Crossroads at carthage: last chance for the fao seed treaty?


En route to the twin summits at the end of the year— the food crisis summit in Rome in November, and the climate crisis summit to be held in Copenhagen in December— the meeting of the FAO Seed Treaty (ITPGRFA) is at the critical nexus of the international community’s ability to respond to the food and climate crises.

“If we don’t safeguard our seed diversity and implement peasants’ rights, then the global agricultural system won’t be able to respond to rapidly changing climatic conditions,” said Adam Kuleij, Massai pastoralist from Tanzania.

Addressing the fundamentals of on-farm conservation is essential to the food supply. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is that member states have spent years squabbling over the barebones 116 million dollars in budget proposed from 2007 needed to fulfill the basic goals of the treaty.

The International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty (IPC) facilitated a meeting of people from five continents including 25 countries, representing peasant, pastoralist, and indigenous organizations, to analyze the status and role of the treaty.

Dr. Malaku Worede of Ethiopia, the founder of Africa’s most important gene bank and former chair of the U.N. Commission that led to the Treaty emphasized the key role of small farmers in conserving the genetic diversity of seeds:

“Ex-situ gene banks have an important role to play. But we’ve been trying to save seed in gene banks for the last half century, with more failures than successes. To ensure a sustained supply of useful germplasm and a more dynamic system of keeping diversity alive, we must support farmers in maintaining seed in their field. If we lose this living diversity Africa and the world will not be able to adjust to climate change,” Worede said.

After two days debate the representatives are demanding the following:

  • In light of the food emergency there must be a suspension of all intellectual property rights and other regulations that prevent farmers from saving and exchanging non-GMO seed.

  • There must be a major financial commitment to save seed in the field, for the conservation of genetic diversity in the field, and to prevent and monitor biopiracy.

  • We must bring an end to the monopoly practices of multinational seed companies who are controlling seeds, the first link in the food chain.

  • Governments cannot act alone, they must involve farmers in decision making every step of the way, and governments must implement the treaty’s decision on Farmers’ Rights.

“We, are giving states one last chance to implement collective farmers’ rights, and on-farm conservation of seeds. If not we’ll no longer consider the treaty a relevant body for implementing food sovereignty.” said Soniamara Maranho of the Via Campesina Brazil.

Contact: Guy Kastler, La Via Campesina and Pat Mooney, ETC Group +1(613) 291-9793; Luca Bianchi, IPC +(216) 25372536