New Internationalist

Sri Lankan farmers resist new seed law

Rice farmers in Sri Lanka [Related Image]
More than 70% of Sri Lankans are engaged in some sort of farming. Shehal Joseph under a Creative Commons Licence

Grassroots farmers’ organizations in Sri Lanka have joined forces with environmental activists, scientists and other concerned citizens to mobilize against a new Seed Act which they say will undermine farmers’ rights and threaten biodiversity. The draft ‘Seed and Planting Material Act’ under consideration by the government will, campaigners say, benefit the seed industry, controlled by big transnational corporations, at the expense of the country’s small-scale farmers who are the mainstay of the rural economy.

The new law will require, among other things, the compulsory registration of farmers and certification of all seed and planting material in Sri Lanka by a Seed Certification Service to be run by the Department of Agriculture. A ‘Director in Charge’ will exercise the exclusive right to certify seed and planting material, with the department maintaining and publishing a list of producers and suppliers of certified seed and planting materials. The draconian new law provides for officials to raid farmers’ premises to enforce compliance. It says that no person shall ‘import, export, sell, offer to sell, dispose in any manner or supply or exchange with commercial intention seed and planting materials except in accordance with the provisions of this Act’.

Among those worried about the new law is Sarath Fernando, adviser and founding member of MONLAR (the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform) and a longtime farmers’ rights activist. ‘The [proposed] law should be repealed,’ he says. ‘This kind of legislation is being pushed all over the world. It is an international plan, beneficial to big seed companies in taking control.’ Some of the transnational seed companies have agents in Sri Lanka, and promoting genetically modified seeds is part of their plan. ‘In Sri Lanka, there is a bid to promote a processed, hybrid type of seed called “Golden Rice”, to get rid of the nutritious, indigenous rice varieties,’ Fernando explains.  

Although the law is couched in terms that suggest it will ‘safeguard and conserve the genetic resources of indigenous seed and planting materials’, environmentalists believe it will do just the opposite. This is because the practices of monoculture and uniformity favoured by the big seed companies help to destroy biodiversity. Vandana Shiva, an internationally renowned Indian environmental activist, physicist and author, has drawn attention to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s finding that ‘more than 75 per cent of diversity in agriculture has been destroyed due to the spread of industrial monocultures’.

Vandana Shiva has critiqued the Sri Lankan draft Seed Act, at MONLAR’s request. She points out that the Technical and Advisory Committee to be set up under the Act has no representative from the farming community, nor any biodiversity expert to ensure the conservation of genetic diversity. However, it does have a genetic engineer, who, Shiva believes, should have ‘no role in a Seed Law’.

The new law also calls for the setting up of a Seed and Planting Material Advisory Council that will ‘co-ordinate with public sector agencies in working towards the development of the private sector seed and planting material industry’. Shiva says: ‘Private -public partnerships mean public subsidies for private profits. The public system will provide genetic material, research, extension. The private sector will take the intellectual property rights and walk away with super profits.’ She argues that farmers should be exempted from all restrictions placed on commercial entities and the seed industry.

Fernando says that MONLAR’s position on the proposed Seed Act is in line with that of Navdanya, an environmental organization which focuses on biodiversity conservation, and of which Shiva is a founding member. A recent Navdanya publication titled The Law of the Seed says the dominant legislation today relating to seed violates democratic processes. ‘An arsenal of legal instruments is steadily being invented and imposed that criminalize age-old farmers’ seed breeding, seed saving and seed sharing. And this arsenal is being shaped by the handful of corporations who first introduced toxic chemicals into agriculture, and are now controlling the seed through genetic engineering and patents.’

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  1. #1 Ray Howe 02 Feb 14

    This is the biggist fight you will ever have , your wellfares could very bad if this goes ahead

  2. #2 Anupam Paul 05 Mar 14

    Third world countries have rich bio-resources, they have vast crop biodiversity unlike EU and USA. Agriculture has been the tradition and culture of Srilanka, India, Bangladesh etc.With a passage of time,new concept of imperialism through usurping the bio resources has emerged in the name of upliftment of poor people, development of agriculture. All the input have been externalized even the seed is in the hand of seed dealers and multinational corporations- Green Revolution. The policy makers of these countries have been made to understand that there is no alternative- TINA. And they have no direct relationship with the fields and farmers. The poor farmers are the victims of international conspiracies and the policy makers are not aware of our rich bio resources and the colossal loss of biodiversity. Any scientist cannot bring back the lost treasure.

  3. #3 Warna Hettiarachchi 24 Jun 14


    This minister is either misinformed or else corrupted to the bone. All over the world GMO crops have been denounced due to health hazards. Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, etc are massive corporate American transgenic crop developers who have inhibited the regenerative genes in crops so that the heirloom seeds will not grow for the next season. Farmers are forced to buy GMO (genetically modified) seeds for every planting season. This same Monsanto has produced the insecticide Glyphosate which has killed and made many farmers in Sri Lanka and all over the world with CKD kidney disease. Glyphosate is also killing the key pollinator for agricultural and natural plants - the BEES and BUTTERFLIES. Bee colonies have started to dwindle in massive numbers to dangerous levels due to Glyphosate spray on agricultural crops.
    GMO corporations have bribed governments and created criminal gangs and cartels to threaten and scare farmers who are against GMO seeds and transgenic/synthetic chemical/agricultural products in South America. Many European countries have banned GMO products and have passed bills to restrict GMO content in their food.
    GMO foods are NOT what the mother nature has intended for human consumption. Once certain genes are made prime and dominant in the plant DNA, the level of toxicity of complex compounds present would make it unfit for human consumption. Nature has a balance of the toxic, neutralizing and antidote properties of any foodcrop that have evolved over tens of thousands of years across civilizations.

    Having realized how easy and effortless it is to pay Sri Lankan politicians a little money and give kickbacks to have GMO sold to unsuspecting Sri Lankan farmer community, international GMO giants have approached GOSL and made its mandate through IMF, Worldbank and other donor nations.

    It is indeed ludicrous and hilarious this uneducated minister asserting organic farmers are protesting for other companies' interests.

    Read more on harmful effects of GMO food/crops at ’Food Babe’, Anti-GMO lobby, etc. Be careful as Google and other internet search engines are flooded with propaganda writings created by Monsanto and other GMO corporations promoting their products and they claim it is very safe, and that Glyphosate is a safe chemical pesticide. Do not be fooled by them and SL's greedy politicians who h ave bastardized the nation for generations to come.

  4. #4 Cader 15 Jul 14

    How can we support resisting the new seed law?

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