Welcome address by Mr Mohideen Abdul Kader,
President, Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP)
22 November 2022
Seed Festival and Conference
Organised by Consumers’ Association of Penang
22nd – 24th November 2022 at RECSAM, Penang
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen!
With great pleasure, I welcome you all to the Consumers’ Association of Penang’s Seed Festival and Conference. I would like to express my appreciation to all the speakers and resource persons, all the participants and CAP staff who have contributed their time and resources in ensuring the success of this festival. This seed festival, organised by CAP, is supported by the Agroecology Fund.
I would also like to welcome our foreign resource persons to Penang. CAP staff learned the art of seed saving from Annadana Soil & Seed Savers, based in Bangalore, India, and it is our pleasure to have the founder and Chairperson of Annadhana, Ms. Sangita Sharma, at our seeds festival here. Along with Mr Ashok Kamat, Ms Sangita is here to share their experiences and wisdom on seeds. We would also like to thank Dr. Yiching Song, Co-Founder of Farmers Seed Network, China, for her willingness to share her wisdom on seed security, biodiversity and the farmers’ seeds system in China. A successful organic farmer, Mr. Gopalakrishnan, from Trichy, India, is also with us to share his valuable experiences.
Not forgetting our panelists, Mr. Ariff Merican bin Din Merican, Deputy Director, Seed, Planting Material and Livestock Production Programme, Technology Commercialization and Business Centre of MARDI, Mr. Nurfitri Amir Bin Muhammad, Coordinator of the Malaysian Food Sovereignty Forum (FKMM) and Mr. Yahqappu Adaikalam, an experienced farmer from Batu Arang, Selangor. Ms Chee Yoke Ling, Executive Director of Third World Network who would be moderating the panel discussion will bring forth a healthy discussion on Malaysia’s seeds system.
Ladies and gentlemen! You are all aware that the central theme of our discussions today and for the next few days is agroecology, with an emphasis on seed security and sovereignty.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines seed security as when farmers “have sufficient access to available good quality seed and planting materials of preferred crop varieties at all times in both good and bad cropping seasons. Further, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) explicitly and unambiguously recognises the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds.
Vandana Shiva, a renowned scientist and environmental activist who speaks passionately about the importance of sustainable agriculture and preserving seed varieties, says seeds are containment of life. Seed is created to renew, to multiply, to be shared and to spread. Seed is life itself. Seed is a common resource, and we have to protect it for future generations.
Clearly, seeds are a ‘community resource’ that is carefully bred, conserved and evolved over thousands of years. Unfortunately, with the intervention of industrialised farming, it has been transformed into a ‘commercial proprietary resource’. The privatisation of seeds takes place through seed laws and intellectual property laws. While seed laws dictate how seeds can be marketed, intellectual property laws give monopoly rights to corporations. Both go in the same direction of hampering local and indigenous varieties, which are biodiverse and evolving. Governments try to root them out, reasoning that they are not suitable for industrial farming, food processing or supermarkets, all of which are hallmarks of corporate-controlled agriculture.
Multinational Corporations (MNCs) are pushing for seed treaties that would seriously impact our farmers, seed sovereignty and security. For quite some time, the Malaysian government has been under pressure to join the 1991 version of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (known as UPOV 1991). Under UPOV, plant breeders get a 20-25 year monopoly over a plant variety that is supposed to be new, distinct, uniform and stable. No one can reproduce, sell or exchange seeds of these varieties without the breeder’s permission and payment of royalties.
The average land holding for farmers in Malaysia is only 1.32 hectares. For the majority of smallholder farmers, the main source of seeds is often local markets, farm-saved seeds, relatives and neighbours. UPOV 1991 will adversely affect farmers who are dependent on farmers’ seed systems and their customary practices of freely saving, using, exchanging, and selling farm-saved seeds. Small-scale farmers and indigenous communities, who own important local seed varieties will be affected.
The intrusion of UPOV will cause the decline of traditional seeds and the resultant depletion of food diversity. Hence, we are very concerned and disappointed that the government recently ratified the controversial Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade and economic agreement that requires its members to join UPOV 1991. Together with many civil society organisations we have called on the new government to withdraw from the CPTPP.
Intense pressure is also put on Malaysia at the East Asia Plant Variety Protection Forum that is led by Japan. The Forum consists of ASEAN countries, China, South Korea and Japan. Its key objectives are to get every country to become UPOV 1991 members and to harmonise approvals for granting plant variety protection through plant breeders’ rights. This will lock all our countries into corporate control over seeds and food production, denying us the right to have farmers seeds systems that suit our local and national realities. We must therefore do our best to prevent Malaysia from joining UPOV1991. Malaysia’s seed policies must always guarantee the collective rights of farmers, indigenous people, and local communities to use, exchange, breed, select, and sell their own seeds.
To make matters worse the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry (MAFI) has been seriously considering the tabling of the Plant Seed Quality Bill in Parliament. The Plant Seed Quality Bill will require every individual (farmer or non-farmer) to apply for a licence to process seeds that are categorised as “controlled seeds”. If it takes place, the processing of all crop seeds is at risk of being controlled by the law. This proposed law may prohibit the practice of freely saving, exchanging and selling of seeds by farmers, which has been a common and traditional practice for farmers in Malaysia for ages. Farmers’ rights to seeds will be denied in favour of commercial seed producers. All these are done with the hidden agenda of boosting monoculture practices in the agricultural sector. Seed varieties used by traditional farmers will gradually decrease. This further destroys biological diversity and risks the country’s food production.
For example, in Malaysia, with the introduction of the subsidy system, farmers could only plant very few types of paddy variety, which meant over the years, they lost their traditional paddy seed varieties (which they had planted before the subsidy and incentive schemes came into existence). Encouraging farmers to plant their traditional paddy varieties and other vegetables and plants, popularising those varieties and finding a market should be the right course of action in reviving the traditional seeds.
Upholding farmers’ seed systems to save heirloom seeds, respecting and protecting Malaysia’s traditional farmers, and conserving food diversity should be the central focus of the Malaysian government. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, in his report to the Human Rights Council stated that farmers’ seed systems are the foundation of all food systems, supporting the renewal of biodiversity, allowing the free distribution of seeds and knowledge among peoples, and make food systems more resilient against climate change, pests and pathogens. On the other hand, commodity seed systems are dedicated to the reproduction of homogenous varieties which depend on chemical farm inputs.
Any introduction of laws contrary to the farmers’ seeds system should be deemed a bane to the future of farming and agroecology as a whole. On this note, CAP once again calls on MAFI to withdraw the tabling of the Plant Seed Quality Bill as it will have a far-reaching impact beyond “seed quality” control, by impinging the farmers’ seeds system whilst supporting commercial seed producers.
We need to grow a variety of food to nourish people and sustain the planet. Over the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared. According to the FAO, only nine plant species account for 66 percent of total crop production, despite the fact that there are at least 30,000 edible plants. By 2050, our planet will need to feed close to 10 billion people. It is vital that we transform our agricultural and food systems so they work with and not against nature.
As more people go hungry and malnutrition persists, we need to transform the way we do agriculture to achieve zero hunger by 2030. The best way to accomplish this goal is to ensure our agroecological wisdom and values reach all levels of society. Seed security and sovereignty are crucial aspects of this. Preserving traditional seeds will allow farmers and interested consumers to produce their own food at any time and place, ensuring that everyone is fed adequately. Further, they could play their role in mitigating the food crisis, all of which are the very essence of the traditional farming system that always places caring and sharing to the fore.
Over the years, through CAP’s sustainable agriculture programmes and training, we realised the acute dependency of farmers on commercial seeds, mostly hybrid seeds. CAP’s survey found that farmers were spending a substantial amount on seeds and this is a heavy financial burden. Thus CAP guides farmers on how to save their own seeds and informs them on how much they could save by using their own seeds. Our seed-saving guides enable farmers and the general public to learn the basics of seed-saving. Our annual seed-sharing event conducted since five years ago is well received, with farmers and urban gardeners exchanging a variety of seeds at the event. We need more of such sharing and this seed festival provides a venue not only to exchange seeds but also knowledge.
Today we are launching CAP’s latest publication, titled “Agroecology for All – Initiatives in Malaysia” which is our sincere effort to showcase the positive developments towards advancing agroecology in our country. Each and everyone featured in this book, ranging from farmers, communities, individuals, educational institutions and indigenous communities, have, in their own distinct way, played a significant role in reinforcing agroecology in the lives of Malaysians. Through their sincere and concerted efforts, they had proven that with holistic agricultural practices we could reduce the carbon footprint, maintain a remarkably small ecological footprint, minimise the use of ecosystems, and contribute towards healthy food and a toxin-free environment. Hence, we are proud to launch the book at this stage to recognise and appreciate our distinguished participants who have chosen good agricultural practices as their life force and inspire others to tread a similar path.
Agriculture that does not take into account seed security and sovereignty will have devastating effects on the environment. This will adversely impact the nation’s overall health and wealth. Healthy agroecological practices add strength to the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, to make Malaysia a nation that achieves sustainable growth along with fair and equitable distribution across income groups, ethnicities, regions, and supply chains.
Ladies and gentlemen! With this clear vision, we once again invite all of you to join us in our effort to safeguard and promote seed security and sovereignty to create environmentally conscious and agroecologically sensible Malaysians who will carry forward the traits of food security and sovereignty as well as work on ways to leave a toxin-free world for future generations.
Mr Mohideen Abdul Kader
Consumers’ Association of Penang