LA VIA CAMPESINA - BALI SEED DECLARATION
Farmers throughout the world are the victims of a war for control
over seeds. Our agricultural systems are threatened by industries that
seek to control our seeds by all available means. The outcome of this
war will determine the future of humanity, as all of us depend on seeds
for our daily food.
One actor in this war is the seed industry that uses genetic
engineering, hybrid technologies and agrochemicals. Its aim is the
ownership of seeds as a source of increased profits. They do this by
forcing farmers to consume its seeds and become dependent on them. The
other actor is peasants and family farmers who preserve and reproduce
seeds within living, local, peasant and indigenous seed systems, seeds
that are the heritage of our peoples, cared for and reproduced by men
and women peasants. They are a treasure that we farmers generously place
at the service of humanity.
Industry has invented many ways of stealing our seeds in order to
manipulate them, mark them with property titles, and thereby force us,
the farming peoples of the world, to buy new seeds from them every year,
instead of saving and selecting them from our harvest to plant the
following year. The industry’s methods include genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) and hybrid seeds, which cannot be reproduced by
farmers, as well as industrial property over seeds, including patents
and plant variety certificates, all of which are imposed through
international treaties and national laws. These are but different forms
of theft, as all industrial seeds are the product of thousands of years
of selection and breeding by our peoples. It is thanks to us, peasants
and farmers, that humanity has at hand the great diversity of crops
that, together with animal breeding, feeds the world today.
In their drive to build monopolies and steal our natural wealth,
corporations and the governments who serve them place at risk all of
humanity’s food and agriculture. A handful of genetically uniform
varieties replace thousands of local varieties, eroding the genetic
diversity that sustains our food system. Faced with climate change,
diversity is a strength, and uniformity a weakness. Commercial seeds
drastically reduce the capacity of humanity to face and adapt to climate
change. This is why we maintain that peasant agriculture and its
peasant seeds contribute to the cooling of the planet.
Our communities know that hybrid and genetically modified seeds
require enormous quantities of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and
water, driving up production costs and damaging the environment. Such
seeds are also more susceptible to droughts, plant diseases and pest
attacks, and have already caused hundreds of thousands of cases of crop
failures and have left devastated household economies in their wake. The
industry has bred seeds that cannot be cultivated without harmful
chemicals. They have also been bred to be harvested using large
machinery and are kept alive artificially to withstand transport. But
the industry has ignored a very important aspect of this breeding: our
health. The result is industrial seeds that grow fast have lost
nutritional value and are full of chemicals. They cause numerous
allergies and chronic illnesses, and contaminate the soil, water and air
that we breathe.
In contrast, peasant systems for rediscovering, re-valuing,
conserving and exchanging seeds, together with local adaptation due to
the local selection and reproduction in farmers’ fields, maintain and
increase the genetic biodiversity that underlies our world food systems
and gives us the required capacity and flexibility to address diverse
environments, a changing climate and hunger in the world.
Our peasant seeds are better adapted to local growing conditions.
They also produce more nutritious food, and are highly productive in
agroecological farming systems without pesticides or other expensive
inputs. But GMOs and hybrids contaminate our seeds and put them in
danger of extinction. They replace our seeds in their places of origin
and lead to their disappearance. Humanity cannot survive without peasant
seeds, yet corporate seeds put their very existence at risk.
Let us not be mistaken. We are faced with a war for control over
seeds. And our common future depends on its outcome. It is through this
lens that we must analyze the International Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), in order to understand
what is at stake and what positions we should take.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
First we must situate the Treaty in its historical context of
constant attempts to steal our seeds. The industry and most governments
are using the Treaty to legitimate the industry’s access to those
peasant seeds that are stored in collections around the world. The
Treaty recognizes and legitimizes industrial property over seeds, thus
creating the required conditions for theft and monopoly control. In the
Treaty, the florid language used to describe Farmers’ Rights entrusts
individual states with the responsibility for their implementation.
However, states do not apply them. Therefore the mentioning of these
rights is only an attempt to inoculate the Treaty against our possible
protests and denunciations.
The result is a treaty that legitimates the World Trade Organization
(WTO) and laws on industrial property rights. It is therefore legally
binding with respect to industrial property rights and the rights of
plant breeders, while allowing states not to respect Farmers’ Rights. It
is a contradictory and ambiguous treaty, which in the final analysis
comes down on the side of theft.
- This does not mean that all is lost. The Treaty can be amended from
the peasant point of view, but the changes would have to be major and
immediate. La Via Campesina affirms that:We cannot conserve biodiversity and feed the world while our rights
to save, use, exchange and sell our seeds are criminalized by laws that
legalize the privatization and commodification of seeds. The Seed Treaty
is the only treaty to date to contemplate farmers’ rights. However
states do not respect these rights, in opposition to their respect of
industrial property rights. Therefore, the Treaty must give
peasant rights the highest priority, and these rights must be legally
binding. They must be guaranteed in every one of the 127 countries that
have ratified the Treaty.
- The Treaty itself contradicts farmers’ rights when it promotes patents and other forms of industrial property over seeds. All
forms of patents; plant variety protection and its royalties on
farm-reproduced seeds; as well as all other forms of industrial property
over life must be banned in the Treaty.
- Industry incurred an immense debt by appropriating
our seeds and by destroying cultivated biodiversity in order to replace
it with a few manipulated varieties. Industry must repay this
past debt, but doing so by no means gives it the right to continue
appropriating our seeds. Industry must pay and it must also stop with
the appropriation of seeds and the destruction of biodiversity.
- The Treaty proposes the “sharing of the benefits”
of the industrial property rights that it recognizes. These “benefits”
result from the very theft of our peasant seeds. We do not want
to be offered the proceeds from the theft of our seeds; we do not want
benefit sharing because we do not want industrial property rights on
- We demand public policies in favor of living, farmers’ seed
systems, systems that are in our communities and under our control.
These public policies should promote reproducible local seeds, but not
non-reproducible seeds, like hybrids. They should prohibit monopolies,
and favour instead agroecology, access to land and good care of the
soil. These policies should also facilitate participative research in
farmers’ fields and under the control of farmers’ organizations, not the
control of the industry. We call on our communities to continue to
conserve, care for, develop and share our peasant seeds: this is the
best form of resistance against theft and the best way to maintain
- Centralized gene banks do not respond to the needs
of farmers. They are seed museums for the benefit of biopirate
corporations, and offer no real access to peasant peoples. Moreover, our
seeds are in danger inside these banks, threatened by genetic
contamination and industrial property rights. We cannot trust
governments or the Treaty to conserve them. We refuse to turn
our seeds over to the gene banks of the multilateral systems and of the
industry as long as the following remain in existence: patents on
plants, their genes or other plant parts; other industrial property
rights systems such as plant variety protection which demand royalties
on farm-saved seeds; GMOs.
- The commodification of seeds is seriously
threatening our peasant seeds in Asia, Latin America and Africa. But in
some of our countries, especially in Europe and North America, the
commercial monopoly of industrial seeds has already done away with the
majority of local varieties. In these countries, we can no longer carry
out farmer selection using the varieties that are commercially
available, because they are manipulated in such a way that they will not
grow well without chemical inputs or industrial processes. They have
lost much of their nutritional value and are increasingly modified
genetically. We cannot select our new peasant varieties based on the
seeds of our parents which are locked up in gene banks. We must have unconditional access to the banks of the multilateral system because it is our seeds that are kept there.
- We farmers can keep our seeds first and foremost in
our fields, but also in our granaries, seed barns and local community
seed saving systems which also constitute small “ex situ collections”.
We put these “ex situ collections” as close as possible to our fields so
that farmers maintain control over them, responsibility for them and
access to them. To paraphrase the Treaty, we farmers construct our own
“multilateral system”. This is the basis upon which we can collaborate
with the Treaty by reminding it that it is not the only entity carrying
out seed conservation. If the Treaty wants to collaborate with
us, it must respect our rules and our rights, and forbid Industrial
Property Rights and GMOs.
- Since the process of the Treaty is carried out
within the United Nations, it is national states that have the
responsibility to protect peasant seed systems. Yet, the World Trade
Organization (WTO) renders the rights of plant breeders legally binding,
while the rights of farmers are not respected. We demand that farmers’
rights be mandatory and that the rights of breeders be subordinated to
these farmers’ rights. This necessarily entails the repeal of
seed laws that privatize and commodify seeds and deny peasant rights. We
demand the adoption of national laws that recognize Farmers’ Rights. La
Via Campesina calls for the rapid approval and ratification of an
international convention on peasant rights in the United Nations.
Agriculture and seeds have no place in the WTO and Free Trade
- This Treaty is but part of a series of challenges that peasant and
indigenous peoples are facing today. The Rio + 20 process is a clear
confrontation between ‘greenwashed’ capitalism, and peasant agriculture,
agroecology and our peasant seeds. La Via Campesina will act to
defend agroecology and farmers’ seeds which represent hope and are the
future of humanity. As we have shown, sustainable peasant agriculture
can both contribute to the cooling of the planet and feed the world.
- If governments commit to reforming the Treaty by
effectively and actively defending Farmers’ Rights, we are willing to
collaborate with the Treaty, including in a parallel committee, modeled
on the Committee for Food Security that accompanies the FAO process in
Rome. But we do not want to open the door to a collaboration with the
Treaty that will thrust us into interminable discussions while GMOs,
hybrids and industrial property rights expel us from our fields. Whether
or not the Treaty recognizes those of us who are the stewards of
biodiversity, we will continue to work within our own peasant seed
systems, which have assured genetic diversity and fed the world in the
past, and will continue to do so in the future. We are keeping seeds not
only for ourselves, but also for our children. Peasant seeds are the
heritage of peasant communities and indigenous peoples in the service of
For further information on the subject of biodiversity and the danger of bio-chemical corporations killing sustainable farming - the only way of feeding the billions of hungry people in the world - see the Organic Movement, Navdanya, and its founder Dr. Vandana Shiva, India.
Quote: "Navdanya has pioneered the conservation of biodiversity in India and
built a movement for the protection of small farmers through promotion
of ecological farming and fair trade to ensure the healthy, diverse and
safe food. The movement is now spread throughout India through our
partner organizations and farmers networks."
La Via Campesina