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Save the Farmer’s Seeds

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Because they do not have the right to exchange seeds and plants, farmers find it increasingly difficult to cultivate tasty old varieties or terroir, or those that they develop to do without pesticides. Consumers are thus most of the time faced with vegetables, fruits, cereals and other foods from standard varieties, which are increasingly tasteless, unbalanced and often loaded with pesticide residues.

The regulations, as they apply in France, prohibit farmers from exchanging, giving or distributing their own seeds and plants. A farmer (a nurseryman or a seed producer) can only distribute or exchange seeds or plants if the variety is registered in the “official catalog”. However, this registration, in addition to a high cost inaccessible for a farmer, requires on the part of the varieties concerned a uniformity and technical characteristics which are not adapted to the diversity of the terroirs nor to ecological production methods. These constraints stand in the way of the essential preservation of biodiversity.

Admittedly, a reduced list known as “amateur” allows the diffusion of some old varieties of vegetable and fruit trees … but on condition that they are cultivated only for the own consumption of the gardener, without any possible sale of the harvest.

Seeders and industrial nurserymen prefer to multiply their few varieties selected for the needs of industrial agriculture which are increasingly dependent on chemistry. These are often hybrids of which the farmer cannot sow the harvest, tomorrow it could be GMOs. Peasant, traditional or terroir varieties, which are better suited to specific and local growing conditions, do not interest them.

Consumers have less and less access to fruits, vegetables or cereals from this biodiversity. Unwittingly, varieties are imposed on them, first selected for storage in supermarkets and for industrial processing.

It is urgent to change this regulation which destroys the biodiversity of cultivated species and concentrates production and consumption around a few standard industrial varieties.

To preserve biodiversity,
For a rich and varied agriculture,
For the right to free and healthy consumption
Demand the freedom to spread peasant plants and seeds!

What is Directive 98/95 / EC?

European Council Directive 98/95 / EC of December 14, 1998 is a 26-page directive which amends the European directives on the marketing of seeds of different species (beets, fodder plants, cereals, seed potatoes, oilseeds and fiber, vegetables), as well as the directive governing the common catalog of varieties of agricultural plant species. The modifications relate to the ”  marketing conditions” for seeds of the GMO variety, basic seeds, chemically treated seeds, etc., as well as seeds from varieties falling under ”  in situ conservation and sustainable conservation of plant genetic resources ” and “ seeds adapted to organic cultivation ”.

Each of the articles of this directive reproduces and modifies an earlier directive concerning these various points. The measures dealt with in the petition “let’s save peasant seeds” and concerning “the marketing of seeds adapted to organic farming and to the conservation of biodiversity” concern three important points:
  “  specific conditions can be fixed concerning the conservation in situ and the sustainable use of plant genetic resources through the cultivation and marketing of seeds of primitive breeds and varieties that are naturally adapted to local and regional conditions and threatened by genetic erosion  ”
  “ the results of unofficial tests and the knowledge acquired on the basis of practical experience during cultivation, reproduction and the use and detailed descriptions of the varieties and the denominations relating thereto (. ..) are taken into account and, if they are conclusive, dispense with the official examination necessary for admission  ”
  Special conditions must include“  appropriate quantitative restrictions ”

A priori, since the member states have five years to translate a European directive into national law, all of these articles are now translated into French law. However, they are not all applied, which is the case for the articles that interest us. They were in fact the subject of a decree n ° 2002-495 of April 8, 2002 amending decree n ° 81-605 of May 18, 1981 taken for application of the law of August 1, 1905 on the repression of fraud in this which concerns the trade in seeds and plants.

This decree specifies that “  special marketing conditions are fixed, as necessary, by decree, with regard to:
  in situ conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources
  seeds or plants suitable for organic cultivation
  mixtures of genera, species or varieties
 . “

This decree has not been followed to date by any decree. At the end of 2003, when it reached the limit of application of the directive of December 14, 1998, the French State applied to the Standing Committee for European Seeds so that it could define the rules of application. The Standing Seed Committee having two years to respond, this request postpones the obligation to apply the directive to the end of 2005.

In November 2002, the European Commission provided a “working document for the implementation of Directive 98/95 / EC”, concerning “the marketing of seeds and plants in connection with the in situ conservation of genetic resources”. In this document, ”  conservation varieties” are defined as ”  varieties and populations , threatened by genetic erosion (when a variety is no longer registered in a national or European catalog or if it has never been registered in those -ci) (…) and adapted to local and regional conditions or traditionally cultivated in particular regions and zones ”. A little further on it says about ”  acceptance conditions “ for these varieties:”  Member States may deviate from the criteria of distinction, homogeneity and stability “.

At the beginning of 2003, all the organizations making up the Peasant Seeds Network submitted to the European and French authorities a series of proposed amendments to this Commission working document. These proposals are available on request from the Farmer’s Seed Network. Unlike the representatives of the European Commission, the French State refuses any consultation on these proposals. French seed companies, omnipresent in co-management bodies (Permanent Technical Committee for Seeds), are campaigning to postpone any application as much as possible and to limit it in the long term to two or three local varieties linked to small Designations of Origin.

The campaign “let’s save the farmer seeds” aims to reverse this scenario of seed companies and to apply these various measures as quickly as possible and in a broad interpretation: free registration, no obligation of homogeneity and stability (criteria contrary by definition of the diversity and variability sought by many peasant populations).

It is the spread of biodiversity on peasant farms, as well as the survival of many small companies of selection and multiplication of essentially fruit and vegetable varieties that sell seeds or plants “not legalized” in professional circuits. It is impossible economically to maintain a professional activity in a permanent non right, even more when working with perennial plants.The non-application of these measures permitted by Directive 98/95 / EC would keep many varieties not listed in the extreme marginality of the amateur sector alone where they are currently confined to the detriment of the preservation and development of biodiversity and at the risk of having them confiscated by a patent or a Plant Breeders’ Certificate filed by a seed company.

This campaign also aims to obtain “a space of total freedom for free exchanges of plants and peasant seeds”. Indeed, even free of charge, freely and deviating from the criteria of homogeneity and stability, it is impossible to include in a catalog all of biodiversity. Some varieties concern only a few people or very small areas and therefore very small volumes of seeds, many exchanges are deliberately made to allow the varieties to evolve …. The application, even the broadest, of the measures made possible by Directive 98/95 / EC cannot solve all the problems.

A 1994 Ordinance allows Switzerland to market small quantities of cereal seeds without having to register the variety to which they belong in the official seed catalog. A country like India has set up a catalog which deviates from the criteria of homogeneity and stability and authorizes farmers to exchange the harvested grain which does not belong to any registered variety. Brazil has also just adopted a law to this effect …. Why could France not also leave the exclusive monopoly of seed companies?

The Peasant Seeds Network

In February 2003, the first “Semences Paysannes” meetings in Auzeville (near Toulouse) brought together 350 farmers from all over France, but also from Europe, Africa and Asia, researchers, teachers and consumers who loudly affirmed their desire to bring these seeds to life. In the process, the “Semences Paysannes” network was made up of national peasant and organic farming organizations *, specialized organizations *, artisans, peasants and seed or nursery associations *, development associations *, conservation associations of Biodiversity *. This network remains open, it is in fact in no case a question of creating a new monopoly, even if it was “peasant”!

Its missions are:
  to link initiatives promoting biodiversity in farms and gardens, each keeping its originality and its specificity
– to  facilitate training, exchanges and re-appropriation of peasant know-how
– to  work for technical and scientific recognition and legal practices of peasants in the production of seeds and plants
  fostering, in partnership with research, the emergence of new patterns of selection, varietal creation and distribution of seeds adapted to organic, biodynamic and peasant farming
  consolidating conservation and dynamic management of agricultural biodiversity in farms and gardens
 educate the general public about the issues related to seed production and marketing.

Thus, ADAP is developing a corn platform from non-hybrid countries , the peasant-bakers of ASPAARI and ADEAR 47 are selecting old peasant varieties of wheat for a quality organic artisan bakery , CIVAMBIO 11 and small seed artisans multiply forgotten vegetable gardens, FORGOTTEN FRUITS revives local fruit varieties, the Association for the Regeneration of the Vine develops regional selections …

The network network:

Beyond these specific actions, the Network organized with BEDE several peasant trips to Mali or Brazil, initiated exchanges of technical and legal know-how with peasant organizations and NGOs from Europe, Africa, America from South and Asia, regulatory development work at French and European levels (organic seeds, conservation and terroir varieties), collaboration with researchers on participatory selection, joint reflection on “intellectual property” with organizations of patients confronted with patents on medicines and defenders of “free software”.
The richer the diversity of actors in the Network, the more powerful will be its action to develop biodiversity.

The quality of the seed is the quality of our food

For millennia, we only talked about seeds or plants, all seed being “by nature” the result of the work of peasants. In the last century, the profession of seed producer and nurseryman appeared. Today, if the first gesture of the peasant is to make his seed, we can say that there are almost no more peasants or peasant seeds in Europe. Indeed, if more than one in two cereal cultivators still sows the harvested grain by returning every two or three campaigns to the purchase of certified seeds, only a handful of them do a real job of selection allowing them to work completely independently their own varieties. As for the other species, corn, fodder, vegetables, fruit trees, vines … all their varieties come from the cooperative, the seed producer or the nurseryman.three or four varieties cover 80% of the annual crop rotation in wheat, and 80% of the vegetables grown fifty years ago have disappeared.

The quality and productivity of cultivated plants depend above all on their adaptation to the surrounding environment in which they live. Industrial processing and distribution need large quantities of homogeneous raw materials. For this, they impose on farmers, for each species, a handful of varieties that they will have to grow in large quantities, in all circumstances and in all places. Industrial agriculture is thus obliged to adapt the diversity of soils and growing conditions to a few varieties: fertilizers, pesticides, even irrigation are there for that.It uses industrial seeds or plants which have been selected for their ability to make the best use of all this synthetic chemistry (to the point where they can no longer do without it). Today, fertilizers and pesticides are reaching their technical limits (soil depletion, appearance of resistance …) but also of social acceptability (pollution …). The use of GMOs is just a headlong rush which will run up against the same deadlocks even faster.

Organic and peasant farming have only their cultural practices to adapt the plants to each terroir. This is why they need small quantities of a multitude of varieties, each selected in and for its terroir as well as to meet the demand for diversity of consumers . To prevent diseases without resorting to pesticides, these farms must maintain a maximum of diversity in their fields, the interactions between different plants being a health factor on the contrary of the uniformity of monocultures which weakens their resistance.

The seed industry, economy of scale obliges, derives its profitability only from the production of the largest possible quantities of a minimum of varieties. Beyond a few all-purpose varieties, it cannot structurally guarantee the supply of permanent diversity needed by post-industrial, organic and peasant farming. As for the consumer of industrial food, he must replace his need for a diversified diet with the illusion of “new” products which have nothing innovative but the label or the reassembly of old recipes.

Why peasant seeds?

A certain number of peasants and amateurs, mostly organic, have decided to continue, like their pre-industrial ancestors, to produce their own seeds or plants in order to constantly adapt them to their terroirs, their cultural practices and their their quality needs. Often from old and / or local varieties, but also knowing how to benefit from the contribution of the diversity of exotic varieties, they practice mass or population selections, conservative, improving or evolving. Unlike hybrids and other clones, their seeds and plants are not very stable and not very homogeneousso as to preserve, alongside a few fixed characters, a maximum of variability which allows them to constantly adapt to changing natural conditions or to make the most of beneficial interactions with other plants.

They do most of this work on their farm, or their garden, but also need to exchange their seeds or plants with their colleagues or neighbor. Indeed, to be naturally adapted to a terroir, a variety must be selected in this terroir; but to keep sufficient variability, it must from time to time travel in order to awaken, thanks to the stimuli of different environments, new characters or characters in the process of extinction because not expressed. These “trips”, these exchanges are more often necessary for annual plants than for perennial plants. Furthermore, the same farmer cannot cultivate all the existing diversity on his farm: if he wants to renew his varieties to improve his work, he must also exchange ideas.

These peasants and amateurs are just doing what thousands of generations of peasants have been doing since agriculture started. However, they find themselves in illegality because the industrial seed companies, which only exist thanks to this immense work, have decided to appropriate the monopoly of its use: to market or even exchange for free a seed or a plant , the variety to which they belong must be registered in the common catalog, at a cost inaccessible for a peasant or an association which does not have vocation to amortize it by appropriating the monopoly of its resale to hundreds of thousands of copies (15,000 euros for a cereal, 4,000 for a vegetable patch …). In addition, to be registered, a variety must be homogeneous and stable,

Thus, farmers have no right to sell or even exchange their own seeds for free.

The “privilege” of sowing the harvested grain, or planting its own cuttings, is partially tolerated, but increasingly taxed and monitored. It is forbidden to plant, even when making your own plants, a grape variety that is not registered.

With GMOs and the patent on living organisms, the right to sow the harvested grain will definitively disappear.

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