Seed Laws that Criminalise Farmers: Resistance and Fightback

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Peas­ant seeds – the pil­lar of food pro­duc­tion – are under attack every­where. Under cor­po­rate pres­sure, laws in many coun­tries increas­ing­ly lim­it what farm­ers can do with their seeds. Seed sav­ing, which has been the basis of farm­ing for thou­sands of years, is quick­ly being crim­i­nalised.

What can we do? A new book­let and poster from La Via Campesina and GRAIN doc­u­ments how big busi­ness and gov­ern­ments are mov­ing to stop farm­ers from sav­ing and exchang­ing their seeds, and shows how farm­ers are fight­ing back.

Con­trol over seeds must remain in peas­ants’ hands. This is the prin­ci­ple, based in the pro­duc­tion process, that guar­an­tees the food sov­er­eign­ty of rur­al com­mu­ni­ties and urban pop­u­la­tions against multi­na­tion­als and their enor­mous prof­its. Over cen­turies, peas­ant farm­ers have cre­at­ed the thou­sands of vari­eties of crops that are the basis of the world’s food sup­ply and diver­si­fied diets, says La Via Campesina’s Guy Kastler.

But for cor­po­ra­tions who want to impose laws that will give them com­plete con­trol of land, farm­ing, food and the prof­its that could be made from this sec­tor, these time-test­ed prac­tices around seeds are an obsta­cle. For La Via Campesina, the law should instead guar­an­tee the rights of peas­ants to con­serve, use, exchange, use and sell their seeds and pro­tect them from biopira­cy.

Big busi­ness is car­ry­ing out, with the sup­port of gov­ern­ments, a glob­al legal offen­sive to gain com­plete con­trol over seeds. This includes not only pri­vatis­ing seeds through new laws, but giv­ing them­selves new rights to phys­i­cal­ly search farm­ers’ homes and destroy their seeds, says Cami­la Mon­te­ci­nos of GRAIN.

Seed laws are evolv­ing and becom­ing more aggres­sive in response to new demands from the seed and biotech­nol­o­gy indus­try. So-called free trade agree­ments, bilat­er­al invest­ment treaties and region­al inte­gra­tion ini­tia­tives are hard­en­ing ‘soft’ forms of own­er­ship rights over seeds. And laws strength­en­ing intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights over seeds are being rein­forced by oth­er reg­u­la­tions that are sup­posed to ensure seed qual­i­ty, mar­ket trans­paren­cy, pre­ven­tion of coun­ter­feits, and the like.

What is at stake is the very basis of peas­ant farm­ers’ exis­tence. Social move­ments world­wide, espe­cial­ly peas­ant farm­ers organ­i­sa­tions, have resist­ed and mobilised to pre­vent such laws being passed.

Cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments rely on secre­cy and lack of trans­paren­cy because they know that an informed cit­i­zen­ry will reject the pri­vati­sa­tion of seeds.

This book­let will strength­en the resis­tance by ensur­ing that as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble – espe­cial­ly in the rur­al com­mu­ni­ties that are most affect­ed – under­stand these indus­try-backed laws, their impacts and objec­tives, as well as the capac­i­ty of social move­ments to replace them with laws that pro­tect peas­ants’ rights.


  1. How seed laws make farm­ers’ seeds ille­gal
  2. African seeds: A trea­sure under threat
  3. The Amer­i­c­as: Mas­sive resis­tance against “Mon­san­to laws”
  4. Asia: The strug­gle against a new wave of indus­tri­al seeds
  5. Europe: Farm­ers strive to res­cue agri­cul­tur­al diver­si­ty

Down­load the report here