Debate

Trade agreements and seed laws hit small farmers hard

The world's small farmers account for 70 percent of the world's food production, even though they only have access to 24 percent of the world's agricultural land. New trade agreements and seed laws also benefit large international companies and make it difficult to survive as smallholders, write the Latin American groups and the Latin American smallholder network CLOC-La Via Campesina Central America.

April 17 is the small farmers' international day of struggle. The La Vía Campesina movement brings together smallholders and indigenous peoples who fight daily for the right to land and food sovereignty. Today, demonstrations and actions are organized around the world to draw attention to that struggle.

Three giant companies control the seeds

The world's three largest agricultural companies - Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta - control more than half of the global seed market.

In several countries in Latin America, these large agricultural companies are pursuing processes to strengthen their position even more. Namely, they work to introduce laws that open up for genetically modified crops (GMOs) and which criminalize all cultivation with seeds that are not registered with authorities. Thus, the small farmers' own seeds become illegal.

GMO seeds are sold by large agricultural companies and compete in many places with domestic seeds. The seeds can only be used for one season and must not be saved, which means that small farmers have been forced to buy new, expensive seeds after each harvest.

New deregulations hit small farmers hard

In both Latin America and Europe, national and international regulations have been introduced that allow for deregulation and privatization of important societal functions and natural resources. Large companies are driving in the implementation of these regulations and the decision-making processes often suffer from a lack of transparency and participation.

These laws are often the result of free trade agreements signed by countries. For example, there are such requirements in the free trade agreement that Guatemala and other Central American countries have with the United States. The agreement forces the countries to approve the latest version of the international convention for the protection of plant breeding products (UPOV 91). The convention regulates the right to plant breeding and protects the copyright of finished plant varieties.

Resistance is growing

Opposition to these laws is growing. In September 2014, social movements that bring together indigenous peoples, smallholders and consumers in Guatemala succeeded in stopping a new seed law. The original approval of the law led to large demonstrations in which several of the country's smallholder organizations participated. The pressure on Parliament increased and the law was annulled. The country may now be excluded from the free trade agreement with the United States.

It is in the interest of large companies that Guatemala approves UPOV 91 and is covered by the free trade agreement. Ten years after the agreement entered into force, the value of the country's banana exports to the United States had almost tripled. But it is above all large banana companies such as Dole and Agrofruit that have increased their exports. At the same time, migration from Guatemala and other countries in Central America to the United States is steadily increasing. More and more small farmers and indigenous peoples are leaving the country and moving to other countries in the hope of work and livelihood.

Agreements with the EU benefit large companies

It is not just the trade agreements with the United States that are driving this development. The EU-Central America Association Agreement also requires the parties to provide protection for plant varieties through patents and specific regulations. This is especially true for large multinational agricultural companies.

Regardless of political color, Sweden has been a strong free trade advocate and defender of the EU's trade agreement. But the type of agreement that is negotiated means anything other than free trade and often hits small farmers hard. Sweden should instead work to improve the situation of small farmers and guarantee their rights. This requires a number of changes to both national and international regulations. An important part is fair trading conditions and regulations and a diversity of free and healthy seeds.

Edgardo García
Annelie Andersson

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