Global Justice Now have organised events across the UK with farmers from Bangladesh to talk about Monsanto. You might have heard about CETA and TTIP, both trade agreements which could see profits put before people but you might not have heard about Monsanto and according to the presentation their ‘seed piracy’.
The talk with food sovereignty campaigner Farida Akhter included a presentation by Nayakrishi Andolon from the Farmers Movement for Saving Seeds in Bangladesh. They see seeds as treasures and their seed banks core to their communities, working hard to preserve the vast variety of seeds that work successfully within their environment. They see it as a way to help small scale farmers share their wisdom and knowledge of farming practices from the past that’s sustainable and keep food in the hands of small scale farmers rather than large corporations.
Unfortunately, Monsanto are taking the seeds they collect and using science to genetically modify them, once they’ve done this they apply for a patent and then according to the law they ‘own’ that seed. Making it difficult for farmers to save seeds as all seeds of that variety come under the patent. On their website Monsanto says why they sue farmers that save seeds. Even though these seeds have been used by the farmers in the area for centuries.
In the presentation they talked about how farmers taking the seeds from Monsanto has resulted in poorer crops, an increase in pesticides and left the farmers in debt leading some to commit suicide.
What really struck me about their experience of farming and its comparison to the UK is the push to adopt monoculture crops that rely on pesticides and fertilisers. In Bangladesh they had thousands of varieties of rice seeds but this variety is diminishing each year as more farmers are encouraged by consultants to grow one type of crop. In Britain we are increasingly moving towards monoculture when we need variety to be sustainable, help improve biodiversity and soil health. What they found in Bangladesh is that although the crops did well in the first year, over time there was a problem with superweeds caused by using Round Up.
It reminds me of an article I read in The Guardian recently, a man bought a lamp controlled by Wi-Fi. But then found it annoying to get out his phone, unlock it, swipe through to the right app, open it, select the correct lamp and switch it on every evening. So instead he bought a button that linked to his phone, hooked it up to the lamp and put it on the wall.
“Congratulations,” said his wife. “You just spent £200 on a light switch.”
There’s a lesson for us all to learn from that!