Thursday, March 7, 2019

Indian farmers to organise a national consultation on the mega regional free trade agreement 'RCEP'

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a free trade partnership, which will open India’s markets to some of the largest economies in Asia- like China, Japan and South Korea.

The RCEP is currently being negotiated between 16 countries- which includes ten ASEAN countries as well as other Asia Pacific countries include Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

RCEP has reached a major turning point as free trade is facing a legitimacy crisis across the world. After USA withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) (a similar initiative that included many Asian, but also American nations), RCEP remains as the main mega-regional agreement for Asian & Pacific nations.

The RCEP agreement will be the largest in the world in terms of population (3.4 billion or 49 per cent of world population), with a combined GDP of around $22 trillion and a trade share of 30 per cent.

India has been asked to remove import duties on 92% of all traded commodities. While India has been resisting and asking for 80%. A key controversial point is that once reduced to zero, the RCEP will not allow India to raise duties at a later date – a provision that even the WTO did not impose.

Major agricultural products like fruits, vegetables, pulses, potatoes, spices, plantation crops, seeds, silk, sugarcane, as well as processed foods will be impacted, as cheaper imports from massive economies like China, Australia will flood the market damaging the livelihoods of local producers.

The RCEP agreements are being negotiated behind closed doors; though several components of the texts under negotiation have been leaked online and have been analysed. The analysis indicates that the RCEP negotiations will impact agrarian economies in countries like India. It is therefore important for the farmers groups to understand RCEP and its likely impacts on the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers.

People in India, have already felt the brunt of liberalisation through earlier trade agreements, such as the multilateral WTO, India-ASEAN FTA and other FTAs. They have experienced the surge of imports of oil seeds and cash crops leading to loss of production and failure of market within the country. The mega regional FTA (RCEP) also raises concerns about pushing ‘WTO-plus’ issues on developing countries.

This is when there is evidence of how existing WTO commitments in intellectual property (TRIPS), agriculture (AoA) and investment measures (TRIMS) have adversely impacted policy space and livelihoods. Apart from the global level, RCEP also raises Constitutional challenges at the state level where many of these sectors under negotiation fall under state jurisdiction.

In this context several prominent peasant movements in India under the banner of Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM) are holding a ‘National level consultation on the Impact of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on Farmers and Farming in India’ on 13th March in New Delhi.

Representatives of of farmers organizations, representatives from government, ally researchers who have been closely following the negotiations will join the workshop.

Please find the invite here.

For the life and dignity of women, we fight together against the exploitation and oppression of the capitalist and patriarchal system!

For the life and dignity of women, we fight together against the exploitation and oppression of the capitalist and patriarchal system!

La Via Campesina Press Release

International Women’s Day

(Harare, March 8th, 2019)  The goals that gave rise to International Women’s Day continue to inspire us. They have become the rallying cry of the women and men in all parts of the world who are engaged in organised resistance to capitalism and patriatrchy.

This is the reason why, today, in a spirit of unity and solidarity, we, La Via Campesina women from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe fighting for our rights and for life, are taking part in all of the activities and demonstrations organised by rural and urban women workers.

This March 8th, we too are going on strike!

On this day of global action, we will be in the streets and public spaces, in peasant communities and rural areas, imbued with our strength and our capacity for resistance and organisation, re-affirming our message of struggle. In the current world context of an onslaught by capitalism in its most savage and overwhelming form, there have been increases in social inequality, in conflicts, and the incidence of xenophobia and homophobia, as well as in  the criminalisation of those of us who are struggling for human rights and for life. In a climate of war-mongering and a context of migratory crisis, millions of people, including millions of women, are subjected to extreme poverty and violence.      

For this reason, we La Via Campesina women are mobilising today, March 8th, 2019, as we have done in years past. We are organising; we are struggling; we are calling for an End to Neoliberalism and an End to the Patriarchy! We are putting forward our proposal for the construction of abetter world, celebrating our Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas, a political instrument that was adopted by the United Nations as a result of our concerted struggles. This declaration safeguards the right to a life with dignity for those of us who feed the world’s peoples, and who are the custodians of land, water, and forests.

For us, La Via Campesina women, food cannot be commodified in a globalised market that is driven solely by profit and that leaves millions of people hungry. For us, food production should be grounded in Food Sovereignty that is built on agroecology. In this context, we are the principal actors, promoting peasant agriculture on the basis of respect for the rights of peasant women and men. This would require a change in regional policies for rural areas, accompanied by a feminist perspective – a popular peasant feminism that guarantees the rights of women and ensures their participation in political decision-making.   

We believe that in order to end gender-based violence it is essential to empower women and to guarantee their rights and bring about their emancipation. This is why the women and men of La Via Campesina, in a single expression of struggle and liberation, are saying today: For the life and dignity of women, we fight together against exploitation and oppression!

We remain firm in our mission of planting the seeds of hope and liberation for rural and urban women all over the world. We are therefore expressing our sisterly solidarity with all of the women of the International Women’s Strike, the aim of which is to show that women’s work is a crucial element in the maintenance and reproduction of life and of the global economy. Only through social organisation and through training and political study, in cooperation with other feminist organisations of women and women workers, will we be able to advance towards a dignified life for women and men.

For  the life and dignity of women, we fight together against exploitation and oppression!

The Sri Lankan government must stop pursuing destructive land policies that would affects millions

Written by Sajeewa Chamikara - Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR)
There are a number of pillars that underpin the human centric approach to land rights and identification of land needs. Among them are the legal right to hold land that can be used for agriculture and habitation and the right to access the public resources (commons) that are situates around the area one lives and works in. Moreover Article 14. 1. h of the Sri Lankan Constitution states that a Sri Lankan citizen has the right to live in any part of the island (freedom of movement and of choosing one's residence within Sri Lanka.) The ownership of land is of great importance to Sri Lankans because this is directly linked to their social and economic conditions. However the land rights of Sri Lankans and their right to access public resources are being swiftly curtailed. The government is preparing national physical plans that lay ground work for 'development projects' that do not take into account the impact they will have on the people. They are also amending legislation and drafting new laws that would enable foreign companies to own large swaths of land and resources, which were once considered public. This will effectively make millions of Sri Lankans into 'refugees' in their own countries. This project of displacement of the local populations and opening doors to global capital at the expense of Sri Lankans is now a few decades old have already degraded the economic, social, health and education levels on many Sri Lankans. However the people of the country does not seem to have understood the gravity of the danger they face, even those who have already been displaced.
World Bank recommendations and amendments to the Land Act
In its 2015 report 'Sri Lanka Ending Poverty and promoting shared prosperity: A systematic country diagnostic,' the World Bank has laid out some strategies that the government must take to eradicate poverty in Sri Lanka. They are insisting that one of the main reasons preventing foreign investment to Sri Lanka is the complexity of our land laws and the restrictions imposed on foreigners to acquire land. The solution for this, according to the World Bank, is to open land to free market mechanisms. The first step in achieving this was the amendment the Land (Restriction on Alienation) Act, No: 38 Of 2014 to remove restrictions placed on foreigners, foreign companies and companies that are owned by foreign nationals to buy land in Sri Lanka. This was achieved by the land (restrictions on alienation) (amendment) act, no. 3 of 2017. Article 5A of this amended act states that Land Lease Tax will not to be applicable, with effect from January 8, 2017, to a lease of any land— to a foreigner; or to a company incorporated in Sri Lanka under the Companies Act, where any foreign shareholding in such company, either direct or indirect, is fifty per cent or above; or to a foreign company,
Moreover the Department of the Land Commissioner General's Department circular 2015/07, issued on December 30, 2015 titled Alienation of State Lands for Special Investment Protects attempts to fasten the process of handing over state land to 'special projects'. This says that 'the government adopts a policy of encouraging local and foreign direct investments in development projects and accordingly the government is in the receipt of continuous applications and requests for lands identified for such development projects. The government has paid its special attention on the comments made by the investors on the inefficiency and the long period of time spent for the process of alienating lands through the present procedures formulated in accordance with the existing laws. A set of new proceedings have been introduced to amend the existed procedures by my circular No.2012106 dated 18.1A.2012 with a view to ensuring efficient and expedite alienation of lands for development oriented special projects.' This circular has been sent to all Divisional Secretaries and Deputy/ Assistant Land Commissioners (Inter Provinces.) This is also a part of the World Bank recommendations.
Displacing farmers by amending the Paddy Lands Act
The 2018 budget was fully geared to implement the World Bank recommendations. The budget documents state that the government plans to amend the Paddy Lands Act, No. 1 of 1958 and the Agricultural Lands Act (No. 42 of 1973). This would allow the use of paddy lands for non-agricultural purposes. The people must be vigilant because such attempts would be aplenty on the 2019 budget as well. On November 14, 2017, The cabinet of Ministers agreed to amend the Land Development Ordinance 1935 (No. 19 of 1935) to easily release the land for development projects.
The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on June 03, 2016 approved a three year Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of approximately USD 1.5 billion for Sri Lanka to 'support the balance of payments (BOP) position and in support of the government’s economic reform agenda.' This fund was tied to conditions, i.e. 'strategic reforms' that the government should carry out to address six main concerns on the short and medium term. A detailed report on how to accomplish this was published on May 19, 2016 as the Staff report for the 2016 article iv consultation and request for a three year extended arrangement under the extended fund facility. These reforms fell under six pillars, fiscal consolidation; revenue mobilization; public financial management reform; state enterprise reform; transition to flexible inflation targeting under a flexible exchange rate regime; and reforms in the trade and investment regime. The Staff report also states that the existing land laws of the country was too complex and restrictive and recommends immediate action to amend these laws and to make it easier for companies to acquire land (remove barriers to foreign investment entry and establishment (including access to land). The current administration is implementing these recommendations steadily.
Vision 2025 – making life easy for corporates
The economic policy of the administration, Vision 2025 document and the 2018 budget proposals were directly aimed at carrying out the recommendations of World Bank and the IMF. The 2018 budget attempted to change land ad agricultural laws to and make it easy for market mechanisms to wreak havoc.
According to the Vision 2025 document, the existing laws and regulations on land creates inefficiencies in the land market and adversely affect the investment opportunities. Since the existing laws and regulations hampers private investments, the government is to create a Land Bank and enter into the competitive land market. This is exactly what the World Bank recommended in 2015.
This is another indication that the government is bent on reducing the public access to land and natural resources while opening these to large scale private investors. Moreover steps have been taken to lease out state owned land to private owners through 'state enterprises restructuring, and to allow large foreign companies to access Sri Lankan lands by establishing land banks. Thus the real goal of the 2018 budget has been to accelerate the dispossession of Sri Lankans.
Non establishment of the National Land Commission
Although the current administration and those before it have taken great pains to carry out the recommendations of the World Bank and the IMF, none of the administrations have attempted to establish the National Land Commission. This Commission was created by the 13th amendment to the Constitution. However although 32 years have passed no government has attempted to establish this.
The 2nd list under the 9th schedule to the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution states that a National Land Commission should be established. The main objective of the National Land Commission is to create a national policy on land. Although this amendment was passed in 1987, the National Land Commission has still not been established. The 3rd sentence of the 2nd List states a number of things. Accordingly the government should establish a National Land Commission and this Commission is responsible for coming up with a national policy on the use of state land. This Commission must also include representatives of all provincial councils of the country. The National Land Commission should have a technical secretariat that will help it analyse the socioeconomic factors regarding land use as well as physical factors of natural resources management. The national policy on the use of state land should be based on technical reasons and not on political or ethnic reasons. The National Land Commission must look at factors including soil, climate, rainfall, soil erosion, forest cover, environmental factors and economic utility and formulate common theories on land use. Moreover the Provincial Councils were instructed to pay close attention to this national policy. All governments were legally bound to implement these. However unfortunately the National Land Commission is limited to the constitution.
Misleading the public through manifestos
The current administration is following the advice of the World Bank and the IMF. Therefore it is unlikely that they would reach the goals set by the 'Maithri Governance - A stable Country or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The SDGs are part of Resolution 70/1 of the United Nations General Assembly. Goal 2 of the SDGs is Zero hunger. This states that by 2030 we should end hunger and all forms of malnutrition. This would be accomplished by doubling agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers (especially women and indigenous peoples), by ensuring sustainable food production systems, and by progressively improving land and soil quality. However it's obvious that this lofty goal can't be achieved by exposing our lands to the chaotic forces of markets. The SDGs state that the best way to eradicate world poverty by 2030 is by ensuring that all men and women, especially those from vulnerable communities, have access to economic resources, essential services, land and other natural resources, necessary technology and to financial services. But the World Bank insists that poverty can be alleviated by expanding opportunities for investments and by bringing in natural resources under market forces. However given what we have seen in Sri Lanka and across the world, it is obvious that the outcome of following World Bank and IMF advise is displacement of small holder farmers. Adhering to these policies ensures that we will lose our natural resources that are vital as catchment areas and as cushions that protect us from the impacts of natural disasters.
The 15th SGD is protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss. The SDGs also aim to conserve and restore the use of terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, dry lands and mountains by 2020. However the current administration is attempting to sell off the natural resources to foreign investors and depriving Sri Lankans the access to our public goods.
There are two options that lie ahead. Either we can follow the path laid by the World Bank and the IMF, which is the one we have been treading since 1977. The other one is the path laid out by the SDGs. It is obvious that the current administration has chosen the path laid by the World Bank and the IMF and this would ensure that we keep on destroying our environment as well as livelihoods of the most vulnerable among us.
The government can't sell state land
The government doesn't have the right to sell natural resources of the country, this includes land as well. According to the Supreme Court case 884/99, (Bulankulama and Others v. Secretary, Ministry of Industrial Development and others) where the SC stopped the sale of the Eppawala Phosphate mine, a government is only a temporary guardian of the country. A government does not own the country. A temporary guardian does not have the right to sell land and other natural resources of the country. Therefore it does not have the right to formulate laws that facilitates this process. The sovereignty of the people is temporarily given to a government through a vote. However the people do not transfer their fundamental rights to the government. Thus a government can't deprive the people of their right to land, their right to use commons, their right to access natural resources and the right to water. The real owners of state owned lands are the people and such land should be given wisely and to people who do not have access to land. The objective of the government should be the wellbeing of the people and the development of the nation. Being a land sale agent is not the best way to achieve these goals.
The SriLankan government is attempting to place 981, 368 acres of land under the Land Reform Commission in a land bank. This is one of the preliminary requirements to enter the land market and give private investors an access to state land. With this plantation land is to be given to large companies for non - agricultural purposes. This attempt must be defeated soon. If not a large number of people, from estate sector workers to small holder farmers will forever be shut out of land ownership. Thus defeating the land bank act as well as other attempts to deprive the people of their social, economic and cultural rights should be defeated. For this we need to educate the people and their mobilization.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

KRRS activists protest proposed amendments to land acquisition law

Mysuru: Dubbing the amendments proposed by the state government to the Land Acquisition Act ‘anti-farmer’, activists of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) on 28th February staged a protest in front of the Mysuru deputy commissioner’s office, and submitted a memorandum addressed to Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala, requesting him not to approve the proposed changes to the legislation.

The protesters said that the state government must recall the proposed amendments, and convene a meeting of all stakeholders and hold a nuanced discussion on the subject. The protest was led by KRRS president Badagalapura Nagendra, and the activists vented their angst at being left out of the discussions. “The coalition government did not even table the amendments for discussion in the assembly owing to the din in the house following the controversy surrounding ‘audiogate’. Besides not talking to stakeholders, the government did not talk to the elected representatives about the amendments,” said the protesters

According to the newly-amended bill, exemptions have been made for certain projects vital to national security, defence, irrigation, drinking water projects, etc. With this, the state aims to grow at a fast rate.

The government has taken up various mega projects in the infrastructure and communication sectors, while construction of national highways, new railway lines and drinking water projects have been sanctioned. “All those projects require that land be made available soon, or there will be escalation in costs and benefits of development will be stalled,” the amendment bill copy said.

The protesters pointed out that laws pertaining to land acquisition had been altered during the years when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in power at the Centre. “It came about after protest that lasted for decades. Land acquisition laws that had been in place till then dated back to the Colonial days when the British administrators would acquire land acting on their whims and fancies. Although the government retained the right to acquire farm land for public purposes, it was mandated that those losing land must be fairly compensated and their families taken care of. Land acquisition laws came with strict provisos, which the state government is looking to dilute,” said the protesters.

The proposed changes to the legislation also threatened food security, the activists said, alleging that they favoured industrialists and the real estate sector. “The governor must not approve these alterations,” they said.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Peasant movements in Bangladesh intensifies the fight against commercial release of Golden Rice in the country

Peasants groups and environmentalists are mobilising to protest against the commercial release of golden rice in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation(BAFLF) along with major farmers groups held a demonstration rally on 26th February and submitted a letter to the Agriculture Minister of Bangladesh demanding to stop the commercial release of Genetically Engineered Golden Rice in the country. BAFLF and ally groups earlier in the month had declared a two month long protest activities to fight against the release of the Golden Rice. Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzak announced in early February that cultivation of golden rice may start in the country within three months.

In 2013 Bangladesh approved the commercial cultivation of the controversial Genetically Modified Brinjal in the country that is banned in neighbouring India and many other nations. And now it is heading towards the commercial release of the Golden Rice. Bangladesh has been favoured by the GM lobby as the country does not have a stringent bio-safety law to regulate commercial cultivation of GM crops or organisms.

As Down To Earth reported in its latest article, Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of golden rice at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Gazipur, in early 2017. It has already allowed commercial production of BT Brinjal in the country.

In 1999, a group of European scientists led by Dr Ingo Potrykus tried to change traditional rice by developing genetically-engineered rice that contains beta-carotene — by inserting bacteria and daffodil and maize genes into it. This is the golden rice, called so because of the golden colour of its grains.

The golden rice was introduced in 2000 and argued to be the panacea for world’s malnutrition problem. It was claimed that the rice is bio-fortified, and is supposedly high in Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc. It was considered as a significant breakthrough in biotechnology, with its first field trials conducted by the agriculture centre of Louisiana State University in 2004. Later, it has been claimed that field trials were conducted in the Philippines, Taiwan and Bangladesh. However, all these field trials were marred with controversy over the lack of transparency and credible independent safety studies.[1]

In 2018, GRAIN released a report on the Golden Rice, it reported that "Golden Rice is a false saviour,  the delay of the commercialization of Golden Rice, and the ‘lackluster acceptance’ of the public is due to the inherent flaws and failures of both the technology and the product itself. Golden Rice is going to be useless and unlikely to achieve its objective of helping to solve (Vitamin A Deficiency) VAD if its beta-carotene is consistently low, and even prone to degradation. Yields have been consistently low, indicating that farmers might suffer economically if they choose to plant Golden Rice. Meanwhile, Golden Rice will allow corporations to set their foot at the door of our agriculture and introduce more genetically-modified food crops. Golden Rice is a techno-fix to malnutrition and a corporate ploy to control our agriculture. It is not needed by Asian people nor the world. Indeed, the solution to hunger and malnutrition lies in comprehensive approaches that ensure people have access to diverse sources of nutrition. Securing small farmers’ control over resources such as seed, appropriate technologies, water and land is the real key to improving food production and eradicating hunger and malnutrition."[2]

Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation(BAFLF) issued a press statement on 26 Feb 2019, it states that it has submitted a four point memorandum to the agriculture minister through the District Collectorate of Gazipur, the main demands include,
1. The introduction of Golden Rice has to be stopped.
2. Trail of all GMO crops presently underway must be cancelled and commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal has to be stopped.
3. Ban on import and use of harmful chemical pesticides.
4. Update Bio Safety Rules 2012 and ensure its proper implementation.

Speaking at the protest rally, BAFLF general secratery Abdul Mazid stated that the multinational companies have targeted Bangladesh as laboratory for the trail of their GM crops and using people and farmers as guinea-pigs for their own interest. GMO crops are controversial in terms of bio safety, environment and public health. Scientists could not prove that transgenic seed will not cause biological contamination to local varieties and any risk caused by consumption of the GM food crop by humans. In view of these concerns, there are international rules and regulations in regards to the introduction of GE seeds. Those scientific and legal warnings are not followed properly in the introduction of GMO crops in Bangladesh. The main objective of the approval of Golden Rice for commercial cultivation is to serve multinational companies interest. If the Golden Rice is introduced in Bangladesh, agriculture and farmers will be severely affected, food security will be more vulnerable and will have serious effect on the food sovereignty of the communities.

Nasrin Sultana said, The multinational companies’ paid scientists and propagandists are facilitating and promoting Golden rice telling that this rice will address the problem of Vitamin-A deficiency. Golden Rice is not the right solution to eliminate Vitamin A deficiency; rather it is an ineffective solution. Compared with golden rice, sweet potato has fifty times more beta- carotene level and can be grown on non-arable land. Besides, there is a lot of vitamin-A in common fruits and vegetables that are already grown in the country. Poverty and lack of purchasing poor are major cause of malnutrition including VAD. Introducing golden rice is not proper solution to address Vitamin-A deficiency. The introduction of Company patented rice will make our agriculture production system more dependent on multinational companies and have serious impact on the traditional agricultural system. Golden Rice commercialisation equates to billions of worth corporate profit at the cost of public health, environment and farmers’ seed freedom. Government must abstain from Golden rice commercial release.

The peasant movements and civil society in Bangladesh  are planning to intensify the campaign against commercial release of Golden Rice. As part of it BAFLF will organise a national consultation and if situation demands we will mobilise peasants in large numbers in the coming months said Golam Sorowor of BAFLF.

Notes :

Suggested readings :
When Bt brinjal is a failure, why Golden rice?


Thursday, February 28, 2019

RCEP: Indian peasant movements and allies warn against obligations on patenting seeds, plant varieties

Farmers groups and agricultural researchers in India have sent a letter today to the Prime Minister, with a copy to the relevant trade negotiators of India, urging the government not to accept any damaging intellectual property rights (IPR) provisions in the RCEP that will impact farmers’ seed freedoms and their access to planting materials.

In particular the letter states:

“We urge that UPOV 1991 in its entirety, or elements of UPOV 1991 or UPOV 1991-like commitments, and ‘UPOV 1991-plus’ commitments must all be rejected.

We stress that recognising any aspect of UPOV system would be inconsistent with and undermine farmer seed systems in India and the international rights and obligations of India under the various international instruments. Most importantly nothing must affect the right of Indian farmers to freely save, use, exchange and sell farm saved seeds/propagating material.”

Below is the full text of the letter:

To The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi

Sign-On letter from India against IPR on Seed

25th February 2019 | New Delhi

Shri Modiji,
The undersigned signatories representing agricultural and farmer groups from all over India are deeply concerned and writing to you to emphasise that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations must not place any obligation on India or any other developing country with respect to intellectual property (IP) on seed and planting materials.


The demand for tighter IPR comes in the form of insistence on provisions on rights in plant varieties. It is demanded by some RCEP-participating countries (RPCs) that such plant variety protection (PVP) shall provide for the IP protection of all plant genera and species by an effective PVP system, which is consistent with the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 1991 Convention). This demand makes RCEP go beyond the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and is thus ‘WTO- plus’.

It is important to recall that Article 27.3(b) of the WTO TRIPS Agreement only requires WTO member countries to make available an effective sui generis system for the protection of plant varieties. Countries have complete freedom to adopt a system suitable to their agricultural condition and needs. Nothing in the RCEP negotiations should affect and limit this freedom.

The office of the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in its 2009 report to the General Assembly highlights that “States – particularly developing countries where the function of traditional, farmers’ seed systems is even more important both for the prevention of genetic erosion and for the livelihoods of farming communities – should design sui generis forms of protection of plant varieties which allow these systems to flourish, even if this means adopting non-UPOV compliant legislations”. He concludes: “No State should be forced to establish a regime for the protection of intellectual property rights which goes beyond the minimum requirements of the (WTO) TRIPS Agreement; free trade agreements obliging countries to join the 1991 UPOV Convention or to adopt UPOV- compliant legislation, therefore, are questionable.”i


India passed WTO-compliant national legislation – Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act in 2001. The Act has a specific chapter on farmers’ rights. Section 39 of this Act safeguards a farmer’s right to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell her farm produce including seed of a protected variety provided it is not sold as a “branded seed” of a variety protected. The ground reality in India as per the Government’s Agricultural Census data for 2015-16 is that 86% of farmers operate on land holding of less than 2 hectares while less than 1% hold more than 10 hectares. Informal farmer-managed seed systems supply around 70% of seed needs in India to small and marginalised farmers. Nothing in the RCEP negotiations must adversely affect farmers’ rights especially their freedom to operate with respect to farm-saved seed/propagating material.


The UPOV system is simply unsuitable for India. Because UPOV 1991 provides exclusive commercial control to the breeder/company over the reproductive material of the protected variety and the right to enforce licenses, thus farmers would have no right to save seeds for replanting. In fact, breeders can also claim compensation from farmers’ harvest and direct products of that harvest, if breeders license fee is not paid. Such an IPR system severely restricts policy space for India to implement measures to reflect national realities, protect public interest and farmer seed systems.


India is also a party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). In fact, the UPOV system conflicts with requirements of Articles 6 and 9 of the ITPGRFA.ii Article 6 requires Contracting Parties to develop and maintain appropriate policy and legal measures that promote the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture including supporting the development and maintenance of diverse farming systems, promote participatory plant breeding, strengthen the capacity to develop varieties adapted to social, economic and ecological conditions, broaden the genetic base of crops etc.

Article 9 of the ITPGRFA states it is government’s responsibility to take measures to “protect and promote” Farmers’ Rights including farmers’ right to save, use, exchange and sell farm saved seeds, their right to the protection of tradition knowledge and to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Even though the International Seed Treaty (ITPGFRA) requires governments to protect and promote farmers rights but this would be rendered ineffective once a ITPGRFA member country decides to join UPOV 1991. This is evident from Malaysian and Philippines cases (both are members of ITPGRFA) where UPOV explicitly required them to delete inter alia provisions in their national plant variety protection (PVP) legislation that implemented farmers’ right to save, use, exchange and sell farm save seeds, if they wished to join UPOV 1991. So the gains in the form of farmers rights, achieved through the Indian PPV&FR Act 2001, will be lost forever.

A recent study undertaken on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that “UPOV 1991-based PVP laws were found to not advance the realisation of Farmers’ Rights; rather they are effective in the opposite direction”.iii

A human rights impact assessment of UPOV 1991 also concluded “...if implemented and enforced, UPOV 1991 would sever the beneficial inter-linkages between the formal and informal seed systems”, and its “restrictions on the use, exchange and sale of protected seeds could adversely affect the right to food, as seeds might become either more costly or harder to access” as well as “other human rights, by reducing the amount of household income which is available for food, healthcare or education.”iv

The assessment further adds that traditional knowledge of farmers in the selection, preservation and storing of seed is the basis of local innovation and in situ seed conservation and “UPOV’s restrictions on saving, exchanging and selling protected seed comes at the expense of farmers gradually losing their know-how related to seed selection and preservation. They would also gradually lose their ability to make informed decisions about what to grow and on which type of land, how to respond to pest infestation, or how to adapt their seed system to changing climatic conditions.” “The process of “deskilling” of farmers – which is already underway with the decline of local agrobiodiversity – could become more acute with restrictions on use of seeds introduced through UPOV 1991-style laws, and that from a human rights perspective, restrictions on traditional practices and seed management systems ... adversely impact on farmers’ rights, cultural rights, minority rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, women’s rights, as well as on biodiversity and the right to food”.


India is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its sub-treaty the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). The CBD and its Nagoya Protocol are premised on the ethics that farmers must get their due when the seed industry accesses their seed know-how or seed material. India has another national law – the Biological Diversity Act to implement CBD. India’s National Biodiversity Authority has also issued ABS Regulations, 2014 in line with the Nagoya Protocol. The ABS regime requires that the prior informed consent of local seed keepers be taken, that the source be acknowledged if seed material is taken from them and that they are legally entitled to a share of the benefits that accrue to the user/accessor upon commercialisation of farmers’ accessed material/knowledge. These will be rendered meaningless if UPOV 1991-type breeder rights are granted to the seed industry, whether public sector or private companies. Adopting UPOV means giving preference to IP-protected seeds in the market.


According to the General Comment 12 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to food requires States to pro-actively engage in activities intended to strengthen people’s access to and utilization of resources [includes seeds] and means to ensure their livelihoods including not taking any measures that result in preventing such access. v Therefore intellectual property regimes and seed policies must be compatible with and conducive to the realization of the right to adequate food.
More recently India supported adoption of the UN Declaration on Peasants’ Rights. We applaud India’s support for the “Declaration on the right of peasants and other people working in rural areas” adopted by the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly which requires States to “take measures to respect, protect and fulfil the right to seeds of peasants and other people working in rural areas” which include Farmers’ Rights. Implementation of the Declaration requires India to have and maintain full policy space to put in place relevant measures.


In short, UPOV system offers an extremely rigid and inappropriate legal framework for developing countries. It was developed in the 60s for seed production modalities prevailing in developed countries especially in Europe. India and other developing countries never participated in UPOV negotiations. Hence, unsurprisingly multiple independent experts recommend that developing countries should not join
We urge that UPOV 1991 in its entirety, or elements of UPOV 1991 or UPOV 1991-like commitments, and ‘UPOV 1991-plus’ commitments must all be rejected.

We stress that recognising any aspect of UPOV system would be inconsistent with and undermine farmer seed systems in India and the international rights and obligations of India under the various international instruments. Most importantly nothing must affect the right of Indian farmers to freely save, use, exchange and sell farm saved seeds/propagating material.

A mega free trade agreement, like RCEP that undermines farmers’ seed freedoms in a mega diverse country, with seed diversity and farmers’ knowledge is unacceptable.

Signed by

1. All India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement, Yudhvir Singh
2. All India Farmers Association
3. All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Hannan Molla
4. All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha (AIKMS), Dr. Ashish Mital
5. Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)
6. Annadana Soil and Seed Savers, Sangita Sharma
7. Bharat Krishak Samaj, Ajayvir Jakhar
8. Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU, Rakesh Tikait,
9. Bhartiya Kisan Union, Haryana, Ratan Singh Mann
10. Bhartiya Kisan Union, Punjab, Jagmohan Singh and Ajmer Singh Lakhowal
11. Chhattisgarh Prakritisil Kisan Sanghathan
12. Deccan Development Society
13. Desiya Karshaka Samajam
14. Deshi Bihan Suraksha Manch, Odisha, Saroj Mohanty
15. Development Research Communication and Services Centre, West Bengal
16. Farmers Relief Forum
17. Federation of Indian farmers Association
18. Forum against FTAs, India
19. Gramya Resource Centre for Women, V Rukmini Rao
20. Gujarat Kisan Sangathan
21. Jai Kisan Andolan, Avik Saha
22. Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Badagalapura Nagendra
23. Karnataka State Farmers Organization Federation
24. Karshaka Munnettam
25. Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Dr Sunilam
26. Lok Sangharsh Morcha, Pratibha Shinde
27. Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (Forum For Women Farmers’ Rights)
28. Malanadu Karshaka Raksha Samithi
29. National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), West Bengal
30. Paschimi Odisha Krushak Sangathan Samanvay Samiti
31. Punarchith, Nagavalli Village, Karnataka, A R Vasavi
32. Rashtiya Kisan Masdoor Mahasangh
33. Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh
34. Shetkari Sangathana, Maharashtra, Vijay Jawandhia
35. South India River linking farmers organization
36. South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement, S. Kanniayan,
37. South Indian Organic Producers and Retailers Association
38. Sunray Harvesters, Aruna Rodrigues
39. Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, K. Sella Mutthu
40. Uzhavar Ulaippalar Katchi, Tamil Nadu, Nallagounder
41. Vanastree, Karnataka

Concerned Citizens
1. D Narasimha Reddy, Independent Consultant
2. Anil K. Yadav, Director, National Institute of Labour Economics Research and
Development, NITI Aayog
3. Gayatri Menon, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru
Click here to see the signatories and the notes
4. Kishor K. Podh, Ph. D. Scholar, Center for the Study of Social Systems, JNU
5. M. Vijayabaskar, Madras Institute of Development Studies
6. Mudit Singh, Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad
7. Nachiket Udupa, Member, Network of Agrarian and Rural Studies
8. Padmini Swaminathan, Former Director, MIDS
9. Purendra Prasad, Member, Network of Agrarian and Rural Studies
10. Rajeswari Sarala Raina, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv
Nadar University
11. Sailen Routray, Independent Researcher, Member, NARS
12. V Sujatha, Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, JNU

Download the full text of the letter

Media coverage -
RCEP talks: Farmers, civil society bodies warn against obligations on patenting seeds, plant varieties

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Sri Lankan tea estate workers take to the streets to demand fair wages

Protest in solidarity with tea plantation workers, who are demanding a daily basic wage of Sri Lankan Rs. 1000. Image via Global Voices content partner Groundviews.
Source : GlobalVoices
This article by Rezwan first appeared on Global Voices. 

On January 23, 2019, the Thousand Movement, a collective of unions and grassroots activists, held demonstrations in 30 locations across Sri Lanka calling on plantation companies to increase the daily basic salary of tea estate workers to Sri Lankan Rs.1000 (US$5.50) or double the current minimum daily wage. Protesters say that poverty is on the rise among the tea workers as wages stagnate in comparison to the growing cost of living. According to Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR):

"Recently researchers from the University of Peradeniya found that Rs 27,707 (US$ 152) is needed per month for one person in the estate sector to meet his or her basic needs. But on average these workers get paid less than Rs. 8000 (US$ 44) a month."

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Generations of have propped up our economy by toiling under deplorable conditions from 6am-6pm, come rain or shine. Don’t the producers of the “Pure Ceylon Tea” we proudly boast of deserve a decent day’s wage at the very least? ✊🏽TODAY @ 3pm
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'Companies say they don't have profit, govt says it doesn't have money, ministers make so many promises, the workers want only Rs. 1000 daily basic wage for the work they do' - video of the protest along Gasworks Junc to Main Street, Malwatte Rd and Olcott Mw.
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The workers have been protesting since last October after a collective agreement on the salary hikes of estate workers was not signed. The workers rejected a 20 percent (Rs.100) increase proposed by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC), an organization that represents plantation companies.

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Protest for basic living wage of Rs 1000/ day for workers ongoing now at Gas Paha junction in Colombo.
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On December 6, 2018 hundreds of thousands of plantation workers from all of Sri Lanka’s tea plantation districts began an indefinite strike demanding a 100% hike of thier daily basic wages to Rs.1000 (US$5.50). The protesters called off the strike a week later after the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the main plantation union, ordered them to end all industrial action. Many people from civil society, including school teachers, also rallied for plantation workers.

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'For 200 years, they've built the economy, and the name '' - pay the estate workers a fair wage' - protest in solidarity with estate workers demanding a daily basic wage of Rs. 1000, happening now at Gasworks Junction in Fort.
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The tea industry in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is the fourth largest producer of tea in the world and also the second largest exporter. The country's central highlands and low-elevation areas boast numerous tea estates which benefit from a climate that produces high-quality tea. Over the years, tea from Sri Lanka or “Ceylon Tea” has grown in popularity — almost one-fifth of the teas sold around the world are from Sri Lanka.

The industry employs (directly or indirectly) over 1 million people. Many of the 500,000 tea estate workers are Tamils descended from cheap laborers brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British colonial rulers in the 19th century, and more than half of the workers are women.

Sri Lankan tea plantation workers weighing plucked tea leaves which will determine their daily wage. Image by Flickr user NH53. CC BY 2.0

Severely Low Wages

Traditionally, workers have been paid severely low wages compared to the national average. In many cases, they have to collect 16kg to 18kg worth of tea per day or their pay is halved. They are subjected to harsh living and working conditions, and some of them sustain painful injuries with little medical support from the tea estates.

Approximately a decade ago, they were protesting to increase the daily wage to 500 rupees (US$4 in 2009) from 290 rupees (US$2.5 in 2009). But their demands were not met as the industry was hit by the global recession and some tea estates were forced to lay off workers.

In 2016, their daily wage was increased by a mere Rs.50 to Rs. 500. Over the years, the Sri Lankan Rupee has depreciated while the cost of living has increased. Their daily wage corresponds to US$2.75 in today's currency, so, in essence, their wage has not increased in a decade.

As a result, the poverty level among plantation workers has increased, although the overall poverty in Sri Lanka has declined in the past decades:
(3/3) “Political leaders, if you can survive on Rs 625/day, then we don’t need Rs 1000/day”

Protesters today challenged politicians to live on Rs. 625/day- the same wage proposed for workers in the collective bargaining agreement.
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Malaiyaha Tamil tea plantation workers' struggle for an increase in their basic wage to Rs. 1000 continues. A citizen protest in solidarity will take place from 4.30 - 5.30pm at Liberty roundabout today (Jan 15). Cartoon by Namal Amarasinghe.
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The government has proposed an all-inclusive wage hike with the increase to be made over a 3-year period. Under this plan, the basic increase would be up to Sri Lankan Rs. 625 in the first year with other allowances, adding up to Rs.1000 daily. Some of these allowances are based on a daily quota of leaves plucked – so many are likely to miss out. The proposed increase in basic daily pay in the second and third years would be to Rs.650 and Rs.675 respectively. However, the demand of the workers is that the daily basic pay should be increased to Rs. 1000.

The tea estate workers have no choice other than to continue their fight for a fair wage if they don't want to succumb to enslavement or absolute poverty.