KARACHI: Organisations representing farmers have strongly opposed the Pakistan Amended Seed Act, 2014 that, they said, is a violation of farmers’ fundamental rights and has been passed by the National Assembly at the behest of American multinational seed manufacturing companies.

The act was passed by the National Assembly a day earlier.

“Under this law, farmers would be fined and imprisoned for preserving, selling and exchanging seeds, a tradition that has been in vogue for centuries. It’s a grave injustice to millions of small and landless farmers whose food insecurity would be aggravated by this law,” said Raja Majeed, national coordinator of Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek, an alliance of small and landless farmers.

The law, he said, made it mandatory for farmers to buy seeds from a licensed company or its agent and that they had to do so every time they cultivated a new crop. This, he said, would create a monopoly of companies and make farmers dependent on them.

According to him, the experience of growing genetically modified (GM) crops, for instance Bt cotton, has been disastrous in the country and the government’s intention to promote them through this law is unfortunate.

“It’s a failure because it a water demanding crop meant for colder areas and is ready for harvest near November. That means we can’t grow wheat on time. Many European countries have banned GM crops because of their severe adverse impact on the environment and we should have done the same,” he said.

Reiterating the farmers’ stance on the matter, he said they stood firm and would take legal action against this new act.

The Joint Director of Roots for Equity, Wali Haider, said how the National Assembly could pass such a law when the subject of agriculture had been passed to provinces.

“The draft of this law was first presented in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and later in the Punjab Assembly. In both provinces, the governments had to face strong resistance from farmers and it was decided that the matter would be forwarded to the National Assembly,” he said.

Citing newspaper reports, he added that farmers’ resistance forced all provincial assemblies to pass a special resolution authorising the federal government to amend the seed act and retain it as a federal subject.

“In 1995, the extremely anti-people, anti-farmer World Trade Organisation (WTO) was formed much against the will of the people, globally. A major reason for people protesting against the formation of the WTO was the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) which demanded patent rights on seeds as well as all other new technologies.

“Today, just over 20 years later, Pakistan has amended its seed laws to comply with the monopolistic demands of mega agro-chemical corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer and others,” he explained.

The cost of the seed, he said, would be borne by small and landless farmers who were already burdened by huge agricultural production costs such as of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and other market-driven agricultural inputs.

“Billions of farmers across the globe are suffering from aggressive neo-colonial legislation imposed by the WTO and corporate agriculture monopolistic giants. Policies range from allowing corporate land grab in Pakistan to aggressive imports of agriculture related technologies ranging from genetic engineering, animal husbandry and the so-called green economy,” he said.

Mr Wali believed that the legislation had been enacted to appease the US whose agriculture department had been complaining about the lack of intellectual property rights for its genetically modified seeds in the country and had urged the government to amend its seed and other intellectual property rights laws.

“No doubt today, with the passing of the seed amendment act, the country has lost an important pillar of its sovereignty. The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act is also pending in the National Assembly and it appears that it would also be passed by the house,” he regretted.

Expressing similar reservations, Nasir Aziz, a policy officer on sustainable livelihood with ActionAid Pakistan said that it was strange that the government had given a free hand to companies under the law while farmers had been threatened with fines and imprisonment if they were found to have seeds.

“Farmers’ right to conserve, sale and exchange seeds has been taken away under this law. It is silent on guarantees on seed germination and has no mechanism for taking legal action against a company if its seeds fail to produce desired results,” he said, raising questions over the law’s implementation in provinces.

Upon contact, Mehmood Nawaz of the Sindh Abadgar Board expressed ignorance over the recent enactment of the law and said the government couldn’t deprive farmers of their fundamental rights.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2015

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