(COP11 or the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity—CBD— is ongoing at Hyderadad, India, October 8-19, 2012. The CBD was signed by 150 government leaders during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit intended to put into action the principles of Agenda 21. The CBD recognizes that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems – it is about people and our need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live.)
Farmers’ perspectives are often subsumed under traditional knowledge, indigenous knowledge, and agricultural biodiversity in the CBD. To date, however, the Convention of the Parties (COP) has not defined traditional knowledge. Worse, interviews with several indigenous peoples show that their perspectives on farming are forgotten, because indigenous peoples have other pressing concerns besides farming, such as militarization, assimilation to dominant cultures, violation of human rights, loss of ancestral lands to mining, loss of culture, and others. With all these on the shoulders of indigenous peoples, farmers issues on their right to participate and decide in all processes affecting them; on their right to use, sell, exchange and make profit from seeds; as well as to protect their livelihoods, particularly from imposed and destructive technologies – are often neglected, or are only paid lip service to.
Farmers’ rights have long surfaced in discussions on agricultural biodiversity in the COP, but even then, most COP decisions on farmers’ rights have never been implemented, for one, due to lack of funding, said conveners. What is shoddier is, decisions involving farmers’ rights have been retired without being implemented. And now, one of the COP decisions that impose a ban on genetic use restriction technologies or GURTs, also called terminator technologies is about to be retired.
Outside of COP, small farming families continue to till the soil and feed 85% of the world’s population, unaware that their very lives hang in the balance in various international conventions.
Farmers are becoming more obscure and marginalized, with no one standing up on issues that affect farmers, and consequently, on how the world’s food is produced, from seed to plate. SEARICE in COP11 tries to address this situation by pushing for farmers’ perspectives and upholding farmer’s rights in any issue discussed.
SEARICE started it off by bringing its partners working on agricultural biodiversity conservation to COP11. Partners from Bhutan, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao PDR and the Philippines are participating in the CBD processes by engaging their respective country delegations while at the same time learning the relevance of the CBD negotiations on our work in the ground. Every day, the partners, who directly work with farmers, engage in reflection sessions on how CBD affects their work, and how CBD issues affect farmers’ rights.
Day two was busy for SEARICE, as geoengineering was discussed. Geoengineering techniques have been ongoing for quite a while, and involve large-scale experiments of manipulating the earth’s climate in the guise of cooling the planet. While its capacity to do so remains to be seen, the impacts of geoengineering activities on small food producers were never discussed. While the CBD Secretariat tried to compile views of the International Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (ILC) on geoengineering, farmers’ perspectives were lacking. Geoengineering will affect the environment, and biodiversity, critical factors to farmers in producing the world’s food. SEARICE thus stood up for farmers and read a statement, reminding the delegates that farmers will be affected with geoengineering activities, and there is a need to consult farmers on the issue, so that farmers’ rights are protected and implemented.
In a side event sponsored by the ETC group, SEARICE also discussed why delegates should call for a moratorium on synthetic biology. Only discovered in 2010, synthetic biology develops plants through computer technologies. This new method of producing food will definitely affect farmers, and food production systems. No evaluation, risk assessments, and independent reviews have been made on this technology. And, as is the case in new technologies marketed by the corporate world, farmers’ perspectives were lacking. SEARICE pointed out that before synthetic plants continue to be allowed in the environment, the impact of these technologies on farmers and food production systems must first be considered.