The Dominance of the Private Seed Sector and the Legislative Destruction of Farmers' Rights

The Dominance of the Private Seed Sector and the Legislative Destruction of Farmers' Rights

Jasdeep Bal is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and was an intern this past summer with the People’s Patent Group (PPG) in New Delhi, India.

Currently, India’s domestic seed market is being overshadowed by the growing stature of Multinational corporations (MNCs), mainly due to their access to international germaplasm. Despite the dominant presence of MNCs, there is still huge potential for the expansion of the hybrid seed market in India. MNCs tend to focus on the expansion of the market itself rather than advertising a particular brand of seed. They attempt to convince farmers to invest in the hybrid seed market by commissioning numerous field workers in which open-pollinated varieties predominate. These field workers organize demonstrations and field-days, which are invitations to farmers to a local farmer’s field exhibiting extraordinarily high yields of crop. Cargill, for example, employs this advocacy strategy. Other companies, such as ITC Zeneca, screen a touring short film that dramatizes competitions between villages for the best crop.

The private sector market consists of three main types of companies: those that develop, produce, and market their own hybrid varieties; companies that produce and market public sector varieties; and companies that concentrate strictly on marketing hybrid seeds. The former category is where the most growth in the private sector is occurring, and there are several legislative changes that have facilitated this, mainly the New Seed Policy (1988), which liberalized seed imports and encouraged foreign investment in the seed market, and legislation that loosened limitations on foreign equity participation, allowing foreign companies to hold controlling stakes in industrial enterprises.

Two laws were proposed in 2004, which has been seen as a threat to biodiversity and farmers rights. Traditionally seeds were saved by farmers, year after year, allowing the farmer to adapt his crop to the changing conditions. These indigenous varieties were traded between farmers, and allowed for a healthy biodiversity. Currently eighty percent of all seeds in India are still saved by farmers. There are thousands of evolved varieties of pulses, millets, oilseeds, rice, wheat, and vegetables. The Seed Act requires that any planted variety of seed be licenced. This pushes farmers into dependency on corporate monopolies of patented seed, which was made possible by the Patent Amendment Acts which introduced seed patents.

The Indian Patent Act (1970) excluded agricultural techniques and plants from patentability. Two recent amendments, however, has allowed for the patenting of GM seeds. One removed ‘plants’ from a section of the Act, allowing a method or process modification of a plant to count as an invention and thus be subject to patentability. The other amendment prevents the patentability of “essentially biological” plant varieties. GM plants, however, are not technically considered “essentially biological”, which allows for Multinational corporations to assert their patents through this ‘loophole’.

In effect, India has been adopting a MNC-friendly and patent-liberal posture that is not only compelling farmers to engage in the private seed sector thereby rapidly destroying the public sector, it is damaging the farmer’s right to openly develop and maintain varieties in a way that his family has done just a generation ago.

Primary Source: Seeds of Suicide, The Ecological and Human Costs of Seed Monopolies and Globalisation of Agriculture, by Dr. Vandana Shiva and Kunwar Jalees, 2006.