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Sowing Devastations Proposed Seed Act

By Nirmala Kannangara

The proposed Seed Act is to sow devastation amongst farmers. Under the proposed Act, farmers’ right to sell, preserve, exchange, breed and improve the quality of seeds will be proscribed and the sole authority of these activities will be given to multi-national seed companies.

The draft Seed and Planting Material Act No….. of 2013 have raised concern amongst scientists, environmental and farmer organizations in the country. According to them, the government’s plan to implement this proposed hazardous Act is not to safeguard the farmers’ rights but to benefit the multi-national seed companies.

“The proposed Act should be revoked as this is an international plan to benefit the multi-national seed companies as they will take control of selling, preserving, exchanging, breeding and improving the quality of seeds in the future thereby destroying the biodiversity,” said Chinthaka Rajapaksa, Moderator, Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform.

However, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena when contacted said the Seed Act would not be implemented without the consent of all sections of the society and added that it is a national duty to bring laws to the existing Seed Act to protect the farmer communities in the country.

“Although we have drafted the new laws, it would not be implemented without the people’s consent. However, it is a national duty to bring new laws to the existing Seed Act,” said Minister Abeywardena.

According to Rajapaksa, the multi-national seed companies have their agents in Sri Lanka, and promoting genetically modified seeds is part of their project. He further added that there is a bid to promote a processed, hybrid seed – ‘Golden Rice,’ in order to get rid of the nutritious, indigenous rice varieties, now getting popular among our health conscious people.

“The proposed law is a threat to the biodiversity. It is a plan to break the ‘backbone’ of the rural economy. The new law will require the compulsory ‘registration’ of farmers and ‘certification’ of all seed and planting materials in Sri Lanka by a Seed Certification Service under the Department of Agriculture. A ‘Director in Charge’ of the subject will be the Director General Agriculture and shall exercise the exclusive right to certify seed and planting materials. The Department will maintain and publish a list of producers and suppliers of ‘certified seed and planting materials.’ The draconian new law provides authority for officials to raid farmers’ premises to ensure compliance with its requirements. It says that no person shall “import, export, sell, offer to sell, dispose in any manner or supply or exchange with commercial intention seeds and planting materials except in accordance with the provisions of this Act,” claimed Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa asked why it has become so essential for the government and the Ministry of Agriculture to introduce this draconian Act when the existing Seed Act of 2003 provides adequate laws to safeguards the farmer community to prevent illegal import and export of seeds, and protect indigenous paddy varieties. The existing Act gives ample protection to safeguard the farmers. Under the proposed laws, the Agriculture Ministry attempts to give the powers to multi-national seed companies to exercise a monopoly on the production of all seeds, paving the way for patents and the establishment of monoculture. “The laws of proposed Seed Act are ambiguous and suggest they will safeguard and conserve the genetic resources of indigenous seed and planting materials. But once this new laws are brought, they will do just the opposite,” added Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa further added that instead of the proposed Act that will break the backbone of the farmer communities in the country, a new Act should be introduced – a ‘Seed and Farmers Rights Act’. The proposed Act has been designed for the Seed Industry, which by promoting uniformity, destroys indigenous biodiversity that will undermine farmers’ rights.

“The farmers should be exempted from all restrictions placed on commercial entities and the seed industry. The Technical and Advisory Committee, to be set up under the new Act has no representative from the farming community, nor any biodiversity expert to ensure the conservation of genetic diversity. There is a plan to set up a ‘Seed and Planting Material Advisory Council’ which will coordinate public sector agencies towards the development of the private sector seeds and planting material industry. Private and Public partnership means public subsidies for private profits. The public system will provide genetic material, research, extension. The private sector will take the intellectual property rights and walk away with super profits,” claimed Rajapaksa.

According to Rajapaksa under the new Act the Director General Agriculture Department and his designated officers will act as police officers against any person or party who is guilty of an offence.

“Under the draft Act, the Director-General, the Director in Charge of the subject, the Registrar, the Assistant Registrars and the authorized officers, shall be considered police officers who discharge the powers under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedures. Any person guilty of an offence under this Act shall be liable for conviction before a Magistrate after summary trial and sentenced imprisonment of not less than one month and not exceeding six months, or to a fine not less than 50,000 rupees, or both.

On the successive occasion, the penalty shall be doubled via cancellation of registration for five years, and on the third occasion, the penalty shall be threefold with cancellation of registration and blacklisting, and measures shall be taken to publish it in all three languages in national newspapers,” said Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa further said that under the new Seed Act multi-national agro chemical fertilizer companies, too, are to be benefitted because hybrid seeds are ‘made’ in factories using poisonous fertilizers and chemicals.

“This is the cause of deadly kidney disease in the country and all our attempts to encourage paddy farmers to grow traditional paddy that does not need any pesticides or agro chemical fertilizers will be affected under the new regulations as these traditional seeds will not be allowed in the future. Instead our farmers will have to grow hybrid seeds that need pesticides and chemical fertilizers to grow. Instead of finding a solution to the spreading kidney disease, the government is ‘promoting’ it,” said Rajapaksa.

 

The great shortage

Alluding to the rice shortage in the country, National Organizer All Ceylon Farmer Federation Namal Karunaratne alleged that the government has created an artificial shortage in the market.

“The country will suffer from an actual rice shortage in the months to come and the present artificial shortage was created to benefit three ministerial siblings,” alleged Karunaratne.

According to him, the yala crop is now being harvested and to allow the paddy prices to remain the same as earlier, the government has now imposed a price control on rice and started to nab the traders who sell rice at higher prices.

“All these months, the Consumer Affairs Ministry was inactive in taking any action against traders who sell rice at higher prices. The reason why they have now woken up suddenly to nab errant traders was to safeguard the two brothers of the Minister and one deputy minister but not the farmers.  If the rice prices go up, the paddy farmers will get an opportunity to sell their crop at a higher price, but it will affect these politicians. That was why the government has controlling prices of rice to bring down them to benefit the trio,” added Karunaratne.

Karunaratne challenged Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to explain the reasons why the country is now facing a severe rice shortage when he (Minister) said that there are enough paddy stocks to produce rice till October.

“He said so in May, but the government had to import 100,000MT of rice from late July and the cabinet has given approval to import another 50,000MT from India and Bangladesh. The actual fact is, the government had enough paddy in their stores but instead of making rice out of the bumper stock, the government sold them to these three. Although the paddy prices have gone up, the government sold the stock at Rs. 32 per kilo to these three political siblings,” alleged Karunaratne.

He further accused the government of not prohibiting rice being used to distil beer.

“One Deputy Minister is using 498,000 kg of paddy daily to distil beer. Of 450,000 kg of paddy, he makes 270,000 kg of rice every day and sends to his beer factory to distill alcohol and produce Hingurana Beer. When the country is facing a severe rice shortage why cannot the government stop the Deputy Minister from using rice to distil beer? At a recent meeting held with the small and medium rice mill owners, the Finance Ministry officials, when mill owners raised concern about rice being used to distil beer, have stated that there is no issue of using rice to distil beer and had confirmed that Sri Lanka has stopped importing barley to distil beer,” added Karunaratne.

According to him, although using rice to distil beer has not shown any adverse impact at present, the consequence would be much higher in the long run.

“When there are no plans to increase the rice production in the country and once the proposed new Seed Act comes into effect after the elections next year, using rice to distil beer would bring a certain rice shortage in the country throughout the year and going up the price of a kilo of rice to Rs 500 would be inevitable,” he said.

Meanwhile Karunaratne accused the Irrigation Department of not providing enough water to agricultural areas in the North Central Province although it is revealed that there is enough water in the Polgolla reservoir.

“Due to the severe drought prevailing in the North, North Central, Eastern and Uva Provinces, farmers were not allowed to cultivate all their paddy lands. Therefore they cultivate half or one third of their paddy lands. The restrictions were imposed due to lack of water. Their prime objective, it is said, to give water for consumption, electricity generation, factories and then for agriculture purposes respectively. However, they never used the water of Polgolla Reservoir to generate hydropower over the past several months. We have details to prove that the Irrigation Department did not release water to the North Central Province from Polgolla although the sluice gates of the Reservoir were opened on three occasions due to heavy rains in the catchment areas. They let the water to go to the sea instead of generating power. Had they generated hydropower, not only the country could have electricity at a lesser price but also the used water would have filled the tanks in the dry zone,” alleged Karunaratne.

Karunaratne accused the Irrigation Department and the Agriculture Ministry of the yala season debacle.

“The authorities do not know how to manage water. That was why the farmers were allowed only to cultivate 40% paddy lands this season when there was ample water in the reservoirs. After releasing water to the tanks in the North Central Province in February, the Irrigation Department did not release a drop of water although on three occasions, in March, June and July, the sluice gates were opened

According to Karunaratne over 1.8 million people have been affected by the drought which is still ravaging 16 districts.

Karunaratne further questioned why the government failed to initiate rice export processing zones as promised by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his 2012 budget speech.

“The President promised to start four rice export processing zones in the North, East, North Central and Southern Provinces and to export 200,000MT of rice. Instead of exporting, we are to import rice and the export processing zone has become yet another promise,” alleged Karunaratne.

 

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