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With the 40th anniversary of the National Seed Office, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock promotes in the Legislative Assembly a new Seed Law under file 21,087, if approved, it would give more protection to Intellectual Property on commercial varieties of seeds at the same time as limits the trade in creole or native seeds for peasants and indigenous people.
Although the article supposedly leaves out the Creole seeds from the scope of the law; this is as long as they do not intervene with the private business of the companies. In other words, the moment a company feels offended by the ancestral practice of sharing seeds, they run the risk of being persecuted and criminalized.
This phenomenon of privatization of seeds is global. The wave of mega-mergers of transnational companies has left the world of agriculture in a state of concentration and monopoly never seen before. In 2006, ten companies controlled 57% of the seed business(i), less than ten years later, by 2018, only three companies will control 60% of the world's seeds(ii). These three multinational emporiums are known by the names of Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta-ChemChina and Dow-DuPont(iii); These giants are the product of unprecedented acquisitions and mergers, with investments of up to USD $ 63,000 million. It is in this international scenario in agriculture that our country operates.
According to Ofinase in Costa Rica, the seed import business reports transactions of up to USD $ 36 million annually(iv). It is clear that the country is no exception to the global context. Ofinase data reveal that 104 companies with permits to sell certified seeds are registered(v); of these only 8 companies control 53% of all commercially available varieties. Which shows that the world trend is not alien to the Costa Rican reality.
The domestic seed market is controlled in few hands and they want to increase the pressure to certify and register all seeds following the mandate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) better known as the club of rich countries. A private neoliberal entity, outside the United Nations system, that puts pressure on its members to adopt free trade policies. Costa Rica's entry into the OECD would cost us as a country ¢ 1,789 million a year, just for membership fee.
We are not members yet, but the OECD has already recommended that Costa Rica increase the use of certified seeds in the country (vi) and thus criminalize peasant seed.
If this law is approved, people who are found growing or selling seeds without the stipulated permits will be subject to fines of up to 5 base salaries. Which is equivalent to ¢ 2,155,000. These sanctions are described in article 44 of the bill, but it is not all.
In this bill, the inscriptions of commercial varieties will be mandatory. What has a high cost for farmers and indigenous people who wish to be part of the formal seed trade at the national level. The cost of the registration process is currently around ¢ 405,000 for seed processing plants; and to register a new variety of seeds would cost him ¢ 155,000. Costs that are far from being accessible to farmers or indigenous people who wish to be part of the national supply of seeds.
The discussions to make a new Seed Law in Costa Rica have not had the adequate participation on the part of sectors such as farmers or indigenous people. Even from the environmental sector we have had to defend our right to participate in the discussion within the Agricultural Affairs Commission of the Legislative Assembly. This discussion should be open, plural, participatory and democratic since it deals with the interests of sensitive populations. ILO Convention 169 must be respected and indigenous populations should be taken into account.
It is urgent to start a discussion so that, as a Costa Rican society, we promote a true process of strengthening national production and supporting peasant agriculture, which feeds most of the people who live in this country.