Posts Tagged 'biodiversity'

The Great Mexican Maize Massacre

Gene Giants Prepare the Genetic Wipe-out of One of the World’s Most Important Food Crops

Agribusiness giants Monsanto, DuPont and Dow are plotting the boldest coup of a global food crop in history. If their requests to allow a massive commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) maize are approved in the next two weeks by the government of outgoing president Felipe Calderón, this parting gift to the gene giants will amount to a knife in the heart of the center of origin and diversity for maize. The consequences will be grave – and global. With the approvals and December planting deadlines looming, social movements and civil society organizations have called for an end to all GM maize in Mexico. Mexico’s Union of Concerned Scientists (UCCS) has called on the Mexican government to stop the processing of any application for open-field release of GM maize in Mexico.[1]ETC Group joins these calls, and appeals to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – intergovernmental bodies mandated to support food security and biodiversity – to take immediate action.

Outrage and alarm rang out through Mexico when the world’s two largest commercial seed companies, Monsanto and DuPont (whose seed business is known as DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.), and Dow AgroSciences (the world’s 8th largest seed company) applied to the government for the planting of 2,500,000 hectares (more than 6 million acres) of transgenic maize in Mexico.[2] The land area is massive – about the size of El Salvador. Scientists have identified thousands of peasant varieties of maize, making Mexico the global repository of maize genetic diversity. If the agribusiness applications are approved, it will mark the world’s first commercial-scale planting of genetically modified varieties of a major food crop in its center of origin.

“If Mexico’s government allows this crime of historic significance to happen, GMOs will soon be in the food of the entire Mexican population, and genetic contamination of Mexican peasant varieties will be inevitable. We are talking about damaging more than 7,000 years of indigenous and peasant work that created maize – one of the world’s three most widely eaten crops,” said Verónica Villa from ETC’s Mexico office. “As if this weren’t bad enough, the companies want to plant Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant maize [Mon603] on more than 1,400,000 hectares. This is the same type of GM maize that has been linked to cancer in rats according to a recently published peer-reviewed study.”[3]

The poor in Latin America, but also in Asia and Africa, will particularly feel the effects, where breeding from maize diversity supports their subsistence and helps them cope with impacts of climate chaos. Along with Mexico, southern African countries Lesotho, Zambia, and Malawi have the highest per capita maize consumption in the world.[4]

The Mexican government insists that the target areas in the north are not part of the center of origin for maize, as traditional varieties weren’t found there. But this is not true: peasant varieties have been collected in these states, although to a lesser degree than in areas to the south. Many scientists as well as the National Biodiversity Commission (Conabio) consider the whole Mexican territory to be the center of origin for maize.[5] According to a review made by Ceccam (Center for Study of Change in Rural Mexico), the government’s newly drawn ‘center of origin’ map is historically and scientifically wrong, designed in order to justify the planting of GM maize by transnational companies.[6]

Commercial-scale planting (and subsequent re-planting) of GM maize will contaminate peasant varieties beyond the target regions, via the dispersal of GM pollen by insects and wind, as well as via grain elevators and accidental escape from trucks that transport maize all over Mexico. Scientists expect that contamination’s negative effects on peasant varieties might be irreversible and progressive, thanks to the accumulation of transgenes in its genome, leading to an erosion of biodiversity.[7]

Hundreds of Mexican agronomists and other scientists as well as Mexico’s peasant, farmers’ and consumers’ organizations have voiced their opposition to the proposed planting, but the outgoing administration of President Calderón – with nothing to lose before his term ends on December 1 – is expected to side with agribusiness. Mounting pressure, both inside and outside the country, may complicate matters.

If the planting is allowed, however, farmers growing maize may become unwitting patent infringers, guilty of using “patented genes” and may be forced to pay royalties to the patent owners, as has already happened in hundreds of cases in North America.

“It would be a monumental injustice for the creators of maize – who have so benefited humankind – to be obliged to pay royalties to a transnational corporation that exploited their knowledge in the first place,” said Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group’s Latin America Director.

In 1999, the Mexican National Agricultural Biosafety Commission established a moratorium on GM maize trials and commercial planting because of Mexico’s unique position as the center of origin and genetic diversity for maize. Calderón’s government arbitrarily broke the moratorium in 2009, although the conditions that motivated the moratorium were unchanged. Since then, the new biosafety commission (CIBIOGEM) has given its approval of 177 small GM maize field trials to 4 transnational companies (Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta). The GM field trials themselves have been criticized for lacking biosafety rigour – failing to comply even with Mexico’s weak biosafety law.

Silvia Ribeiro argues: “The so-called public consultations have been a charade, since the trials were approved without taking into account critical comments – even when they represented the majority of comments, many of them from well-known agronomists and other scientists. On top of that, the results of the trials were kept confidential, but are now providing the justification to allow commercial planting.”

After his official visit to Mexico in 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, recommended that the Mexican government reinstate the moratorium on GM maize, both because of its impact on biodiversity and on Farmers’ Rights.[8] The Mexican government ignored the recommendation.

Ana de Ita of Ceccam points out that the area applied for in the Sinaloa and Tamaulipas (Mexican states in the North of Mexico) exceeds the area currently planted to irrigated maize there. “So it appears the companies are planning to replace the whole area of maize as well as other crops,” she says. “This is outrageous, as there is no reason for Mexico to risk its own history and biodiversity with GM maize. Mexico already produces enough maize to exceed the human consumption needs in the country, and it could produce much more by supporting peasants and small-scale farmers without handing over its food sovereignty to transnational companies.”

Maize is central to the cultures, economies and livelihoods of the Mexican population, where most people eat maize in different forms every day. The amount of maize that Mexicans consume far exceeds the average per capita consumption of most other countries (115 kg/year). 85% of the Mexican maize producers are peasants and small farmers, with fields smaller than 5 hectares. These producers have an essential role in providing more than half the food for the population, particularly the poor. At the same time, they are caring for and increasing the crop’s genetic diversity because of the decentralized way they grow maize – planting many different varieties, adapted at local levels, along with a number of other crops and wild species.

In 2009, the Network in Defense of Maize,[9] together with La Via Campesina North America, sent an open letter signed by thousands of other organizations and individuals to FAO and the CBD, asking them to take action to prevent GM maize contamination in Mexico.[10] The former directors of both international organizations dodged the request, even though both institutions have committed to protect agricultural centers of origin.[11] We now ask the new directors of FAO and the CBD to take immediate action to protect the center of origin and diversity of maize.

For further information:

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group Latin America Director,
Verónica Villa, ETC Group, Mexico,
Tel: (+52) 55 63 2664

Ana de Ita, CECCAM,
Tel: (+52) 56 61 53 98

Pat Mooney, ETC Group Executive Director,
Tel: 1-613-241-2267

Red en Defensa del Maíz:
Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, ceccam:

[1] UCCS (Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad), “Statement: Call to action vs the planting of GMO corn in open field situations in Mexico,” November 2012, available online:
[2] The list of commercial applications for environmental release of GMOs is available here: (In Mexico, DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., is known by the name PHI México.)
[3] Gilles-Eric Séralini et al., “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” Food and Chemical ToxicologyVolume 50, Issue 11, November 2012, pp. 4221–4231. See also, John Vidal, “Study linking GM maize to cancer must be taken seriously by regulators,” The Guardian, 28 September 2012, available online:
[4] Alfred W. Crosby, review of James C. McCann, Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000 in Technology and Culture, Vol. 47, No. 1, January 2006, pp. 190-191.
[5] A. Serratos, El origen y la diversidad del maíz en el continente Americano, 2nd edition, September 2012, Mexico City Autonomous University and Greenpeace, available online:; National Commission for Biodiversity, Project Centers of Origin and diversification.
[6] Ceccam, La determinación de los centros de origen y diversidad genética del maíz, Mexico, 2012, available online:
[7] UCCS, “Transgenic Maize Estrangement,” México, 2009, available online:
[8] Olivier de Schutter report on Mexico, paragraphs 53-55. See Mission to Mexico, 2011, available online:
[9] The Network in Defense of Maize includes more than 1000 indigenous communities and civil society organizations. It was created in 2001, when it was first discovered that native Mexican maize had been contaminated by GM maize. Since then, the Network has resisted the advance of GM maize contamination at the local level, particularly in rural areas. Both ETC Group and Ceccam are members of the Network (
[10] The letter is available online:
[11] The CBD’s former Secretary General, Ahmed Djoghlaf, did not reply to the open letter. The former FAO Director General Jacques Diouf did not reply either, but delegated Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division, to respond. Pandey, a well-known advocate of genetically modified crops, wrote that FAO could offer advice, but that biosafety was a Mexican issue.

Mexican Seeds, the New Spoils for Food Corporations.

Biodiversity and small and medium farms are threatened in Mexico by the looming approval of a reform of the law on plant varieties that will extend patent rights over seeds, activists and experts warn.

The amendment, of the federal law on plant varieties in effect since 1996, was approved by the Senate in November and is now making its way through the lower house of Congress.

“They are trying to expand privatisation in this important sector, as part of an offensive backed by transnational corporations to give more rights to breeders (of plant varieties), which are mainly these big companies,” Adela San Vicente, the head of Semillas de Vida (Seeds of Life), a local NGO, told IPS. 

The reform, defended by the government of conservative President Felipe Calderón, would cover all plant material, including harvest products, and would introduce the definition of “essentially derived varieties”, used to protect genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In addition, it extends the period of protection for breeders of plant varieties from 15 to 25 years.

One of the risks posed by the reform is that small farmers who receive and grow hybrid seeds without authorisation could face legal action. 

”They are paving the way for the industry to charge patent rights if, for example, native maize is contaminated by transgenic crops, because the native maize would contain the genes of the GMO,” Alejandro Espinosa, a researcher in the maize programme at Mexico’s National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research (INIFAP), told IPS. 

”It would be the last nail in the coffin for the Mexican countryside,” complained the scientist, who has developed more than 30 hybrid species at INIFAP and at least a dozen at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, for production by small companies and distribution at the local level.

The amendment would bring Mexico’s legislation into line with the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, as revised in 1991. 

The Convention, which is monitored by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), was adopted in 1961 and revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991.

Mexico, which joined UPOV in 1978, currently follows the standards outlined by the Convention in that year’s revision. 

The UPOV system of plant variety protection provides international recognition of the rights of breeders of new varieties that are distinct, sufficiently homogeneous and stable, according to the criteria outlined by the intergovernmental accord. 

It also provides double protection, for both patents and plant variety rights.

The Geneva-based UPOV’s mission is “to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society,” according to its web site.

The 1991 revision of the Convention, which entered into force in 1998, protects Canadian, U.S. and EU property rights, and introduced the novel feature of recognising rights over new genetic traits – an open concession to GMOs. 

More than 250,000 tonnes of seeds are produced annually in Mexico, according to the National Service of Seed Inspection and Certification (SNICS), the government agency that oversees some 55,000 hectares of land where seeds for about two dozen crops are produced.

A collective of researchers and NGOs has urged legislators to halt the reform, and to subject it to an open debate with all concerned sectors, including small and medium farmers, who it will affect the most. 

”Native seeds are the only input used by peasant farmers, who are left without any rights,” San Vicente said. “And with the problems posed by climate change, they lose seeds or reuse them.

Seeds have been a common good of humanity. And (with this amendment, companies) can even go after researchers who use those seeds.” 

In this country of 112 million people, Latin America’s second-largest economy, there are approximately five million peasant farmer families, according to official figures.

With the projected reform, SNICS would have the authority to impose fines or even block land use for infractions of patents and plant breeders’ rights. SNICS has already registered more than 150 breeders from over 20 countries, involving at least 100 plant species.

Of that total, 26 percent are ornamental plants, and the rest are agricultural or forestry species. 

The countries of Latin America have filed fewer than 1,000 applications for plant breeders’ rights with UPOV.

Meanwhile, the No Patents on Seeds global coalition of NGOs reports that since 1996, farm-saved or “informal seeds” have been on the decline, while industrial seeds are expanding. 

”Hundreds and hundreds of varieties are needed to ensure the sustainability of improved and native seeds,” INIFAP’s Espinosa said. “Advances in their yields are environmentally-friendly, because they are genes from the species themselves. 

”The improvements are made with the best plants, according to the environment. It’s what farmers have done for decades,” he said.

But Mexico is increasingly lax in protecting that system. The government-run national seed production company, PRONASE, has been in the process of liquidation since the early 2000s, which has left the sector in the hands of private Mexican and foreign companies. 

In addition, the 2005 Genetically Modified Organisms Biosafety Law and the 2007 Law on the Production, Certification and Trade of Seeds have given industry more and more maneuvering room.

The National Catalogue of Plant Varieties, updated by SNICS in December, contains 1,827 species, most of which are different kinds of maize, beans, sorghum, wheat and potatoes. 

Public research institutes and food corporations like the U.S.-based Monsanto and Pioneer have registered their varieties in the catalogue. 

Inclusion in that list is the first requisite for registration in a seed production programme. 

There are at least 180 commonly used plant varieties in Mexico, such as the nopal cactus fruit, güisquil or pear squash, avocado, and tomato.

SNICS defends patents on seeds, arguing that they protect the genetic patrimony and facilitate access to plant material, which depends on the fair distribution of economic benefits, while respecting special rules for endemic species, preventing the plunder of resources and biopiracy, and strengthening institutional capacity.

Transgenes in Mexican maize, ten years on.

Ten years ago, the discovery of transgenes in Mexican maize sparked an international discussion on the use of GM crops in centers of origin and genetic diversity. Since then, the pertinent question is no longer if transgenes will contaminate Mexico’s maize landraces, but more importantly, what we might lose if this continues. Answering this requires addressing the right questions within Mexico’s context – not only the scientific concerns of environmental, health and biodiversity-level effects – but also their inter-related social mand economic impacts. Domestic society should therefore play a role in the assessment of whether genetically modifi ed (GM) maize is appropriate for Mexico as the center of origin and genetic diversity. Today, a more integrative decision making process on the appropriateness of GM maize for Mexican agriculture is needed, including consideration of whether alternative approaches to meeting maize production challenges may provide greater benefits with fewer risks.

Read the brief at:

Oaxaca. Taller Internacional sobre Pueblos Indígenas y Cambio Climático. Octubre 2011.

Del 10 al 12 de octubre se realizará en Oaxaca el Taller Internacional sobre Pueblos Indígenas y Cambio Climático hacia la COP 17 de Durban, Sudáfrica. La cita es en el Centro Cultural Santo Domingo.

El evento tiene como objetivos analizar los mecanismos para implementar los acuerdos de la 16° Conferencia de las Partes (COP 16), de la Convención Marco de las Naciones sobre Cambio Climático, realizada en Cancún, el 2010. Asimismo, preparar las propuestas que a presentar en la COP 17 a realizarse en Durban, Sudáfrica a finales de noviembre de este año.

Adelfo Regino Montes, Secretario de Asuntos Indígenas del Gobierno del Estado de Oaxaca, informó que se ha convocado a un grupo significativo de representantes indígenas de México y de las diversas regiones indígenas del mundo.

Asistirá el embajador Luis Alfonso de Alba, primer Presidente del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas, y Representante Permanente de México ante las Naciones Unidas y otras Organizaciones Internacionales con sede en Ginebra y Representante Especial para el Cambio Climático.

También estarán embajadores de diversos países, como la embajadora representante de la Unión Europea Margarida Matias, la embajada de Sudáfrica H.E. Ms. Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, la embajada de Argentina como integrante que preside el Grupo de los 77, entre muchos otros.

Será un diálogo interactivo con representantes indígenas, entre ellos el Pueblo Batak de Indonesia; el pueblo indígena Chakma de Bangladesh; los Kankanaey- Igorot de la Cordillera de Filipinas, el Concejo Circumpolar Inuit, entre otros, con miras a concretar los acuerdos de Cancún para hacer propuestas importantes en Sudáfrica.

Adelfo Regino sostuvo que Oaxaca aportará toda la experiencia acumulada en los pueblos indígenas en materia de mitigación y adaptación climática.

“Tenemos las experiencias más importantes en materia de sostenibilidad, como el cultivo del café orgánico, la conservación de suelos, la siembra de maíz en laderas y otras experiencias propias de la Sierra Norte en aprovechamiento comunal forestal sustentable”, indicó.

“Los oaxaqueños tenemos una enorme biodiversidad, por ejemplo en la selva de los Chimalapas. Hay un importante trabajo de conservación de los humedales en las costas” agregó Adelfo.

“En los pueblos indígenas hay conocimientos tradicionales muy específicos como la cosmovisión del respeto a la Madre Tierra, estos conocimientos tradicionales de respeto a la naturaleza son muy importantes ahora para la mitigación climática, la conservación de los bosques”.

“La participación y la presencia de los pueblos indígenas en todo el debate sobre el cambio climático es fundamental” concluyó Adelfo Regino.

¿Biomasa o biomasacre?

Con creciente entusiasmo, empresas, políticos y algunos científicos nos hablan de cómo se van a resolver los desastres ambientales, la crisis energética y climática, y hasta el hambre, con el uso de biomasa en lugar de combustibles fósiles. Se presenta como un elemento fundamental de una transición a una nueva economía verde, y por estar basada en materiales biológicos, parecería que es más sustentable y beneficiosa para el ambiente. Al fin, suena bien comer en un plato hecho de maíz o papa en lugar de plástico, conducir automóviles con biocombustibles o hasta volar en aviones con bioturbosina. No hay duda que es urgente salir de la civilización petrolera, ¿pero será esta nueva ola de apropiación de la biomasa realmente sustentable?

Un aspecto de esta nueva economía de la biomasa, el de los agro-combustibles, ha sido ampliamente criticado, entre muchos otros problemas, porque se ha documentado que es el factor principal de aumento del precio de los alimentos. Con toda la gravedad que esto implica, es apenas la punta del iceberg de los impactos que tendría el aumento masivo de uso de la biomasa del planeta, para combustibles y otros usos industriales.

Actualmente, 24 por ciento de la biomasa terrestre global está mercantilizada. En juego está la apropiación y mercantilización de 76 por ciento restante, aparte de la biomasa marina. Un factor clave para ello son los nuevos instrumentos tecnológicos, como la biología sintética, que está diseñando microorganismos sintéticos capaces de digerir celulosa en forma más eficiente (actualmente el proceso es costoso y gasta más energía de la que genera). Esto es clave para convertir virtualmente cualquier vegetal en la materia prima de nuevos polímeros que podrían usarse para combustibles, farmacéuticos, plásticos y muchas otras sustancias industriales. El potencial de ganancias es enorme y por ello los actores son las empresas más grandes del planeta: las principales trasnacionales de los agronegocios y plantaciones de árboles (Cargill, ADM, Bunge, Cosan, Stora Enso, Weyerhauser), grandes petroleras, químicas y farmacéuticas (BP, Shell, Total Oil, Chevron, Exxon, DuPont, Basf) junto a trasnacionales de biotecnología, nanotecnología y software (Monsanto, Syngenta, Amyris, Synthetic Genomics, Genencor, Novozymes) y otras.

Dentro del término biomasa se incluyen desde bosques y arbustos a cultivos y algas, así como bagazos y restos de cosecha. O sea, toda materia vegetal cultivada o natural. Los que promueven estos nuevos usos de la biomasa, suelen poner el acento en el uso de restos y bagazos, como si fueran algo marginal, que no tiene ninguna utilidad, lo cual ignora por ejemplo, que son una de las pocas fuentes de devolución de materia orgánica y nutrientes a los suelos, cuya erosión es un gran problema. Además, pese a que dicen que usaránrestos, lo cierto es que los emprendimientos actuales para producir plásticos y combustibles basados en biología sintética (ya en marcha en biorrefinerías en Estados Unidos y Brasil con la participación de Amyris y otras empresas), se basan en el uso de plantaciones industriales de maíz y caña de azúcar.

Nos dicen también, que la biomasa es una fuente natural, que siempre fue la base del sustento humano, que es renovable, abundante y que usando solamente la parte celulósica y no comestible, se evitará la competencia con la producción de alimentos.

Sin embargo, todo esto no son más que afirmaciones engañosas para disfrazar la debacle venidera. Para empezar, ocultan que se trata de aumentar en forma exponencial las plantaciones industriales de monocultivos de árboles y otros, como piñón (jatropha), higuerilla (ricino), etcétera. Esto es una amenaza a la biodiversidad y disputa tierra, agua y nutrientes de los cultivos alimentarios, además de expulsar a los campesinos de sus territorios y empujarlos a abandonar sus cultivos tradicionales.

Además, aunque 24 por ciento de mercantilización de la biomasa nos pueda parecer poco, en realidad según datos del Global Footprint Network (que calcula la huella ecológica que dejan diferentes actividades en el planeta), ya hemos sobrepasado la capacidad de recuperación y renovación de la biomasa en su propio ritmo. Esto quiere decir, que al nivel actual y sin el aumento masivo de consumo de biomasa que se planea, ya se está disminuyendo la base natural.

Por otra parte, si bien la materia vegetal ha sido el sustento de la humanidad durante la mayor parte de la historia, la demanda de energía se disparó con el industrialismo a más de veinte veces lo que se usaba hace poco más de un siglo, que produciendo además la mayor devastación de suelos de la historia global.

Esta nueva economía de la biomasa no tiene nada que ver con el uso sustentable de la naturaleza y cultivos que históricamente han hecho las comunidades locales, los campesinos e indígenas, que son una gran parte de la solución a las crisis energética, climática y alimentaria. Ahora se trata de que las empresas que han lucrado devastando el planeta con sus productos basados en el petróleo, se disponen a una nueva ola de apropiación masiva de naturaleza, biodiversidad, territorios y comunidades, llamando a esto sustentable.

* Investigadora del Grupo ETC (Más datos en el informe Los nuevos amos de la biomasa

Mexican trial of genetically modified maize stirs debate.

Mexico has authorised a field trial of genetically modified (GM) maize that could lead to commercialisation of the crop, sparking debate about the effects on the country’s unique maize biodiversity.

Although Mexico already commercially grows some GM crops, such as cotton, GM maize is controversial because the country is home to thousands of the world’s maize varieties that originated there.

The multinational corporation Monsanto will test a variety of maize resistant to the herbicide glyphosate on less than a hectare of land in north Mexico before it can commercialise the GM crop. Unlike experimental trials, such pilot projects do not require containment measures to prevent the spread of the GM crop.

Mexico’s agriculture ministry said the project, approved last month (8 March), will occur “under the strictest biosecurity measures to guarantee the prevention of involuntary dispersion of the GM maize’s pollen”.

But Elena Álvarez-Buylla, head of the Union of Scientists Committed to Society (UCCS), said: “This opens up the door to contamination of native species in the most important centre of origin [of maize] in the entire world.”

The UCCS stated last month (25 March) that the coexistence of GM and non-GM varieties in fields — which may happen if commercial approval is given — could contaminate the unique non-GM varieties.

“There are alternative technologies to address the non-GM maize shortage and loss of crops due to climate events. GM [crops] are not more resistant to droughts and plagues, and they threaten our food sovereignty,” its statement says, referring to multinational companies owning GM technologies.

Transgenic crops were banned in Mexico until 2005, but the government has since granted 67 permits for GM maize to be grown experimentally on over 70 hectares. This would be the first trial that could lead to commercialisation if it is successful.

At the third Mexican Congress of Ecology this month (3–7 April) in Veracruz, scientists were cautious about growing GM maize.

Andrew Stephenson, an ecology professor at Pennsylvania University, United States, said the indirect effects of mixing GM and non-GM varieties are largely unknown, especially under Mexico’s complex environmental conditions.

And Mauricio Quesada of the National Autonomous University’s Centre for Ecosystems Research said Mexico should prioritise research on the natural diversity of local crops instead of “jumping” into GM.

But Luis Herrera-Estrella, chief of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity at the Research and Advanced Studies Center of the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico, said the country’s legal biosafety framework should be trusted.

Cecilia Rosen

La Via Campesina: The CBD did not stop the commercialization of biodiversity.

(Jakarta, 12 November, 2010) La Via Campesina delegates attending the conference of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Nagoya from 19 to 29 October 2010 regret that the conference failed to achieve a radical decision to halt the mass commercialization and destruction of biodiversity.

Despite the positive decisions to impose a moratorium on geo-engineering and conserve the moratorium on Terminator technology, the conference failed to take the decisive measures needed to stop the biodiversity loss that threatens our survival.

Via Campesina celebrates the moratorium on geo-engineering as this technology is regarded as a false and damaging proposal for reversing climate change. It does not have the potential, as claimed, to reduce the production of green house gas emissions. Modifying the earth’s surface, oceans and atmosphere in this way is instead likely to have devastating impacts on biodiversity. We encourage the delegates at the upcoming COP16 climate change talks in Cancun at the end of this year to endorse the moratorium imposed at Nagoya.

Despite these positive steps however, the CBD failed to reject several other initiatives currently threatening biodiversity in the name of the new “green economy”. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) that promotes the commercialization of biodiversity by assigning it an economic value was strongly opposed by some delegations such as Bolivia. However, although a specific proposal was not adopted, the CBD decided to continue developing the economic aspects of ecosystem services by building on TEEB. The CBD even seeks cooperation on this issue with other UN organizations and the World Bank. This is a very negative development that Via Campesina strongly rejects.

Moreover in Nagoya, the governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States of America pledged to support the operational costs of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), negotiated at COP15. This mechanism allows developed countries to continue polluting while paying developing countries to capture carbon in projects such as monoculture plantations. REDD+ initiatives’, strongly rejected by farmers’ movements, compound the trend of “land grabbing” across the global south, expelling farmers from their land in the interests of agribusiness.

According to Guy Kastler of La Via Campesina “We clearly saw in Nagoya that the prior consent of the communities for the agreements on access and benefit sharing (ABS) will not work because patent holders are refusing to disclose the sources of their “inventions”. It makes it impossible for the local populations to claim any benefits from the plants and the knowledge that they have cultivated for centuries. Other mechanisms are clearly needed”.

The Aichi Target, proposed in Nagoya as a means of limiting biodiversity loss within protected areas is also far from satisfying. The creation of protected areas has in the past been used to evict farmers and indigenous peoples from their land when they are actually the ones defending diversity in the first place.

La Via Campesina delegation observed during the COP10 of the CBD that the role of small farmers and indigenous people as main defenders of biodiversity was not clearly recognized by the institution. The interests of transnational companies, who were able to finance hundreds of lobbyists, have been more accommodated than the rights of these inherent defenders of global biodiversity. While many western governments sent lobbyists from TNCs to negotiate on their behalf, not one of them sent an indigenous person or a farmer. The French government, for example, included in its official delegation representatives from the seed industry while the Brazilian delegation included lobbyists from the petroleum industry.

Coleen Ross from the National Farmers Union in Canada said: “Biodiversity is life. Wherever biodiversity is destroyed, human life is in danger. Long-term solutions to the dramatic loss of biodiversity will ultimately remain in the hands of small farmers and indigenous peoples and not in the commercialization of biodiversity that destroyed it in the first place”. It is therefore crucial to reject all market solutions and to recognize and support the sustainable agriculture of family farmers and indigenous people as a way of maintaining global biodiversity.

International Operational Secretariat
La Via Campesina
Jl. Mampang Prapatan XIV/5, Jakarta Selatan 12790, Indonesia
Tel: +62-21-7991890


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