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Sri Lanka farmers speak out against seed law

Proposed act will hit small growers and biodiversity, they say

Sri Lanka farmers speak out against seed law

Small-scale farmers work their fields in Sri Lanka reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

February 12, 2014

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Civic rights groups and farmers yesterday called on the government to drop a proposed law regulating seeds and other planting material, saying it will badly impact farmers’ rights and biodiversity. In addition, they claim it aims only to benefit large multinational firms.

Under the new law, all farmers would have to be registered and all seed and planting material such as fertilizers certified by a special office run by the Department of Agriculture. This would give the government the exclusive right to specify seed and planting material.

Farmers say this would undermine the rights of small-scale farmers who would be forced to buy seed from large multinational firms at higher prices. They also claim the large corporations will use the law to push genetically modified seeds such as Golden Rice - a special hybrid which its developers say is high in Vitamin A.

“This proposed act gives the right of seed varieties to monopolistic multinational firms and will increase the domination of multinational seed companies,” said Chinthaka Rajapaksha, co-convener of the National Movement for Protection of Seed Rights, an umbrella organization of 700 agricultural rights groups.

“The government wants to discourage local use of natural methods and native productions in favor of GM seeds,” he told farmers at a meeting yesterday at the Centre for Society and Religion in Colombo.

“The bill will give power to a special committee to raid farms in search of illegal seeds,” he said, adding that this form of legislation has badly affected small scale famers in other parts of the world.

“We see a similar act is operational in India and farmers have continuously opposed it,” he told the meeting.

But the government says the law will protect and conserve indigenous seed and planting material.

Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Minister of Agriculture told that the proposed law is to protect and regulate the quality of seed and planting materials to protect the rights of users.

However the farmers at yesterday’s meeting said they would petition the agricultural minister and other government officials to protect farmers’ rights to continue using their own seeds and fertilizers.

“We have small-scale seed banks which rural farmers have historically developed but the government wants to ban them by declaring them illegal,” said Wanniarachchi Kankanamalage Edirisinghe, a farmer.

“Traditional famers have over 3,500 local seed varieties,” he added. “The cost of GM seeds for example will be very high, making it difficult for small-scale farmers to survive.

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