation, exploitation and use, and the policies that shape them -- a book coming out of an international consultation held in Chiang Mai was recently published. The Conservation of Medicinal Plants covers a wide range of issues concerning these valuable resources: the state of the art in conservation, the importance of traditional knowledge, policy issues and experiences at the national level (ea. India, China, Kenya, Peru, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Southern Africa).
Olayiwola Akerele, Vermon Heywood and Hugh Synge (editors), "The Conservation of Medicinal Plants", proceedings of an international consultation, 21-27 March 1988, Chiang Mai, Cambridge University Press, 1991, 362 pp., ISBN 0-521-39206-3.
Two popular resource books on sustainable agriculture in the uplands and towlands are available from the members of the Southeast Asian Sustainable Agriculture Network (SEASAN). The resource books are drawn up from -- and built upon -- two distinct Southeast Asian workshops held in 1989 (for the uplands) and 1990 (for the towlands). The books pool together experiences gained from practical work in sustainable farming systems experimentation at the grassroots level throughout Southeast Asia, involving the participation of farmers, NGOs and technical support groups. The main areas of discussion for the uplands are soil and water conservation, agroforestry, seed technology, animal husbandry and working with farmers. For the towlands, country studies, appropriate technology, networking and farmers' own models are the focus of analysis. In both cases, these resource books reflect the hands-on experiences of farmers, NGOs and support scientists dedicated to fostering sustainable agriculture from the bottom-up in Southeast Asia, meant to be shared with others.
Lyn Capistrano, Janet Dumo and Ilya Moeliono (editors), "Resource Book on Sustainable Agriculture for the Uplands" IIRR, July 1990, 199 pp. Available from IIRR, Silang, Cavite, The Philippines. Janet Durno, Ilya Moeliono and Ravade Presertcharoensuk (editors), "Resource Book on Sustainable Agriculture for the Lowlands" SEASAN, June 1992, 286 pp. Available from CUSO, 17 Phahonyothin Go) Village, Phahonyothin Road, Bangkhen, Bangkok 10900, Thailand.
The question of how biotechnology will be used to develop cheaper or more reliable substitutes for products traditionally derived from Third World commodities is of critical concern. A succinct little booklet written by UNESCO's Albert Sasson and published by ACTS, Covers the basics of how this is being pursued, by whom, where. Although the data is a little bit old (late 1980s/turn of the 1990s), Biotechnology and Natural Products: Prospects for Commercial Production provides an overview of the techniques being developed, their applications and implications for the biotechnotogical substitution of commodityderived substances. The book is more oriented toward the technotogy, rather than the economics, of substitution.
Albert Sasson, "Biotechnology and Natural Products: Prospects for Commercial Production", ACTS Press, Nairobi 1992, 96 pp., ISBN 9966-41-051-1. Available from ACTS Press, P.O. Box 45917, Nairobi, Kenya.
Although not a recent release, Mountain Agriculture and Crop Genetic Resources is a useful book drawn Up from a workshop on the topic held in Katmandu in 1987. The book contains a range of contributions from people working with the genetic resources of mountain farming. Mountainous agricultural zones -- from the Andes to the Himalayas -are extremely diverse, rigorous and peculiar, but share some common features. Conserving and Using genetic resources for sustainable Development in these regions requires a farming systems approach and the participants outline their broad experiences from the national level.
KW. Riley, N. Mateo, G.C Hawtin and R. Yadav (editors), "Mountain Agriculture and Crop Genetic Resources, Aspect Publishing, 1990, 330pp., ISBN 1-85529-034-9 Available from Aspect Publishing, 345 Archway Road, London N6 SAA, United Kingdom.
EC BATTLES RAGE ON
In October 1992, the European Parliament voted a set of amendments to the European Commission's 1988 draft directive on patenting biotechnological inventions. Without delay, the Commission has now issued a revised proposal of the directive, taking into account some of the amendments of the Parliament, and plenty of amendments from Europe's biotech industry. The biggest points of controversy in the three years of the Parliament's debate were the ethics of patenting life forms, especially animals and humans, and the need to protect the rights of farmers to reuse patented seed. The Commission is not ready to cede too much on these points. Yes, they argue, pans of the human body per se should not be patentable, but research on animals -- even if they suffer -- is important to humanity. As to the introduction of a "farmers" privilege' in the provisions of the directive, the Commission is against it but leaves the point open for discussion at higher political levels. The amended directive has to go to the Council of Ministers so that they come to a "common positions". In the meantime, on 12 February, the Parliament overwhlemingly voted an urgent resolution calling upon the European Patent Office to revoke the first European animal patent on the so-called "oncomouse". The landslide vote (178 for and 19 against, with 27 abstentions) came two days before expiration of the deadline for filing legal oppositions to the onco-mouse patent. Nearly 200 NGOs have filed collective oppositions from various European countries, as well as Brazil and India, against this animal patent. The Parliament's energetic move is a sign that positions against patenting life are firming up.
Copies of the amended directive (Document COM(92) 589), accompanied by a 7-page "outline", are available in the EC languages from: Mr. Dominique Vandergheynst, Commission of the European Communities, DG-lll/F-3, avenue des Nerviens 9, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: (32-2) 295.69.23. Fax: (32-2) 295.02.81.
For those interested in the genetic resources of the SADCC region (southern Africa), the proceedings of the first national workshop on plant genetic resources in Namibia has just been published. The meeting took place in late 1991 and brought together national scientists, SADCC Regional Genebank representatives and international agencies to discuss the state of Namibia's genetic resources conservation and the activities of other institutions: the SADCC genebank, the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources Regional, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
"Dinteria", Number 23, October 1992, Windhoek, Namibia. Available from Namibia Scientific Society, P.O. Box 67, Windhoek, Namibia.
Barbara Dinham from the UK-based Pesticides Trust has compiled an environmental audit on hazardous pesticide use in the Third World, reviewing corporate activities, government regulations and the situation at the grassroots level. The Pesticide Hazard is a collective effort of many activists and researchers involved in or collaborating with the Pesticides Action Network. It provides statistics and reports from the local level on pesticides sales and use, the effects on human health, the environment and agricultural production, and case studies from a number of developing countries.
"The Pesticide Hazard: A Global Health and Environmental Audit", compiled by Barbara Dinham, Zed Books, London, 1993, 228 pp., ISBN 1-85649-202-8. Available from Zed Books, 57 Caledonian Road, London N1 9BU, UK, or via Humanities Press International, 165 First Avenue, Atlantic Highlands, NJ 07716, USA. Priced at £19.95.
The use of biotechnology for research on tropical crops in Africa is the subject of a new book put out by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). It present the papers delivered to a conference on the subject held in 1990 at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Ibadan, Nigeria. The book gives an overview of the potential and use of biotechnology in various fields of research: the need for biotechnology research in Africa, enhancing the genetic base of African agriculture, ceil and tissue culture, genetic engineering and molecular markers, other applications, and the policy issues.
"Biotechnology: Enhancing Research on Tropical Crops in Africa ", G. Thottappilly et al. (ed), CTA/IITA, 1992, 364 pp., ISBN 978-131-090-1. Available from CTA, P.O. Box 380, NL-6700 AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor is the name of a new international newsletter meant to foster networking among researchers and Development practitioners on indigenous knowledge (IK). Produced by the Centre for International Research and Advisory Networks in the Netherlands, in cooperation with a range of burgeoning Indigenous Knowledge Resource Centres, the Monitor will be published three times a year and is available free of charge. Largely a magazine for researchers, by researchers, it should interest NGOs and people's organisations who are curious as to how the formal sector is struggling with genuine attempts to take IK as a starting point for what the editors repeatedly call "the Development process". The first issue presents reports on studies of IK in agriculture, crafts, soil and water management and veterinary medicine in different countries and informs of a range of research initiatives.
To get on the mailing list contact CIRAN, P.O. Box 90734, NL-2509 LS The Hague, Netherlands, Fax: (31-70) 351.05.13.
19-23 April: FAO, Rome
The FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources is meeting for its fifth biennial session. On the agenda is how to adjust the intergovernmental political agreements achieved at FAO with the new provisions of the Global Convention on Biodiversity signed at Rio, and the adoption of a Code of Conduct for Germplasm Collectors. Preparations for the 4th International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (Germany, June 1995) will also be hammered through. NGOs are welcome to attend and participate in the discussions.
Contact: Dr. 1. T. Esquinos-AlcÃ¡zar, Secretariat, Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, FAO. Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 1-00100 Rome, Italy. Tel: (346) 184.108.40.206. Fax: (39-6) 574.50.90.
5-13 September: Beijing, Chins
The Beijing Agricultural University is organising an international conference on "Integrated Resource Management for Sustainable Agriculture". This is the first conference of its sort where so many issues important to the future of Chinese -- and global -- farming will be put on the table in Beijing. How to manage water, soils, plant genetic resources, cropping systems. and integrated pest management for sustainable agriculture are key issues. Policy concerns and the role of biotechnology will also be scrutinised. Registration -- open to all -- closes on 1 May. Contact: Dr. Li Xiaoyun, Centre for Integrated Agricultural Development, Beijing Agricultural University, Beijing 100094, P.R. China Tel: (86-1) 258.23.37. Fax: (8-1) 258.23.32.
is the bi-monthly bulletin of GRAIN -Genetic Resources Action International-, a private foundation chartered in Spain. GRAIN promotes a worldwide campaign for popular management of genetic resources and biotechnology, with special focus on the situation and needs of small farmers in the developing countries.
is published for those groups and individuals active or interested in the conservation, free exchange and sustainable use of genetic resources, the struggle against monopoly control over those resources and the fight against the erosion of genetic diversity.
aims to supports this struggle and provide a channel for information exchange among people involved in the network. To do this we need your help. Please send us information about your activities in this field, articles, campaign materials, research results, criticism and suggestions.
is edited by David Cooper, Henk Hobbelink and RenÃ©e VellvÃ©
Please direct all correspondence to: GRAIN, Jonqueres 16-6-D, E-08003 Barcelona, Spain
Tel: (34-3) 31 0 5909; Fax: (34-3) 31 0 5952; Email: Geo2: GRAIN & Cgnet: GRAIN; Telex 997967 cidob e