Protecting Seed Sovereignty - PepsiCo Case

May 09, 2019
5 months

What is the issue?

  • PepsiCo India Holdings (PIH) had sued 11 farmers for “illegally growing and selling” a potato variety registered in its' name, and later withdrew the case. Click here to know more
  • This is a wake-up call to the policymakers on securing sustainable rural societies, protecting soil health and promoting seed sovereignty.

What is the central problem?

  • So many small farmers are, like the ones targeted by PepsiCo, reliant, directly or indirectly, on proprietary seeds.
  • Typically these seeds are grown in high input (fertilizer-pesticide-irrigation) environments that, over time, erode local biodiversity.
  • There is large expense in buying these seeds and inputs.
  • On the other hand, there is loss of the skills and social relationships which rely on saving and exchange of seeds of indigenous varieties.
  • In effect, small-scale farming continues to decline and face the persistent problems of lower income, status and dignity.

What do the law provide for?

  • In India, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 deals with intellectual property rights in seeds.
  • The law permits farmers to save and resow (multiply) seeds.
  • Importantly, it also allows them to sell seeds to other farmers, irrespective of the seeds' original source.
  • This broad permission (called farmers’ privilege) is considered indispensable for 'seed sovereignty'.
  • It also includes proprietary vegetative propagation materials such as what are used for the cultivation of potatoes.
  • Clearly, there is a shift away from seed replacement to the right to save seeds.

Why are proprietary seeds still dominating?

  • The farmers cannot be blamed for thinking that proprietary seeds are better.
  • Since the days of the Green Revolution, agricultural extension officers have taught farmers to buy these higher-yielding seeds.
  • So despite the legal protection offered to farmers' seeds, the emphasis remains on proprietary seeds.

What are the risks involved?

  • Proprietary seeds have narrow, uniform and non-variable genetic builds.
  • Farmers could be using genetically distinctive seeds adapted to local conditions and farming traditions.
  • But instead, they are adapting local conditions and traditions in order to use genetically standardised seeds, to ruinous effect.
  • Alongside, there exists a science-and-industry-know-best stance when it comes to seed quality.
  • Resultantly, efforts have been ongoing to pass a new seed law in India permitting the sale of certified seeds only.

What do regulatory efforts in Europe teach?

  • The EU Regulation on Organic Production and Labelling of Organic Products was adopted in 2018.
  • For the first time, it permits and encourages, among other things, the use and marketing of organic agriculture.
  • This refers to “plant reproductive material of organic heterogenous material.”
  • It allows this without most of the arduous registration and certification requirements under various EU laws.
  • Heterogenous materials, unlike current proprietary seeds, need not be uniform or stable.
  • The regulation acknowledges the benefits of using such diverse material, including-
  1. reducing the spread of diseases
  2. improving resilience
  3. increasing biodiversity
  • Accordingly, the regulation makes way for expansive use of indigenous varieties.
  • It would support the creation of markets and marketplaces facilitating trade of heterogenous seeds, including by small farmers.
  • There are also multimillion-Euro research and innovation projects being invited and funded by the EU, to make this diversity an integral part of farming in Europe.

What is the need now in India?

  • A biodiversity-rich nation like India must shift its agriculture from a high-yield ideal to a high-value one.
  • Here, ‘values’ include striving to minimise environmental harm while maximising nutritional gains and farmer welfare.
  • Heterogenous seeds - Agriculture that conserves and improves traditional/desi (heterogenous) seeds in situ should be promoted.
  • Small farmers must be educated and encouraged with proper incentive structures in this line.
  • Currently, in the garb of protecting this diversity against biopiracy, India is preventing its effective use.
  • Record - A permanent record-keeping system, perhaps blockchain, is needed.
  • It helps farmers keep track of where and how the seeds/propagation materials and the genetic resources are being transferred and traded.
  • Payments - Smart-contract facilitated micropayments could ensure that monetary returns come in from users and buyers of these seeds, from around the globe.
  • The monetary returns would effectively incentivise continuous cultivation and improvement of indigenous seeds.
  • It will also ensure sustainable growth of agriculture and of rural communities.
  • Traditional knowledge - India’s invaluable traditional ecological knowledge systems need to be revived.
  • It should be made a part of mainstream agricultural research, education and extension services.
  • E.g. the know-how contained in ancient Indian treatises like the Vrikshayurveda and the Krishi Parashar
  • These fall within the scope of what international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity refer to as ‘indigenous and traditional technologies’.
  • The revival of these technologies is central to promoting sustainable ‘high value’ agriculture.


Source: The Hindu

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