control of life
A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.
The Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company announced on Jan. 7 that its revenues for September through November 2014, the first quarter of the company's current fiscal year, fell to $2.87 billion from $3.14 billion for the same period the year before. The decline was less than analysts had expected. According to Bloomberg News, this was because the losses, including a 12% drop in corn seed sales, were partly offset by sales of Monsanto's new Intacta soybeans, which the company says are genetically modified to withstand pests in South America. But the losses themselves were "in part, due to the reduction in sowing areas in South America," the Spanish agricultural news site agroinformación.com reported. Agroinformación.com also cited resistance to the construction of a seed processing plant in Malvinas Argentinas in Argentina's central Córdoba province. (Bloomberg, Jan. 7; agroinformación.com, Jan. 8)
The UN Climate Change Conference, officially the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed its 14-day meeting in Lima, Peru, late Dec. 14, two days after its scheduled end. The 196 parties to the UNFCCC approved a draft of a new treaty, to be formally approved next year in Paris, and to take effect by 2020. An earlier draft was rejected by developing nations, who accused rich bations of dodging their responsibilities to fight climate change and pay for its impacts. Peru's environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the summit, told reporters: "As a text it's not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties." Friends of the Earth's Asad Rehman took a darker view: "The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year. Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialized world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change." (BBC News, ENS, Dec. 14)
Guatemala's unicameral Congress voted 117-111 on Sept. 4 to repeal Decree 19-2014, the Law for Protection of Procurement of Plants, in response to a lawsuit and mass protests by campesinos and environmentalists. The law, which was to take full effect on Sept. 26, provided for granting patents of 25 years for new plants, including hybrid and genetically modified (GM) varieties; unauthorized use of the plants or seeds could result in one to four years in prison and a fine of $130 to $1,300. The law had already been weakened by the Court of Constitutionality; acting on an Aug. 25 legal challenge from the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MSICG), the court suspended the law's Articles 46 and 55. The law was originally passed to comply with an intellectual property requirement in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), and it was unclear whether Guatemala might now be excluded from the US-promoted trade bloc.
A district court judge in the eastern Mexican state of Yucatán ruled in July against a license that the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) had granted the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company in 2012 for sowing 253,500 hectares with genetically modified (GM) soy in Yucatán and six other states. A group of campesinos from the Maya indigenous group filed a suit charging that the license endangered the traditional production of organic honey in a region including the Yucatán communities of Ticul, Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tzucacab, Tekax, Peto and Tizimin. The judge's ruling was "a great achievement because there is recognition of our legitimate right to make decisions about our territory and our livelihood," Maya farmer Lorenzo Itzá Ek said. "[B]eekeeping is the main traditional economic activity we carry out, and we don't want our honey contaminated with transgenics or with toxic products like agrochemicals that kill our bees."
Four US-based organizations with programs centered on El Salvador were set to deliver a petition to the US State Department on June 6 with the signatures of some 1,000 US citizens opposing what the groups called the "intrusion of the [US] embassy in the sovereign politics of this country." At issue was an indication by US ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte that the US may withhold $277 million slated for the second phase of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid program if the Salvadoran Agriculture Ministry continues its current practice of buying seeds from small-scale Salvadoran producers for its Family Agriculture Plan. The US organizations—the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), US–El Salvador Sister Cities, the SHARE Foundation, and Joining Hands El Salvador Network (RUMES)—charged that the US threat was made "with clear intentions to advance the interests of transnational agricultural companies."
Latin American activists joined thousands of environmentalists and farmers around the world in an international protest May 24 against genetically modified (GM) crops and Monsanto, the Missouri-based multinational that dominates the transgenic seed industry. This was the third March Against Monsanto since May 25 last year, and organizers expected the day of action to include protests in some 351 cities in 52 countries.
Chilean farmer José Pizarro Montoya received 37 million pesos (about US$66,582) in December from Agrícola Nacional S.A.C. (ANASAC), a Chilean distributor of agricultural products, to settle a suit he brought over the use of genetically modified (GM) corn seed from the Missouri-based Monsanto Company. Pizarro charged that ANASAC violated its contract with him by giving instructions for planting the Monsanto corn that resulted in business losses and eventually ruined him. The Santiago Chamber of Commerce found in Pizarro's favor, and the Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed the decision in September. Pizarro is thought to be the first farmer in Chile—possibly the first in Latin America--to win a suit over the use of Monsanto's GM seeds.