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The song “How Long?” by Argentinean Lisandro Aristimuño, where he speaks about the commodification of the daily life, seems to coincide with the arguments expressed in Guatemala against the plant varieties protection bill, known as the “Monsanto Bill” which would allow a few companies to claim ownership over four thousand years of anonymous domestication of species, such as maize.
These arguments come from Mario Godinez, agronomist, professor at the Agronomy School of San Carlos University and environmentalist, member of CEIBA-Friends of the Earth Guatemala.
“A patented seed could modify neighboring crops, and this would turn them into illegal crops”, said Godinez in an interview published in “El Periodico” website, a Guatemalan publication.
In response to the passing of the Bill by the Legislative Assembly, Godinez, secretary of the Agronomist Association of Guatemala, gathered biotechnologists, geneticists and agronomists specialized in law, among others, to discuss about the implications of the Monsanto Bill.
Among the many conceptual tricks of the bill, Godinez highlights that it makes reference to the “discovery” of seeds or varieties, even though “genes are not discovered, they have always existed, humanity has always used them. In the north of Huehuetenango, we know that there are genes that resist floods and they have been there for a long time (…) Someone can come here, find some interesting genes and patent them without any trouble”, he added.
“A simple modification is enough to patent a seed, nevertheless, the rest of the genome is the result of four thousand years of domestication by human beings, and the question is: how much is this century-old domestication worth? Today´s maize is not like the maize of many years ago which couldn´t be eaten. Who is going to get paid by this domestication? How much are they going to pay the communities that have taken care of this for centuries?
Meanwhile, patenting doesn´t imply any benefit for the communities who keep maize, but also rice and medicinal herbs seeds in their “milpas”.
“In 2003, we managed to stop a project that aimed to research medicinal plants to treat malaria, but when one looked at the royalty chain, everything went to the US university and researchers, and the community of origin of the gen was not present in the chain. This is looting. There are cases like this one in Colombia with a rice variety. Farmers didn´t know that someone had patented the seed, the people continued sowing the seeds, and all of the sudden they were being criminalized. Colombian authorities started to enforce the law and seized the crops”.
Nowadays, less than 1/3 of the seeds that maintain the Guatemalan crops are registered, said Godínez. The rest are seeds that the peasants save from one season to the next or seeds that are traded informally.
The level of corporate appropriation over genetic resources is so strong that can make an innocent farmer go to jail, added Godinez. “If in my land I have a seed variety protected by law and a neighbor has any crop of the same species, pollen can travel from one to the other without us being able to do anything. When his lands are sampled, they could find a crop that was grown with my legally protected material. According to law, I have the right to take away his crops and send him to jail”.
As the images attached to this article show, this week there were several mobilizations in Guatemala and an appeal was filed to the Constitutional Court to prevent the coming into effect of this bill passed last June.
A similar bill was under consideration in Chile and it was withdrawn by President Michelle Bachelet as part of the first measures of her second administration. In Dominican Republic, for instance, there is also a group of organizations resisting a very similar bill.
In terms of the obligation to pass this regulation in the framework of the Free Trade Agreement between Central America and the US, Godinez said: “treaties that protect agricultural diversity have also been signed, such as the the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture still in force and in this framework the country is obliged to protect its crops. There is a contradiction that will generate appeals, these are two treaties fighting each other at the same level. There will even be more conflicts”.
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