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, silvia@etcgroup.org
Verónica Villa, ETC Group, Mexico, veronica@etcgroup.org
Tel: (+52) 55 63 2664

Ana de Ita, CECCAM, anadeita@ceccam.org.mx
Tel: (+52) 56 61 53 98

Pat Mooney, ETC Group Executive Director, mooney@etcgroup.org
Tel: 1-613-241-2267

Red en Defensa del Maíz: http://redendefensadelmaiz.net/
Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, ceccam: http://www.ceccam.org/


[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:http://www.uccs.mx/doc/g/planting-gmo-corn.
[2] The list of commercial applications for environmental release of GMOs is available here:http://www.senasica.gob.mx/?id=4443. (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: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/sep/28/study-gm-maize-cancer.
[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:http://www.greenpeace.org/mexico/es/Footer/Descargas/reports/Agricultura-sustentable-y-transgenicos/El-origen-y-la-diversidad-del-maiz-2a-edicion/; National Commission for Biodiversity, Project Centers of Origin and diversification. http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/v_ingles/genes/centers_origin/centers_origin.html.
[6] Ceccam, La determinación de los centros de origen y diversidad genética del maíz, Mexico, 2012, available online: http://www.ceccam.org/publicaciones?page=1.
[7] UCCS, “Transgenic Maize Estrangement,” México, 2009, available online:http://www.unionccs.net/comunicados/index.php?doc=sciencetrmaize.
[8] Olivier de Schutter report on Mexico, paragraphs 53-55. See Mission to Mexico, 2011, available online: http://www.srfood.org/index.php/en/country-missions.
[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 (http://endefensadelmaiz.org).
[10] The letter is available online: http://www.etcgroup.org/content/open-letter-international-civil-society-organizations-transgenic-contamination-centers.
[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.

http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/3583

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:

Click to access Biosafety_Brief_2011_5.pdf

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.

http://servindi.org

¿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 www.etcgroup.org/es/node/5253)

http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/07/30/opinion/029a1eco

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

http://www.scidev.net

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
Fax:+62-21-7993426
Web: www.viacampesina.org

October 16th: International day of Action vs agribusiness and Monsanto.

On the occasion of the meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, and to mark World Food Day on October 16, 2010, La Via Campesina calls for actions around the world to denounce the role of agribusinesses such as Monsanto and their destruction and corporatization of biodiversity and life.

Even though the UN declared 2010 the International year of Biodiversity, the CBD is meeting at a time of unprecedented biodiversity destruction. As well as animals, insects and birds, the world is also seeing the disappearance of thousands of plant varieties as agribusiness destroys, contaminates and privatizes the World Heritage stored inside the seeds and plants nurtured by generations of farmers over thousands of years of agriculture on Earth. Since 1900, approximately 90% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost from farmer’s fields. Biodiversity is also endangered by land-grabbing and the displacement of communities who are actually protecting biodiversity.

Agribusiness corporations are attempting to monopolize seeds through the use of hybrid seeds, patents and laws that make farmers’ seeds illegal. Intellectual property rights systems that are upheld or enforced by institutions such as WTO or TRIPS are putting nature into private hands. Monsanto has become a true giant – the company owns almost a quarter of the patented seed market worldwide, and keeps taking over seeds companies particularly in Europe. The top ten biggest companies control almost 70% of the world’s seeds. The company is now entering the “aid business”, selling its seeds in Africa with the Bill Gates Foundation through the “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)”.

Not only do the TNCs sell seeds, they also provide toxic chemicals with devastating effects. Huge monocultures treated with cocktails of agrochemicals will further destroy the world’s biodiversity as well as peasant communities. In the world of Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and others, there is no space for biodiversity, just uniformity, biotechnology and profit.

Within the decision making spaces on climate change, agribusiness promotes aggressively technologies that destroy biodiversity such as transgenic trees plantations or GM seeds, solutions which are fasly presented as better adapted to the new climate.

La Via Campesina knows that the future of our planet depends on our ability to protect, nurture and promote agro biodiversity. We, peasant men and women propose to develop the richness and diversity of our farms, plant varieties, cultures and traditions. Seeds are part of the World Heritage and should remain into public and community-based use, not private ownership.

It is the model of peasant agriculture in its diversity that will allow us to adapt to the demographic and climatic changes which are already upon us.

As we confront the agribusinesses in our fields through promoting our alternatives, we refuse to recognize their “rights” as owners of the planet’s biodiversity and we will also confront them through political actions in the coming weeks, at the FAO, the CBD and the UN Climate Talks (UNFCCC).

We call for Actions worldwide around October 16th to protect biodiversity and confront transnational corporations such as Monsanto.

La Via Campesina invites you to coordinate your actions with the call of the network “Climate Justice Action!” in order to organise direct actions worldwide for climate justice on October 12th, 2010. (/www.climate-justice-action.org/)

 

Ecuador Signs Yasuni-ITT Deal with UNDP To Keep Oil in the Soil and CO2 out of the Atmosphere.

Praise for Pioneering Proposal is Mixed with Concerns by Indigenous Groups Over New Drilling Planned in Southern Ecuador’s Pristine Rainforests

Quito, Ecuador – Ecuador plans to sign an agreement today with the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) that will open an international trust fund to receive donations supporting the government’s proposal to keep some 900 million barrels of oil in the ground. The heavy crude is found in three oil reserves beneath the fragile Yasuni National Park – the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT). Three tumultuous years in the making, the deal with UNDP finally spares a significant area of the Park from oil drilling. Initial donor countries include Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, and Switzerland which have collectively committed an estimated US $1.5 billion of the US$3.6 billon that the Ecuadorian government seeks

The plan will keep an estimated 410 million tons of C02-the major greenhouse gas driving climate change-from reaching the atmosphere. This precedent of avoided CO2 emissions could factor into future climate negotiations.

In 2007, Ecuador’s President Correa launched the Yasuni-ITT initiative, seeking international financial contributions equaling half of the country’s forgone revenues if the government left Yasuni’s oil reserve untouched. The proposal seeks to strike a balance between protecting the park and its indigenous inhabitants, while still generating some revenue for Ecuador, a country dependent on oil for 60 percent of its exports.

Covering nearly 2.5 million acres of primary tropical rainforest at the intersection of the Andes and the Amazon close to the equator, Yasuni is the ancestral territory of the Huaorani people, as well as two other indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane. As a result of its unique location, Yasuni is an area of extreme biodiversity, containing what are thought to be the greatest variety of tree and insect species anywhere on the planet. In just 2.5 acres, there are as many tree species as in all of the US and Canada combined.

“We welcome this long sought after final step to protect an important part of Yasuni National Park,” said Kevin Koenig, Amazon Watch Ecuador Coordinator who has been closely monitoring the initiative since its inception. “This is a big win for Ecuador, and the world. Now we need more countries to contribute, and for President Correa to keep his word.”

The landmark proposal was an uncertain three years in the making, and on several occasions appeared dead in the water. From the outset, the government insisted on a one-year deadline to raise close to $4.5 billion, which was viewed as an impossibility by potential donors and undercut the proposal’s perceived viability. Political turnover led to three different Foreign Affairs ministers and three distinct negotiating teams, while the government implemented seemingly contradictory environmental policies that continued to allow drilling inside the park and expanded mining concessions throughout the Amazon. Correa’s public rebuke of his negotiating team after the Copenhagen Climate Summit were the trust fund was originally set to be signed, led to the resignation of the entire team as well as the Foreign Minister and confidant, Fander Falconi.

But Ecuador’s civil society organizations, as well as the Huaorani themselves, kept the proposal alive by pressuring the government and continuing to increase the proposals popularity nationally and internationally. The environmental organization, Accion Ecologica with its “Amazon For Life” campaign collected tens of thousands of signatures of support and kept the initiative in the news during times when the government’s commitment appeared to wane. The Huaorani continued to raise their voices on the importance of the park, the perils of oil extraction, and the need to keep out extractive industries from areas where the nomadic Tagaeri and Taromenane are present.

Although there is cause for celebration, some of Ecuador’s indigenous groups are concerned by the Correa administration’s announcement this week to open up areas of Ecuador’s roadless, pristine southeastern Amazon region, as well as re-offering older oil blocks that were unsuccessful due to indigenous resistance.

“We hope that the success of the Yasuni proposal doesn’t mean a defeat for the forests and people of the southern rainforests,” said German Freire, President of the Achuar indigenous people who have land title to almost 2 million acres of intact rainforest, all of which would be opened to new drilling. “We don’t want Correa to offset his lost income from leaving the ITT oil in the ground by opening up other areas of equally pristine indigenous lands.”

http://www.amazonwatch.org/newsroom/view_news.php?id=2137

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/04/ecuador-oil-drilling-deal-un

Declaración “FORO REGIONAL EN DEFENSA DE NUESTRO MAÍZ NATIVO”.

Tapachula, Xoconochco, Chiapas
Marzo 17 y 18 de 2010

Los abajo firmantes, organizaciones sociales, organismos civiles,
campesinos(as), estudiantes y académicos (as), participantes en el Foro
Regional en Defensa de Nuestro Maíz Nativo, después de dos días de
compartirnos información, experiencias y
reflexiones, acordamos emitir la siguiente DECLARACIÓN

Considerando:
– Que nuestro país es centro de origen, diversidad y domesticación del
maíz desde hace más de siete mil años;
– Que de acuerdo a la cosmogonía de nuestros antepasados indígenas
mesoamericanos, los hombres y mujeres fuimos creados con maíz:
– Que el maíz es pilar fundamental de la economía, de la cultura y de la
vida del pueblo mexicano;
– Que como producto de un milenario manejo de parte de indígenas y
campesinos mexicanos, existen hoy 59 razas y más de 200 variedades
nativas de maíz;
– Que el maíz es parte central de un sistema de producción integral y
diversificada,
conocida popularmente como la milpa;
– Que la milpa es la vida de las familias y comunidades indígenas y
campesinas de nuestro país y de nuestro estado, siendo base fundamental
para su autosuficiencia, autonomía y soberanía alimentaria;
– Que la milpa, el maíz nativo y con ellos, la soberanía alimentaria y
la vida de comunidades indígenas y campesinos y del propio pueblo
mexicano, se encuentran en grave riesgo, debido a la propagación de
diferentes cultivos transgénicos – incluido recientemente, el propio
maíz- y a la expansión de plantaciones de agrocombustibles como la palma
africana y el piñón;
– Que esta propagación y expansión de transgénicos y agrocombustibles la
realizan los propios gobiernos, federal y estatal, para beneficio de
grandes corporaciones multinacionales como Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta,
Bayer, Dupont, Dow AgroScienses, etc.;
– Que recientemente la Organización Mundial para la Agricultura y
Alimentación (FAO) intentó legitimar en Guadalajara, México, la
expansión de cultivos transgénicos, como supuesta solución para los
problemas del hambre de México y el mundo  y como un aporte a la lucha
contra el cambio climático, agrediendo con ello a nuestros pueblos;
– Que contraria a esta afirmación, sabemos que las técnicas
agroecológicas son la única alternativa realmente sustentable para el
incremento gradual y sostenido de la producción y productividad de
granos básicos, -y por tanto, la verdadera solución al hambre del mundo-
haciendo esto en armonía con la Madre Naturaleza;
– Que la mayoría de estas técnicas agroecológicas -que incluyen a las
propias semillas nativas- forman parte de los saberes tradicionales de
comunidades indígenas y campesinas mesoamericanas, mismos que han sido
tradicionalmente ignorados y discriminados por los gobiernos;
– Que todas esta amenazas se reflejan de manera particular en Chiapas y
más puntualmente, en esta región del Xoconochco, zona de altísima
biodiversidad natural y centro de origen histórico de la domesticación
del maíz, realizada ésta por la primer cultura mesoamericana: los
Mokayas, los Hombres de Maíz (ancestros de la cultura Olmeca)- donde
milpas y maíces nativos están siendo desplazados tanto por la acelerada
expansión de cultivos exóticos (particularmente soya, presumiblemente de
origen transgénico) como por el agresivo programa oficial denominado
Reconversión Productiva, que expande plantaciones monoespecíficas con
fines agrocombustibles, como la palma africana y el piñón, mismas que,
además de ser altamente contaminantes del suelo y del agua, propician la
pérdida de la diversidad biológica, de la soberanía alimentaria, del
conocimiento profundo de la agricultura tradicional, y de la identidad y
del arraigo de comunidades descendientes directas del Pueblo del Maíz.

En base a lo anterior:

DECLARAMOS
1º. Nuestra firme convicción de defender las milpas y maíces nativos,
tanto de la región del Xoconochco, como del estado de Chiapas y del país.

2º. Nuestro compromiso de difundir, por todos los medios a nuestro
alcance, la grave amenaza que existe sobre nuestras milpas y maíces
nativos, y consecuentemente, sobre nuestras comunidades y sobre el
propio pueblo mexicano, con la expansión de cultivos transgénicos y plantaciones agrocombustibles.

3º. Nuestro rechazo a los recientes sistemas de transporte público-privado inaugurados en Chiapas, basados supuestamente en agrocombustible ?tales como los llamados ?conejo bus? de Tuxtla Gutiérrez y “huacalero bus” de esta ciudad de Tapachula- por ser una falsa y demagógica alternativa a los problemas de
emisiones contaminantes y del calentamiento global.

4º. Nuestras exigencias al gobierno federal y al gobierno de Chiapas, de:

a) Cancelar los 24 permisos expedidos por SAGARPA y SEMARNAT,
supuestamente para siembra experimental  de maíz transgénico, otorgados
en octubre de 2009 mediante subsidios públicos- a las corporaciones
multinacionales Monsanto, Pioneer y Dow AgroScienses.
b) Prohibir definitivamente toda siembra de maíces transgénicos, apoyando en
cambio, un régimen especial para la protección de nuestros maíces nativos,
como establece la ley en la materia, y un programa de apoyo a las milpas de
policultivo campesinas con técnicas agroecológicas, elaborado e instrumentado con plena y legítima participación de pueblos y comunidades, como base de la soberanía alimentaria local, regional y nacional, entendida ésta como el derecho soberano de los pueblos, a definir qué y cómo sembrar y producir.

c) Detener la expansión sobre el territorio mexicano y chiapaneco, de otros
cultivos transgénicos como son la soya y el algodón.

d) Obligar a la industria alimentaria y a importadores de granos, a
colocar en sus productos una etiqueta que señale claramente su origen y contenido
transgénico.
e) Detener la expansión de plantaciones monoespecíficas con fines
agrocombustibles, tales como la palma africana, el piñón y la higuerilla.
Finalmente, como parte de nuestra Declaración, y considerando que hoy 18
de marzo de 2010, se conmemora el 72º Aniversario de la expropiación petrolera,
realizada en esta misma fecha del año 1938 por el presidente Lázaro Cárdenas del Río,
retomamos el pensamiento expresado en el discurso expropiatorio, que textualmente dice:

Los recursos naturales del país deben servir para su propia
prosperidad; entregarlos a intereses extraños es traicionar a la Patria.

Tapachula, Xoconochco, Chiapas, 18 de marzo de 2010.

Firman
Kay Kab, el fruto amargo  SSS; Skoltael Lum K’inal, AC; Red Ambiental
Cahuacán;Tianguis de productos orgánicos el Huacalero; Red en Defensa del Maíz;
Centro de Estudios para el Cambio del Campo Mexicano (CECCAM); Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas; Green Peace México; UNORCA Vía Campesina; Maderas del Pueblo del Sureste, AC; Enlace, Comunicación y Capacitación, AC; Red Maíz Criollo Chiapas; XEVFS, la Voz de la Frontera Sur; Ik Balam, agencia informativa ambiental; ECOSUR; Andrés Contreras (el juglar de los caminos) (y 120 firmas individuales de campesinos, estudiantes y académicos)


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