Family farmers defend biodiversity and feed the world

Position Paper – Nagoya

No market-based ‘solutions’ to biodiversity destruction!

The international peasant movement, « La Vía Campesina » is participating in the 10th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, Oct. 18-29, 2010.

Men and women representatives from family-farming communities of Asia, Europe and North America are here to denounce and reject the frenetic commercialization of natural resources of the planet. There are viable solutions to the environmental crisis: A diversity of human cultures that can maintain diversity through sustainable peasant and family farming and the control of biodiversity in the hands of local communities.


Privatization of Nature and Biodiversity Loss go Hand in Hand

Although the UN declared 2010 as the “International year of biodiversity”, the CBD did not meet its objectives to stop biodiversity destruction. This is not surprising, given that the privatization and commercialization of biodiversity is reaching new levels: through ecosystem service economics, businesses and their government allies strategize to give a market value to every seed, forest, animal and to the practices of farming communities. This makes it possible to treat them as objects for investment, trade and speculation, in one of the worst violations of human and environmental rights.

Farmers, their practices and their seeds, are well known to have developed and renewed biodiversity over millennia. They have also maintained wild biodiversity in communities that practice agroforestry, fishing, and pasturing. However, as these resources were privatized and farmers driven out of their territories, biodiversity was lost. During the last century, ca. 75% of genetic diversity in agriculture disappeared, a process directly related to the development of the seed industry and the enormous decrease in peasant farmers over the same period. In order to appropriate and market natural resources, industry has used many methods that prohibit farmers and local communities from reproducing the diversity of peasant seeds and continuing their farming practices.

Taking natural resources away from community control has been the cause of environmental and human destruction everywhere: Industrial agriculture uses high quantities of water, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Industrial seeds impoverish soils that lose the capacity to retain carbon as organic matter is replaced with synthetic inputs. Transport, machinery and fossil fuel inputs such as fertilizers contribute to climate change. In the process of industrialization of nature, farming communities lose access not only to seeds and livestock breeds but also to their territory: land, water, and coastal resources. Wherever land and ecosystems are lost, the food sovereignty of countless communities is also lost and replaced by poverty and industrial, unhealthy food. We farmers and small-scale food producers are being thrown off our land through land-grabs that produce more industrial crops, including agrofuels, for world markets. We, who have created and maintained biodiversity for millennia are prohibited from having access to resources in the name of ‘protected areas’. In the meantime, companies exploit wood in monoculture deserts of eucalyptus or palm trees that are falsely deemed sustainable.

The diversity of peasant and indigenous communities as well as their knowledges are of vast importance in the face of the current crisis. These traditional knowledges are continuously enriched by new innovations and locally-controlled technologies put in place by their users and left to the free disposition of the community. These knowledges must not be privatized and their use prohibited. We, men and women farmers refuse to be instrumentalized as the keepers of biodiversity in official documents and speeches while at the same time our vital resources—land, water and the biodiversity that we have created over millennia—are robbed for the benefit of a few multinational companies and with the support of many governments. At the CBD in Nagoya and the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Cancun, we have come to demand that these fundamental rights be respected.

COP 10: The Commercialization of Biodiversity and Climate on the Upswing

We are facing a very serious environmental crisis of floods, droughts, soil erosion, water contamination and biodiversity loss. International institutions that deal separately with climate, biodiversity and other environmental issues are starting to work together. However, this is also an opportunity for those who want to commercialize the resources of the planet under the green-washing pretences of ‘biomass’, ‘ecosystem services’ or ‘carbon’ markets to coordinate their efforts. In Nagoya, the agenda of biodiversity and climate change is being brought much closer together, as the market solutions presented to the UN Climate Convention in Copenhagen in 2009 are being passed on to other institutions such as the CBD.

Agrofuels, REDD and TEEB

Agrofuels have increased land speculation and done nothing to reduce carbon emissions. So-called ‘first-generation’ agrofuels are based on monocultures such as maize, sugar cane, palm trees or jatropha which require vast amounts of land, water and chemical inputs. ‘Second-generation’ agrofuels are often based on genetically-modified grasses, trees and algae, threatening not just crops but all plant material. They are no more energy-efficient and remain dangerous, endangering our food and wild species through genetic contamination. Both require more energy to produce them than the energy they will deliver. Once we take destruction of native forests necessary for the cultivation of large cultivation surfaces into account, agrofuels release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Heavily subsidized by certain governments, agrofuels are another lucrative green-washing business.

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is also accelerating the commercialization of climate and biodiversity. Through REDD, a polluting industry in Europe escapes its obligation to reduce emission by buying carbon credits in a faraway rainforest such as Brazil, Indonesia, and other countries in the South. With REDD there are in fact no emission reductions and biodiversity is threatened by tree monocultures. Moreover, peasant farmers and indigenous people are being kicked out of their farmland and territories as has happened with ‘protected areas’ under the CBD. (See Vía Campesina report).

In Nagoya, the privatization and commercialization of biodiversity is aggressively being brought forward by businesses and facilitated by governments. Programs such as TEEBS, the Economics and Ecosystems of Biodiversity, are preparing the way for the market valorization of every element of nature—land, animals, seeds, water— which are at the same time the lands and territories of farming communities. The complexity of growing seedlings, ecosystems, climate patterns and soil fertility are all simplified to what they call “ecosystem services”, to be traded in a similar manner to carbon credits. These approaches are not only supported by businesses and governments, but are aided through the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a platform of scientists working to give biodiversity a monetary value.

New and Emerging Technologies

The CBD is discussing new technologies that are still little known or debated, but which attempt to control and make new commodities out of living organisms. These include ‘synthetic biology’ and ‘geoengineering’. Synthetic biology is the attempt to create life that does not occur in nature, by combining chemical substances that reproduce a new organism, such as a bacterium. It is claimed that such bacteria could produce energy based on the sugars in plants and therefore replace fossil fuels. Besides costing tens of millions in research, these technologies are very dangerous, with unknown and uncontrollable consequences for the environment.

‘Geoengineering’ is another new technology that promises to solve the climate crisis using techno-fixes. In the name of climate change, projects have been proposed to pump sulphates into the stratosphere, reduce sunlight or put huge amounts of carbon particles onto fields in order to sequester carbon from the atmosphere (‘biochar’). These are unmanageable projects of a very large scale, destroying lands, seas and the atmosphere.

There is currently no institution to oversee these technologies. Under pressure from social movements and civil society, in the past the CBD has reaffirmed the moratoria on sterile ‘Terminator’ seeds and on ocean fertilization, i.e., putting thousands of square kilometers of iron particles into the sea in order to incite microscopic algae to sequester carbon. Yet, there is constant pressure to lift these moratoria and very little willingness to implement others on geoengineering and synthetic biology.

Real Solutions: Allow Local Communities to Protect and Restore Biodiversity by Controlling their Lands and Territories. Stop the Private Appropriation of Life!

The market valorization of ecosystems and biodiversity is feverishly being carried out with the objective to trade, invest and create new speculation with life. La Vía Campesina rejects this approach. Biodiversity is based on living organisms reproducing freely. It should not become industrial property which controls its reproduction and use. Today, various forms of appropriation are being claimed on all organisms, as well as on their parts, such as genes, and traits. Moreover, the techniques and knowledge needed to reproduce them are being aggressively pushed as the intellectual property of industry. All of these property claims of industry are illegitimate. They prevent farmers and other local communities from maintaining biodiversity through their ecological practices and through their cultivation of nature as a common good. Private appropriation of land, water and seeds severely endangers the livelihoods of millions of families, as well as the food sovereignty and life of the planet.

Industry refuses to provide information about the origins of the biological resources that are used to make the products that it commercializes. This is done in order to avoid having to gain permission and clarify the terms of use of those resources from local communities and relevant stakeholders. This is an obligation that not only concerns intellectual property but any commercialization such as animal breeding lines. The use of biological resources should never take place without agreement of use and any possible compensation that may be demanded by local communities. Plant varieties, animal races, and many ecosystems cannot exist without the communities that created and conserved them. Access and use of biological resources should always be subjected to collective use rights as defined by these communities and not by private property claims. Moreover, industry and irresponsible governmental policies must be liable for damages that it has caused to biodiversity, climate and the environment in general.

The real solutions to the very serious environmental crisis that the planet is facing do not require private property and technologies that are destructive of living beings. We reject property claims on our common goods—whether in the form of patents, plant protection schemes or the prohibition of our diverse seeds with uniform or homogenous seeds of the industry. Since the 1960s, peasants have bred more than 1.9 million crop varieties, while Green Revolution plant breeders have only released 8.000 industrial crops, not as healthy food. With our own seed varieties, we provide healthy food for ca. 70% of the world’s population, while maintaining healthy soils and ecosystems. Real solutions to biodiversity loss and the environmental crisis must include the implementation of food sovereignty: ensuring local food production in an ecological manner that maintains both wild and agricultural ecosystems. In order to achieve this, governments must have the right to control food imports and communities must have the right to control food production locally. Food sovereignty puts their rights of farming and indigenous communities at the heart of the preservation of biodiversity rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

The aggressive push to control and privatize our natural resources must stop! We, men and women farmers of the world do not need Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer or other transnational corporations to provide us with seeds. For thousands of years, we have conserved, sown, adapted and exchanged our seeds and created a great deal of biodiversity. We have maintained wild biodiversity through local control of forest, marine or grassland ecosystems The fundamental contradiction between privatization and biodiversity preservation cannot be resolved by offering us a few ‘benefit sharing’ cents. We, the women and men peasant farmers of Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia categorically refuse this kind of compensation. We will not negotiate our autonomy, our resources, our health and that of the environment for a few compensatory promises, which, moreover, serve to legalize biopiracy. To preserve biodiversity, farming communities must regain control of land, natural resources and their territory. Agrarian reform is a direct means to maintain biodiversity. Ecosystems under the control of ecologically-farming communities become true protected areas.

Governments must resist pressure by corporate interests that want to continue making profits though biodiversity. The rhetoric of concern about the loss of biodiversity remains mere demagogy until there is a significant change in the model of industrialization of nature, the business of green capitalism. Far from biodiversity conservation, they are a serious threat to life. CBD governments must uphold farming communities’ right to land and water. And they must uphold Farmers’ Rights to save, re-sow and exchange their peasant seeds, as written in the UN Seed Treaty. Strengthening farming communities and the food they produce is the strategy to combat the climate, food and energy crisis that was recommended by the IAASTD, an international report made by over 400 scientists and which has been approved by 58 countries. The CBD should explicitly support the community control of a wide variety of small-scale food producers across the world that sustains biodiversity, cultivates the organic material in soils and uses farm-saved seeds that do not require fossil-fuel inputs.

The destruction of biodiversity has been the result of destroying the many farming communities that maintained agricultural and wild biodiversity through their ecological farming practices, including forests, plains and wetlands. The preservation of biodiversity must ensure numerous farming communities can continue to farm. Not the interests of corporations but young generations of ecological farmers will secure biodiversity. This means that young farmers must be able to live and farm, including having access to land, water and seeds, knowledges and full local control over territories and ecosystems.

In Nagoya, La Vía Campesina Demands:

  • Stop the appropriation of biodiversity by industry! The control of natural resources, land and water through sustainable farming and local communities on their territories is the best approach to conserving biodiversity, as it has been for thousands of years

  • Reject policies that give a market value to biodiversity, such as those encouraged by TEEBS and IPEBS. Policies that favor the market value of ecosystem services will destroy biodiversity. They must be allowed to become another lucrative business. Reject other market mechanisms such as REDD or REDD+

  • Reject policies that legitimize dangerous and irresponsible technological solutions. Maintain and reinforce a moratorium on Terminator technology. Enforce a moratorium on synthetic biology and geoengineering.

  • Reject patents or breeders’ claims on living organisms, their parts and derivatives thereof. Cancel existing property claims

  • Obligatory information on the origin of biological resources used in any commercialization in order to guarantee the consent of communities. Access to and use of biological resources, traditional or innovative knowledges and technologies only with informed consent of indigenous people and local communities

  • Reject industrial agrofuels; put in place a moratorium on new agrofuel plantations. There must be a substantial reduction of energy consumption.

  • Strengthen farmers’ sovereignty in controlling common local resources and territories and thus maintaining biodiversity through sustainable practices.

  • Strengthen food sovereignty that protects biodiversity, feeds and nourishes the majority of the world and is vital for responding to the challenges of biodiversity destruction and climate change