The battle for seeds in Colombia


20 November 2014

The battle against the corporate control of seeds is a struggle for many around the globe. Our friend Naira talks about the situtation in Colombia.

Colombia, like many Latin-American countries, has great agriculture variety due to its geography and climate; traditionally it was a food exporter for many countries. Nowadays, the agricultural landscape is changing in part because of genetically modified seeds of corn and cotton. Since 2002, Colombia’s government has passed many laws which allow GM corn and cotton from Monsanto and Dupont to be grown for human consumption and fed to animals. At first, there was a small debate about the effects of GMOs on health but it was easily stopped by the media. No question was raised on the possible environmental, cultural and social costs. Farmers were sold the idea that GM cotton and corn would raise their yields and decrease their costs. As many examples around the world show, this was not the case. Cotton farmers went totally bankrupt after a few years because of the high cost of the modified seed and the increased need for pesticides and herbicides. Corn farmers have seen an increase in yields but the social and cultural consequences are far more worrying.

Colombia has 23 different kinds of corn which are a basis of the cultural identity of many peasant and indigenous communities. The concerns surrounding GM corn in Colombia are not on health or economic impacts (although they are extremely important) but more on cultural and social consequences. GM seeds completely change the way agriculture is done; it shifts from local agriculture based on crop rotation, variety of products and traditional practices to massive monocultures based on productivity, efficiency and ‘progress’. This causes a loss of tradition, rituals surrounding food variety and corn, local exchange of seeds, among others, while at the same time imposing an agricultural method based solely on economic values that disregard local traditions and realities. Moreover, the Colombian government did not take into account peasants’ and indigenous’ opinions on the introduction of modified seed on their territory and according to local NGOs, the environmental studies to approve these seeds were insufficient. This is why food sovereignty is important, it is not just about food availability, it advocates for farmers and peasants to choose what to grow and in what conditions. Food sovereignty gives people control and real access to their means of subsistence; it empowers local peasants and gives them the tools to make informed decisions. 

In Colombia, an organisation called Semillas (which means seeds in spanish) has lead the task of spreading the ideas of food sovereignty while evidencing the effects of GM seeds and legally fighting the government to try to change the laws behind the use of GM seeds. This organization has used many methods from social media exposure, academic publications, and lawsuits against the government to local workshops and activities directly with the peasants. Semillas has managed to create an extensive network with various actors including other NGOs both national and international, local peasant and farmer associations and academic centres. This network wants to extend the concepts of food sovereignty throughout Latin America and slowly change the massive agricultural practices that have been imposed by transnational corporations like Monsanto. It is difficult to change the public opinion, oppose the government and create awareness of an issue like food sovereignty but NGOs like Semillas have started the long road to change. 

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