On 3 November 2021, ECVC organised a webinar on the occasion of the release of its new publication, Incorporating Peasants’ Rights to Seeds in European law. This publication aims to gather and develop the demands of the ECVC Seed Working Group for the European implementation of peasants’ rights to seeds. These collective rights of peasants to seeds are legally recognised in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture and Food (ITPGRFA), and are also enshrined since December 2018 in Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other Rural People (UNDROP). This declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly following years of struggle by La Via Campesina members for the recognition of their rights.

 

Almost three years after the adoption of UNDROP, the aim of this webinar was to present and discuss the proposals of the ECVC Seed Working Group for a coherent European regulatory framework implementing peasants’ rights to seeds, while at the same time discussing the two processes currently being undertaken by the European Commission, concerning, on one hand, the revision of the European legislation on seeds marketing, and on the other hand, the impact assessment concerning the status of “new genomic techniques”, i.e. new genetic modification techniques.

 

In her introductory remarks, Alessandra Turco, member of the ECVC Coordinating Committee, recalled that the collective rights of peasants regarding access to and management of seeds, especially in the context of the economic, health and climate crises we are currently facing, are essential. In such a context, the adaptability of seeds and farmers’ systems are essential for the stability of food production. ECVC calls for a European legal framework that respects the rights and realities of peasants, including the issue of maintaining the regulation of GMOs, on which ECVC has published a contribution to the Commission’s impact assessment, which can be consulted here.

 

Presentation of the new ECVC publication – Guy Kastler, member of the ECVC Seed Group and of the Confédération paysanne: Guy Kastler presented ECVC proposals for the implementation of peasants’ rights to seeds in the framework of the current reform of the European seed marketing legislation. This proposal is based on a legal distinction between the commercial seed system and peasants’ seed systems. The industrial system is based on a selection of elite plants sold in identical formats and cultivated over very large areas. They do not adapt to local territories, and impose uniformity of production sites through chemical inputs. The peasant seed system produces seeds in the fields and agricultural sites for which they will be used. These peasants’ seeds enhance the local resources of each area. In order to strengthen the diversity of their seed stock, peasants’ exchange seeds locally and sometimes over longer distances to introduce new characteristics. Peasants’ seed systems are to be distinguished from seeds savers for whom seed production is a commercial activity. Guy Kastler then emphasised that at a global level, the issue of the productivity of peasant systems should not be called into question, as they produce 70% of food by cultivating only a quarter of the land. In Europe, where the current regulatory framework criminalises peasant seed systems, they no longer ensure European food sovereignty. In conclusion, ECVC’s demand is that seed farmers should have rules adapted to the specificity of their seed production, which should be considered as an agricultural activity, and not as a commercial activity. Guy Kastler also recalled the importance of the prohibition of any patent on seeds as well as the maintenance and strict application of the current regulations on GMOs.

 

Presentation: Peasant seed systems in Spain – Victorio Dominguez, member of the ECVC Seed Group and SOC-SAT: Victorio Dominguez highlighted the historical role of peasant seeds in the course of humanity, insisting on the fact that international laws, developed for the industry, are currently paralysing peasant systems. He then criticized the role of seed patenting and its implications for the inability of farmers to commercialize their seeds and the resulting loss of agricultural biodiversity.

 

Presentation: Peasant seed systems in Romania – Ramona Dominiciou, member of the ECVC and Ecoruralis seed group: Ramona Dominiciou presented the work of Ecoruralis in Romania: work on heterogeneous material and seeds for more than ten years; national organization of free seeds; development of seed houses to store them and organize training; international advocacy work on the right to seeds. She has seen the benefits of their work on the participation of women in Ecoruralis’ activities, as they account for 30% of the beneficiaries and play an essential role in seed management and knowledge conservation. Ramona Dominiciou emphasized that peasant seed systems are very important for maintaining culinary culture and maintaining a nutritious diet. They maintain traditional agro-ecological knowledge. The national legislation in Romania unfortunately excludes peasant systems.

 

Conclusion – Antonio Onorati, member of the ECVC and ARI Seeds Group: Antonio Onorati insisted on the right of peasants to express themselves and to fight, as they are innovators, producing plants that can resist climate change. The survival of the peasant economy and peasant culture is currently at stake in the face of regulatory frameworks that favor industrial seeds. The choice of peasant autonomy based on the collective right to seeds being also an economic stake, he insists on the demand for the full respect of article 9 of the ITPGRFA. He concluded by inviting everyone to confront their respective States, to fight at the political level, because this fight is essential. Finally, he invited the participants to follow the work of ECVC, to criticize us as well, and to participate and support our advocacy.