Nurfitri Amir Muhammad

Seeds are Farmers’ Property

Fitri Amir, a microbiology graduate from Universiti Sains Malaysia, has previously worked as a virologist at the Veterinary Research Institute and 2 research centres in socioeconomic research. He was also a project leader for the community development project of Al-Bukhari International University and, during his early years after graduation, served as a volunteer at various NGOs in Penang like PUM and UNGGAS in the area of social illness and people’s welfare.

All these experiences have added to his strength and eased his path toward reclaiming the seed sovereignty of the Malaysian farming community.

“With the ever-increasing monopoly of rice imports by BERNAS (a Malaysian rice company that purportedly protects Malaysia’s rice industry), the company rakes in profit while the paddy farmers do not see any notable improvement in their lives. They were rendered powerless on their own land, which they had been toiling over for so long.

“I studied the problems and predicaments of these paddy farmers and sent a comprehensive report to the Malay Economic Action Council. Alas, as with many other major issues, this too remains unattended by the government,” said Fitri Amir.

Fitri Amir with jackfruit harvested from his own backyard farm.

“However, the research helped me to understand the root of the plight of paddy farmers and how farmers are exploited in a system that is steeped in a monoculture where production and profit are of paramount priority.

“With rice monoculture relentlessly unleashing its other evils, namely agrochemicals and the bonding subsidy system, farmers are ever more trapped. In such a situation, diversity in farming and holistic approach are out of the question.

“Upon realising the gravity of the situation, we started an organisation called Pertubuhan Persaudaraan Pesawah Malaysia (Malaysian Paddy Farmers’ Solidarity Association), also known as PeSAWAH.

“PeSAWAH has been vocal in addressing farmers’ plight and needs through campaigns, press statements, and the like, with the intention of keeping consumers updated on the issues affecting the staple food providers of our country.

The progress from this work gave birth to the Malaysian Food Sovereignty Forum (FKMM) in 2018. Currently, 107 individuals consisting of the representatives of NGOs, farmer groups, academicians, entrepreneurs, and activists are members of this forum, and we continuously delve deeply into the issues of food security and sovereignty“.

Fitri Amir is also involved in promoting the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Treaty on Plants Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP).

“All these concerted efforts led to the formation of the Community Seed Reserve Initiative. As we are all aware, there are people in power who try all their might to conquer seeds, and on our part, we must ensure that does not materialise.

“Seeds belong to farmers, and through the Community Seed Reserve Initiative, we create awareness among farmers and the general population about seed sovereignty.

Harvest from an integrated farm in Jitra, Kedah, ready to be marketed.

“Every farmer has the freedom to make his own decisions on seeds, plant his own seeds, and save and exchange seeds. Such freedom will pave the way not only for the revival of our ancestors’ farming techniques but also to bring back all the long-lost precious plant seed varieties,” pointed out Fitri Amir.

“We also successfully formed a paddy farmers’ association that could function independently. The association, through its voices and actions, had signalled to the government that any move against the welfare and future of farmers would be promptly identified and addressed.

“Some of the members of the group have political affiliations. We ensure that it does not in any way intrude on our original goal of safeguarding farmers and the future of farming,” he added.

Fitri Amir also pointed out that working with farmers and rural folk has its own challenges. In the early stages of approaching them with these critical issues, they were sceptical. They casually remarked that this is not the first time people have come to them promising to bring changes, and just like the previous enthusiasms, this too will soon fizzle out.

“However, through our own steadfastness, we had proven to them otherwise. After our intervention, a new policy on farming has been formulated, although we feel it is still not much to the satisfaction of farmers,” he said.

Fitri Amir leads the discussion at CAP’s meeting on seeds at Min House Camp, Kota Bharu, Kelantan on 9 August 2022.

Fitri Amir said the exposure and enlightenment he received from various people like Nizam Mahshar and Meena Raman of Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Cikgu Azmi of Consumers Association of Penang and Chee Yoke Ling of Third World Network have been the driving force for his current path.

During his university days, he took part in many of SAM’s and CAP’s activities, including forest expeditions to understand the ecology and the indigenous community. The experiences moulded him into one who understands the underlying issues that have a greater impact on society and the myriad challenges faced by the community surrounding him.

He vowed to continuously safeguard the welfare of farmers and consumers by promoting food sovereignty.

Agroecology Fund