As part of sweeping "economic restructuring" implemented by the Bush Administration in Iraq, Iraqi farmers will no longer be permitted to save their seeds. Instead, they will be forced to buy seeds from US corporations -- which can include seeds the Iraqis themselves developed over hundreds of years. That is because in recent years, transnational corporations have patented and now own many seed varieties originated or developed by indigenous peoples. In a short time, Iraq will be living under the new American credo: Pay Monsanto, or starve.
When the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) celebrated biodiversity on World Food Day on October 16, Iraqi farmers were mourning its loss.
A new report by GRAIN and Focus on the Global South has found that new legislation in Iraq has been carefully put in place by the US that prevents farmers from saving their seeds and effectively hands over the seed market to transnational corporations. This is a disastrous turn of events for Iraqi farmers, biodiversity and the country's food security. While political sovereignty remains an illusion, food sovereignty for the Iraqi people has been made near impossible by these new regulations.
"The US has been imposing patents on life around the world through trade deals. In this case, they invaded the country first, then imposed their patents. This is both immoral and unacceptable", said Shalini Bhutani, one of the report's authors.
The new law in question heralds the entry into Iraqi law of patents on life forms - this first one affecting plants and seeds. This law fits in neatly into the US vision of Iraqi agriculture in the future - that of an industrial agricultural system dependent on large corporations providing inputs and seeds.
In 2002, FAO estimated that 97 percent of Iraqi farmers used saved seed from their own stocks from last year's harvest or purchased from local markets. When the new law - on plant variety protection (PVP) - is put into effect, seed saving will be illegal and the market will only offer proprietary "PVP-protected" planting material "invented" by transnational agribusiness corporations. The new law totally ignores all the contributions Iraqi farmers have made to development of important crops like wheat, barley, date and pulses. Its consequences are the loss of farmers' freedoms and a grave threat to food sovereignty in Iraq. In this way, the US has declared a new war against the Iraqi farmer.
"If the FAO is celebrating 'Biodiversity for Food Security' this year, it needs to demonstrate some real commitment", says Henk Hobbelink of GRAIN, pointing out that the FAO has recently been cosying up with industry and offering support for genetic engineering. "Most importantly, the FAO must recognise that biodiversity-rich farming and industry-led agriculture are worlds apart, and that industrial agriculture is one of the leading causes of the catastrophic decline in agricultural biodiversity that we have witnessed in recent decades. The FAO cannot hope to embrace biodiversity while holding industry's hand", he added.