LONDON - A group of Peruvian indigenous farmers have prepared an extensively researched counter to a Canadian move to revive 'terminator' seeds.
Terminator seeds work only once. For a new crop, farmers would have to go back to sellers. These seeds that do not regenerate like normal seeds would work hugely to the advantage of corporations, to the detriment of farmers.
A United Nations moratorium at present blocks commercialisation of terminator seeds. But a group of countries led by Canada have challenged the UN safety regulation. This has led the Convention on Biological Diversity based in Montreal to open new discussions on relaxing the moratorium on such seeds.
One of the strongest counters to the move so far has come not from experts and officials but by Peruvian, says Michel Pimbert from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) that promotes sustainable development at local levels.
After monitoring cultivation methods, about 70 indigenous leaders representing 26 Andean and Amazon communities met in a mountain village last month over two days to collate their findings and assess the damage that could be caused by terminator seeds.
''When does it happen that marginalised, excluded citizens come out and talk in this way,'' Pimbert told IPS. The Peruvian indigenous farmers came together under the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES) and the International Institute for Environment and Development, a general assembly largely composed of indigenous people from villages in the Andes.
''Indigenous people and marginalised groups barely have a voice when it comes to policies and legislation,'' Pimbert said. ''These were the voices of the poorest of the poor living in biodiversity hotspots.''
Officials at the Montreal institute had acknowledged that the input from the Peruvian indigenous farmers was one of the strongest they have received so far, Pimbert said.
The indigenous farmers reported that Peruvian farmers and small farmers worldwide ''are dependent on seeds obtained from the harvest as a principal source of seed to be used in subsequent agricultural cycles.''
But their findings went beyond that to examine several aspects of any change. The farmers ''evaluated the evidence and assessed the risks of terminator technology on land, spiritual systems and on women, who are their seed keepers,'' Pimbert said.
The farmers also showed that Terminator (Genetic Use Restriction Technology) would transfer sterility to and effectively kill off other crops and wider plant life, as well as increasing the reliance of farmers on big agribusiness which is already patenting seeds traditionally owned by indigenous people.
They reported that industrialised 'mono-culture' farming would benefit at the expense of tried and tested local agricultural knowledge. They warned that in Peru alone, 2,000 varieties of potato could be put at risk by Terminator technology. Peru gave the potato to the world.
''Terminator seeds do not have life,'' Felipe Gonzalez of the indigenous Pinchimoro community said in a statement. ''Like a plague they will come infecting our crops and carrying sickness. We want to continue using our own seeds and our own customs of seed conservation and sharing.''
The Swiss-based company Syngenta recently won the patent on Terminator potatoes, but under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, it cannot market these potatoes.
The submission by the Peruvian farmers will be reviewed at a conference on such agricultural technology in Granada in Spain later this year. The moratorium issue will come up at a conference on biological diversity to be held in Brazil in March next year.
''These voices and their research will be formally communicated there,'' Pimbert said. They would seek to challenge claims by academics who feel terminator technology is safe, he said.
Peruvian indigenous leaders are urging the UN to expose the dangers of Terminator technology and uphold the moratorium. They also demand that indigenous people have a say in the process equal to the influence of the agribusiness lobby.
''The UN moratorium helps to protect millenarian indigenous agricultural knowledge and the agrobiodiversity and global food security it enables,'' Alejandro Argumedo, associate director of ANDES, said in a statement. ''The rush to exploit Terminator technology for corporate profit must not be allowed to sabotage vital international biosafety polices.
© 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service