Against patents

Against patents

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By By Marcelo Aguilar

If the large corporations that dominate global agribusiness succeed, a farmer can be criminalized for doing the same thing he did throughout his life, following centuries-old traditions: conserving and exchanging seeds. At a time when most of the laws on the subject tend to this criminalization through the patenting of seeds, Venezuela shook the board. In one of the last sessions with a Bolivarian majority –after the defeat of Chavismo in the recent legislative elections–, the National Legislative Assembly approved a law that, among other regulations, guarantees the rights of peasants. In its article 14 it establishes that “the local, peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendant seed will be produced and exchanged freely throughout the national territory”, and in article 66 it prohibits “the granting of breeder's rights (the corporation that created or genetically improved a seed) and patents on the seed, as well as any other mechanism that promotes its privatization ”. In its foundation, the law says its objective is "to preserve, protect and guarantee the production, multiplication, conservation, free circulation and use of the seed, as well as the promotion, research, innovation, distribution and exchange of the same", from a "socialist agroecological" vision.

POINT BY POINT. In its article 9 it establishes: "The production, importation, commercialization, distribution, release, use, multiplication and entry into the country of transgenic seeds is prohibited." Article 44 introduces the concept of “good living”: “the State will contribute to the good living of the local, peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendant population by promoting agroecology, the optimal use of the land and its local, peasant seed, indigenous and Afro-descendant, free of pesticides and GMOs ”. As detailed in the foundation, these measures aim to "guarantee agri-food security and sovereignty, the right to healthy and nutritious food, the conservation and protection of biological diversity, as well as the preservation of life on the planet." Two different institutions are created. On the one hand, and as a control tool, there will be the National Seed Commission, which aims to guide public policies on the subject, design a National Seed Plan, control compliance with the law, and accompany the other body that It creates the Popular Council for the Protection and Protection of Local, Rural, Indigenous and Afro-descendant Seed. This council will be made up of peasant communities and groups - what is known in Venezuela as "popular power" -. In addition, the State "will recognize Pueblo teachers" as "producers and promoters of knowledge, practices and beliefs associated with local seeds" and will promote popular education on the subject. According to Ana Felicien, from the coordinator Venezuela Free of GMOs, this council has the challenge of "putting the law into practice." "We went to the phase of empowering ourselves and strengthening all instances of popular power as much as we can," he told Brecha. He added that the closest challenges have to do with the "identification and construction of a network of producers", in the middle of a process of rescue and production of creole seeds in crops where they were being lost, such as carrots, potatoes and some legumes. .

TITANIC. In 2012, the social movements linked to the issue learned from the press that the seed law in force since 2002 was going to be modified, aimed at ensuring patents and economic rights over seeds. The new modification would deepen this process, so they were put on alert. They submitted signatures to the Finance and Economic Development Commission to request participation in the drafting process, they managed to stop the approval of the modification and an agreement was reached to develop a Popular Constituent Debate. After a series of five debates, the parliamentary discussion was reached, which ended up approving the law. More than a thousand people and 300 organizations passed through this work and discussion platform. With strong support from the community media in dissemination, they joined the work, in addition to the peasant movements and agroecological producers, groups of students, women, educators, and promoters of free software. The latter had a leading role in the writing of the articles related to patents. For Felicien, the approval of the law was a "titanic struggle", and the result is a sum of "many wills and trajectories". “This law is a break with conventional seed laws, which are all permeated by the agribusiness lobby. We managed to put in a legal mechanism very concrete alternatives to patents, through the recognition of the knowledge of the peasants, made invisible in all the seed laws that we have been able to review ”. For the Argentine researcher Carlos Vicente, a member of the Grain organization, this law is "unprecedented in the continent", and transcendent for three fundamental reasons. One: "because it has been widely debated during the last three years by social movements and therefore represents their interests and needs." Two: "because it prohibits GMOs and intellectual property rights over seeds and therefore puts a limit on the threat that agribusiness poses for peasants and agroecological producers in Venezuela." Three: "because it is a light of hope in the face of a scenario of regression of many social struggles in which privatization seed laws have been the order of the day throughout the continent."

However, the legislative scenario will no longer be the same in Venezuela. The National Assembly will be governed by a majority opposed to Chavismo. And the criticisms from the landowners associations have not been few. For example, the president of the Confederation of Associations of Agricultural Producers, Antonio Pestana, told the newspaper Ultima Hora that "it is a priority to stop the seed law", claiming that it was not consulted with the producers and "is being approved by people that irrationally put their ideologies first, discouraging research and national production ”. It will not be easy to uphold the law. Ana Felicien knows it: “We are going to have to fight her in the street. Because they have already declared that the land law and the seed law are their first two objectives to attack ”. A last minute modification also raises unknowns, since it declared the seed as a good in the public domain. According to the Chavista deputy Manuel Briceño, this means that "the guardianship of the seed that is used in the country, all the seed, will be held by the State for reasons of agri-food security." The force of the law will depend on the facts of how it is defended, in the middle of a continent that advances in the opposite direction.

Photo: AFP

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Video: Intellectual Property: A First Principles Debate POLICYbrief (June 2022).


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