Seed heritage for sale
By: Najma Sadeque
government is about to facilitate the handing over of our
seed heritage to the foreign corporate world.
In many agricultural countries, millions of farmers and
peasants have been up in arms against their governments for
allowing or considering seed-thieving by foreign investors.
It was only natural to expect Pakistan to be among their
ranks, but it is not.
Most of our farmers and otherwise highly educated
urbanites donít even inform themselves of whatís going on.
The electronic media probably finds it too tedious for
Our planners and politicians only see natural resources
including seeds, as capital for businessmen and investors,
not as basic needs and livelihoods for citizens or their
indispensability to the economy.
In 1976, for the first time, the Pakistan government
introduced a Seed Act. The question is, why was the need
felt for one? The answer lies in the history and
manipulations by the western seed industry.
In the early 20th century, Nikolay Vavilov, a Russian
botanist who collected over 220,000 seeds samples from over
60 countries, discovered that the highest plant diversity
existed in the belt around the equator, and countries of the
He made the mistake of mapping out the information, thereby
inadvertently guiding corporate investors where to go
marauding in South and South-east Asia, and South America.
They have never let up since.
The so-called Green Revolution wheat seeds that were
introduced in Pakistan and India in the mid-60s were already
in place in the US for the previous two decades.
Persuading reluctant Pakistani big farmers and landlords
into using hybrids with all the expensive accompanying
inputs (chemical fertilizer, pesticides, tractors, and
hybrid seed itself) became easy when huge subsidies were
That was the only way as, previously, inputs cost them
Small farmers were not
included in the scheme. So, by the mid-seventies, Pakistanís
big landowners became habituated enough to forget
And the time became ripe to
introduce a Seed Bill, hitherto quite unnecessary, that
would give preferential treatment to the commercial seed
industry, local or foreign, discouraging farm-saved seed,
and depriving women seed-savers of their traditional work.
This was the Seed Bill 1976.
The ĎStatement of Objects and Reasonsí for the new Bill
issued by Minister for National Food Security and Research
says, ďIt has been observed that the Seed Act 1976 does not
fulfil the requirements of the modern seed industry.
True, because it does not help Monsanto, Syngenta, or Du-Pont-Pioneer
in its objectives to take over Pakistanís main agriculture
through GM seeds.
But it also does not fulfil
the requirements of our small farmers indigenous seeds
geared to the domestic market. On the contrary, it actively
deprives the small farmer through ordinance or legislation.
Hybrid seeds dominate all crops in Pakistan Ė grain,
vegetable, fruit. But the main focus of the current Seed
Amendment Bill is Bt (GM) cotton varieties; the rest will
Since most hybrids are
imported, corporates already monopolize our commercial seed
market so that hybrids are not worth patenting anymore. But
the target has since changed.
Already, by the governmentís
own admission, 80% of cotton fields are covered by Bt
cotton, irrespective of the quality, even though they were
never approved except in small trial plots.
A valuable inventory of the
plants of Pakistan exists which could have helped local
breeders. It was started by British and European botanists
in the early 19th century who travelled all over to collect
samples. The person behind the project after independence,
was Mr. Stewart who worked at Gordon College.
He collected as many as
50,000 specimens, and when he retired in 1960, he turned it
all over to Prof. E. Nasir who collaborated with him. Later,
this ďStewart HerbariumĒ was presented as a gift to the
An arrangement was made with
the Karachi University but seems to have operated in fits
and starts, being subject to the availability of funds. Why
hasnít this information been shared more widely, so to have
brought more funding. What is the use of such a database
unless it is put to use by farmers and environmentalists?
Even as the Seed Bill 1976
remains unsatisfactory, it at least laid down all the
definitions of the terminology used and the concerned
authorities and institutions, whether the infrastructure
existed or not. That has been entirely dispensed with in the
amended proposed Bill.
No agricultural university or government agricultural
extension workers service ever bothered with failsafe
indigenous agricultural or local needs.
They are not even mentioned Ė
it is as if they donít exist. The disappearance of local
varieties as a result of being displaced by hybrids is not
even being addressed.
Indigenous farmers already knew that every single plant Ė
grain, fruit, vegetable, non-food crops, and even those not
used by humans Ė came in dizzying variety, in the hundreds
or thousands for each kind. There was always something that
was best for local conditions. These dominated most
They needed little or nothing
that foreigners offered in trade which mostly catered to the
elite, and therefore didnít need foreign investment. So,
violent conquest was the only way for the colonials.
After the hapless South countries regained their
independence, former colonizers had to find another way to
continue obtaining resources and goods for which they
previously paid a pittance.
That was arranged through the
creation of World Bank/ IMF which led rulers to believe they
were technologically backward and the only way to
advancement was borrowing to buy the requisite knowhow,
including in agriculture.
The entire South got into
needless debt: their leaders were either naÔve and dazzled
by western materialism, or were purchasable.
The Seed Amendment Bill is an arbitrary one, made without
involving all stakeholders, serving only vested interests.
If PTI and PAT are about
ending corruption, and working for the public interest, itís
time for them to brush up on their agricultural knowledge.
The safeguards claimed by the
Bill donít even exist, because the infrastructure and
personnel donít exist. Itís just a paper claim to authorize
As studies around the world
by the international non-profit GRAIN show, ďAs long as
farmers continue to save and breed their own seeds, it is
difficult for seed companies to sell their seeds.
So where technological
controls donít work, laws are tool of choice for
corporations to either prevent farmers from saving seeds or
to force them to pay for farm-saved seeds, thereby coercing
them to buy corporate seeds.Ē