Biopiracy and Synthetic Biology at COP13: Industry Pressure and Civil Society Concern

This is the third in a series of blogs about the participation of CAGJ/AGRA Watch in the 2016 United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico. Read the first blog: Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?  and the second blog: Negotiation and Dialogue at the UN Biodiversity Conference

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Press Conference for the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy at the COP13 Negotiations.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Convention on Biological Diversity and the subsidiary Protocols is synthetic biology. Since the beginning of this Conference on Biodiversity, we have seen the tactics and arguments on the side of advancing synthetic biology, as well as the positions and strategy organized by science-activists, researchers, and groups concerned with this technology because of its potentially adverse effects on food sovereignty, public health, and risk assessment. Today, in an action organized by civil society at the COP13 negotiations, the “Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy”, corporations, governments, and organizations were “awarded” for their behaviors in making profit from  stolen genetic resources from indigenous peoples and local communities, while defenders of biodiversity were recognized at the ceremony for repelling biopiracy attacks.

What is synthetic biology?

So-called synthetic biology is technically an extension of genetic engineering, in which a DNA synthesiser is used to build artificial DNA from scratch – not from nature. Synthetic biology is predicted by its proponents to be a nearly 40 billion dollar industry as this technology develops for synthesis of DNA and genetically re-designed biological organisms, from pharmaceuticals to food ingredients, and – of particular concern to food sovereignty activists – genome-edited and self-replicating crops, insects, and animals. Continue reading “Biopiracy and Synthetic Biology at COP13: Industry Pressure and Civil Society Concern”

Negotiation and Dialogue at the UN Biodiversity Conference

This is the second in a series of blogs about the participation of CAGJ/AGRA Watch in the 2016 United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico. Read the first blog: Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?

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Phil Bereano, Simone Adler, and Johanna Lundahl during a Plenary session of the CBD.

By Simone Adler

Beginning this past Sunday and going through December 17th, the two week United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico is organized into different levels and spaces of negotiation, dialogue, and presentation. Throughout, the participation of attendees to the Conference varies by process and rank.

COP13, COP-MOP8, COP-MOP2

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (aka Access and Benefit Sharing, ABS), and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety are all being negotiated at this Conference. Each has its own governing body. For the CBD, it is the 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13); for the ABS it is the 8th Conference of Parties Serving as the Meeting of Parties (COP-MOP8), and for the Cartagena Protocol it is the 2nd Conference of Parties Serving as the Meeting of Parties (COP-MOP2). This UN Conference is unique in that all three COP and COP-MOP are meeting simultaneously, as the content of each are inextricably related.

Who is participating?

The primary participants in CBD, ABS, and Cartagena Protocol negotiations are the government delegates from the countries that are signed Parties, i.e. the members of COP-13, COP-MOP8, and COP-MOP2. These participants are known as “Parties”. Significantly, the US has not signed these agreements, thus is not a Party. However US governmental officials do attend, and have considerable influence over the deliberations. Continue reading “Negotiation and Dialogue at the UN Biodiversity Conference”

Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?

This is the first in a series of blogs about the participation of CAGJ/AGRA Watch in the 2016 United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico.

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Johanna Lundahl, Heather Day, Simone Adler, and Phil Bereano at the UN Conference on Biodiversity.

By Simone Adler, CAGJ Organizing Director

Food sovereignty ensures that the right to use and manage lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce the food”

Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007

Small farmers and peasants around the world have a reciprocal relationship with their environments – as stewards of biodiversity, they are also shaped by the natural biodiversity in which they grow food. This is why the global dialogue and decision-making processes around biodiversity necessitate participation from farmers, food sovereignty activists, and advocates for biodiversity protection.

Beginning on Sunday, the United Nations opened the 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13) meetings on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cancun, Mexico. The CBD was signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To date, there are 196 legally-bound parties (countries) to the CBD. The COP is the governing body of the CBD which meets to review progress, identify new priorities, and potentially make amendments.

The CBD recognizes through international law that conservation of biodiversity is a common concern across nations and for all peoples and ecosystems. In the context of sustainable development, the CBD includes measures for the sustainable use of biological resources and includes protection of all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources. Additionally, the CBD address traditional knowledge as important to conserving genetic resources. As a global instrument for national strategies around conservation and sustainability, the CBD has three main objectives:

  • The conservation of biological diversity
  • The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  • The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources

In 2003, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety went into effect as a supplemental protocol to the CBD. The Biosafety Protocol addresses the risks of trans-boundary movement of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms and the possible adverse effects to human health and conservation of biodiversity. Continue reading “Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?”

African Civil Society and farmer representatives blocked from ARIPO deliberations on regional seed (PVP) law

AGRA Watch partners the African Centre for Biodiversity and the PELUM Association in collaboration with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa issued a joint press release today. Read the full text below.

African Civil Society and farmer representatives blocked from ARIPO deliberations on regional seed (PVP) law

29 November 2016

The authoritarian nature of the African Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) Secretariat and its undemocratic processes are scandalous and unacceptable. Locking African farmer representatives and civil society out in order to allow unfettered draconian regional law making is deeply disturbing. What is at play here is entrenching an agricultural future for smallholder farmers in the 19 ARIPO countries that will ensure that profits accrue mainly to the corporate sector and a tiny group of elite players that can engage in the commercial agriculture value chain, while pushing the already marginalised majority of smallholder farmers further into hunger, poverty and dispossession.

ARIPO will host an Administrative Council meeting 5–8 December 2016 in Harare, Zimbabwe for its 19 ARIPO Member States, to adopt deeply troubling draft Regulations to implement a highly contested and controversial regional law on seeds – the Arusha Protocol on Protection of New Varieties of Plants (PVP). ARIPO has refused point blank to allow any African farmer representative or civil society to attend the December meeting on the spurious and frivolous grounds that ARIPO has no cooperation agreement with such civil society. Yet ARIPO has in the past, allowed a small handful of people representing smallholder farmers and from African civil society to attend Administrative Council meetings.

Civil society groups have consistently and constructively engaged with the drafting of the Arusha Protocol and several versions of the draft Regulations, and have submitted sets of substantive comments. In these comments we have raised serious concerns. We continue to have these concerns and also in relation to the most recent Draft Regulations that are up for decision making at the December meeting.

These include the impingement of national sovereignty; the failure to safeguard Farmers’ Rights and farmer seed systems; the failure to prevent bio-piracy and undermining the implementation of international Treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) as well as various international instruments on human rights.

The ARIPO Secretariat is hell bent on excluding those that represent the interests of smallholder farmers from key meetings where regional laws are being adopted, yet opening the doors to foreign interests. This has already happened in July 2015, when farmer representatives and African CSOs were deliberately shut out of the Diplomatic Conference held in Arusha, Tanzania when the Protocol itself was adopted.

We call upon all Member States of ARIPO to ensure open, transparent and democratic regional law making. Further we impress upon Member States to ensure that smallholder farmers have the rights to continue to access and use all seed freely without any impediments, including protected varieties, through saving, exchanging, and selling on the local markets in Africa. Such practices are the backbone of farming systems in the ARIPO region and support livelihoods, provide food, sustenance and nutrition for many millions of people on the continent.

Member States must ensure that mechanisms are put in place to operationalise their right to object to the plant breeders’ rights from being applicable and enforceable in their territories, as allowed by Article 4(1) of the Protocol, and to ensure that appropriate safeguards to prevent bio-piracy are put in place to prevent the exploitation of farmers and disallow breeders from hiding acts of bio-piracy behind confidentiality rules.

ENDS//

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Global Justice Now Tells a Tale of Two Food Systems

This excellent infographic sums up two potential food systems of our future.

By Johanna Lundahl, AGRA Watch Intern

The UK based activist organization  Global Justice Now(GJN) released a powerful new infographic this summer which illustrates an all too familiar story– a farmer-controlled farm relies on traditional seed systems and farm-produced fertilizers, while a corporate-controlled farm must purchase seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. Although both farms in the graphic are initially identical, they grow and change in radically different ways. The farmer-controlled farm adds animals and vegetables, the skies are blue, soil is healthy, and the farm is teeming with biodiversity. Meanwhile, the corporate-controlled farm grows bleak and grey. The seeds and pesticides that farmers in this system are forced to use grow crops in higher quantities in the short term. In the long term they leech nutrients from the soil, ultimately degrading soil quality. A farmer in the corporate-controlled farm is chained to a system of debt and dependence on the corporation.

Continue reading “Global Justice Now Tells a Tale of Two Food Systems”

N2Africa, the Gates Foundation and legume commercialisation in Africa

N2 Africa report

By Sarah Herrington, AGRA Watch Intern

In August, the African Centre for Biodiversity released a report titled N2Africa, The Gates Foundation and legume commercialization in Africa, as a result of a 3 year research program. This report focuses on the N2Africa program, which claims to be an initiative for the development and distribution of new legume varieties, as well as promotion of the use of inoculants and synthetic fertilizers, in order to develop a commercial legume market for smallholders. The program is backed by a conglomerate of organizations, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), public research institutions, farmer associations, and universities. The majority of funding, however, comes directly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with smaller donations from its affiliate, the Howard G. Warren Foundation.

Legumes have a long history as a food source in Africa due to their high nutritional value. Although the development of new legume varieties offers possibilities for nutritional and ecological benefits for smallholders and the African population, the program follows the pattern of other Green Revolution initiatives – resulting in problems such as economic instability, land holding risks, and misplaced objectives. This report outlines the problematic potentials of the N2Africa Program as well as projected outcomes. The report points out the parameters that should be recognized as the primary goals of the initiative (the nutritional and ecological benefits) and how these parameters are actually thrown into a secondary category of developmental goals, behind international commercial market development.

 

 

 

 

Report-back on 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony and Encounter: Our Seeds of International Solidarity

Last week, representatives of over 20 organizations gathered in Seattle and Bellingham for several days of dialogue, action, and celebration of the growing food sovereignty movement.

Photo Credit: Colette Cosner
Representatives of groups across the US and Africa together for the Food Sovereignty Prize Encounter. Photo Credit: Colette Cosner

 

Last week, representatives of over 20 organizations gathered in Seattle and Bellingham for several days of dialogue, action, and celebration of the growing food sovereignty movement. The Encounter, co-hosted by Community Alliance for Global Justice and Community to Community Development, was a national gathering of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA). On Saturday, we honored Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and Farmworkers Association of Floridaas recipients of the 8th Annual Food Sovereignty Prize, awarded by the USFSA.

As an alternative to the World Food Prize awarded the same weekend in Iowa, the Food Sovereignty Prize recognizes that transformation of our food system comes from the grassroots, frontlines, and communities building power – not corporate, biotech, and Big Ag industries focused on profit over people and the planet. Coming together for the Prize and events was an opportunity to reflect on strengthening our organizing and advocacy for agroecology, food as a human right, dignity for workers across the food chain, and community-led solutions to hunger and climate change

 

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Photo Credit: Project Feed the Hood

Roundtable Meetings

With banners and signs reflecting messages of the movement in the center of a circle, folks gathered Wednesday night and Thursday at the WA State Labor Council to discuss the current political moment of the USFSA and the new methodology being proposed for building up grassroots leadership and regional structure in the Alliance.

Continue reading “Report-back on 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony and Encounter: Our Seeds of International Solidarity”