Farmers protest over government plans for GM seeds
More than 2,000 demonstrators marched in Colombo yesterday in protest at government approval of genetically modified crop seeds which they said are set to undermine those produced locally using natural methods.
Religious leaders joined farmers and civil society leaders in the protests after the government recently reversed approval for nearly 3,000 local seed varieties in favor of GM alternatives produced by multinationals.
Farmers have since rejected GM varieties, claiming they would contaminate the farm land and cause losses for farmers who have invested in local seeds.
“Companies are trying to sabotage and eliminate native production which has been historically developed by rural farmers,” said Kankanam Pathirange Somawathi, president of the Savithri women’s movement in Monaragala.
GM seeds lead to dependence on monopolistic multinational firms, she added, with potentially devastating results for Sri Lanka’s farming sector.
Protesters said they plan to send a petition to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, calling on the government to protect farmers’ rights to continue using their own seeds and fertilizers.
Doctor Channa Sudath Jayasumana, a lecturer of pharmacology at Rajarata University in Anuradhapura, said GM seeds and associated products were rising in price, increased environmental degradation and posed health concerns for farmers and the general public.
“Millions of people across the world – especially in Latin American and African countries – are badly suffering today due to GM-seed produced foods,” he said.
A new seed act proposed by the government would also limit the rights of farmers to operate small-scale seed banks, said environmentalist and lawyer Jagath Gunawardane.
But Robin Abegunawardene, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, said the government was aiming to maintain the quality of seeds through the proposed act.
“The Ministry drafted this bill after consulting many people, including farmers,” he said.
Nearly 900,000 families – about 20 percent of the population – are involved in paddy production in Sri Lanka with the farming sector responsible for employing about a third of all working people.
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