Dylan Charles, Editor
Will Colombia’s farmers defeat the economic hitmen of the agricultural industry?
Early in September, 2013, the Colombian government was forced to partially concede to the demands of a nationwide general strike instigated by farmers of the largely agrarian nation. The three week long protests and blockades that shut down much of the nation were supported by thousands of miners, truckers, students, bus drivers, and Colombian citizens, blocking roads and clashing with police.
Close to 650 arrests were made, 485 injuries were reported, 12 people killed, and over 600 cases of human rights violations reported. Coverage of the nationwide protests feature rural peoples and urban demonstrators in the typical contest against body-armor clad, state riot police armed with gas, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and batons, beating people and dispersing women and children in clouds of smoke.
The popular uprising was the result of poor economic conditions coinciding with rising anger over agricultural law 9.70, passed in 2010, which officially made it illegal to share, trade, or sell native seeds amongst farmers, effectively criminalizing generations long traditions of local and small scale agriculture. A documentary film by Victoria Salano featuring footage of the destruction of stocks of native seeds by the government helped to inform the public and to catalyze the movement to suspend law 9.70.
“There have to be controls which govern our food sovereignty,” states Vélez. “We should control which seeds are introduced to the country and can harm local ones. We shouldn’t be persecuting the seeds which are native to our soil.” – German Alonso Vélez
The current system, in place for many years now, already forces farmers to annually purchase seed that is certified by the country’s agricultural institution, rather than allowing them to plant native seed, presenting a severe financial burden to small-scale cultivators. Law 9.70, however, expanded this tyranny by criminalizing the sharing and trading of native seeds, offering prison terms for this customary practice. This seems to have been the last straw for struggling farmers who are appalled to see their heritage criminalized and eradicated by their government working on behalf of international corporate interests.
The seed control policies are forcing farmers to plant genetically modified and patented seed, while ensuring dependence on foreign seed imports and imported pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals. For a nation that has largely survived until now by using native seed, the lack of diversity in imported varieties means that hundreds of years of local agricultural development is being eradicated in exchange for an unaffordable farming system based on genetically modified products seen by many as having severe and wholly yet unknown health risks.
The reaction by such a large segment of the public is reflective of the concern over a looming food crisis, as well as growing public awareness of the practices of the monopolies governing Colombia’s food system. More people now understand the root cause of the issue, international free-trade agreements and pressure from agro-chemical giants, such as Monsanto, which put international corporations in dominion over small farmers by forcing them to buy imported products and services that have never before been needed. It is a usurpation of control over the most important segment of the economy, food.
“It’s no longer viable for a dairy farm to make ends meet with three cows. Unless there are profound structural changes to current development models, we will be totally dependent on monopolies for food.” – German Alonso Vélez
Implementation of seed control was described by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos as ‘having Colombia tuned up to international reality.’ This statement is, of course, completely true. The trending international reality is exactly this, trojan horse conquest of national food sovereignty by means of international corporate/government treaties and agreements sponsored by international governing bodies and the bottomless coiffeurs of the companies that benefit directly from such trade agreements.