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Background

Seed sovereignty is the only possible basis for food sovereignty:
"Who controls the seed gains a substantial measure of control over the shape of the entire food system." (Jack Kloppenburg)

What for thousands of years was quite naturally the field of gardeners and farmers is today concentrated in the hands of a few corporations: the breeding and propagation of seeds. Seed markets in the industrialised nations are already nearly completely commercial and becoming increasingly concentrated.

In many regions of the global South, though, informal systems of seed supply and production – mostly involving farmers producing their own seeds and local seed exchanges – in many cases remain the backbone of seed provision to small-scale farmers. Today, however, such agrarian practices, which form the basis for plant diversity and food sovereignty, are increasingly under threat.

Limited access to both resources and locally adapted knowledge means small-scale farmers are frequently among those suffering from hunger in our world. Restrictive seed legislation makes using diverse seeds more difficult or even delegitimises their use completely. Through aggressive strategies to tap new markets, the big agro-business companies increasingly replace local seeds with hybrid or genetically engineered variants. International (trade) policy guidelines promote a resource-intensive and large-scale type of agriculture, favouring it over locally adapted agro-ecological systems.

Globally, seed regulations (such as UPOV 1991), as a part of international and bilateral trade agreements and within the framework of so-called development initiatives (for example the G8 New Alliance for Nutrition and Food Security initiative), accelerate this process without taking into account the rights of small farmers to their seeds and effectively eliminate seed diversity.

Nonetheless, even in this situation there are also some positive developments on which to build. In India, for example, after the experiences made in the 1970s and faced with the threat of a total privatisation of the seed sector, many hundreds of millions of small and medium-scale farmers, with the support of experts and civil society organisations, imposed a seed legislation, which was in their own and against the private sector’s interests. This set an example, because the process recognised the important role played by farmers as breeders and granted them corresponding rights.

In the European debate on a new seed regulation, too, it became clear that there is a growing movement for heirloom varieties and seed diversity. This led to the establishment of alliances between farmers, ecologic breeders, environmental associations and other activists. Eventually this led the EU parliament to axe the EU commission’s controversial 2014 proposal concerning an EU-wide regulation on the production and making available on the market of plant reproductive material (seeds), and which was then officially withdrawn in March 2015.

Africa responded to the G8’s highly criticised 2012 programme New Alliance for Nutrition and Food Security, which aimed to promote public-private partnerships in Africa, by founding the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). This pan-African platform consists of various networks and small-farming organisations and aims to lend small-scale agriculture a louder voice and maintain and improve rural forms of living and agricultural production and strengthen resistance against industrialisation.