Nowadays revolutions are being inspired by ideas which would have seemed laughably commonplace 100 years ago. Children who are able to recognize basil, fish without heavy metals, beef without hormones, milk that is milk and not water, chickens that are not a questionable mass of denatured protein, markets where small farmers are able to sell their produce—things that were once normal have become rallying calls for activists and goals adopted by long-term policy decisions.
In 2003 the Tuscany Regional Authority adopted an idea of Vandana Shiva’s and promoted the setting up of an International Commission for the Future of Food. It comprises representatives from around the world—people involved in science, political activism, applied research, environmentalism, agriculture, and non profit organizations. The work of this Commission—which I am proud to be part of—led to the drafting of a Manifesto for the Future of Food (http://www.arsia.toscana.it/cibo/homei.htm), which was presented in San Rossore in July 2003. It includes declarations stating that the industrial model of agriculture has failed from a distributive, nutritional, political and environmental point of view; it states that only small-scale agriculture can be sustainable, that the market must be free and voluntary, and that no form of life must be patented.
It stimulated further thought, not only on the part of Commission, but a whole range of dedicated men and women, associations, farmers and researchers. And people began to look at the main body of the iceberg not just its tip: if you want to consider the future of food, you have to consider the situation facing a crucial element, without which food could not exist: seeds.
The Commission continued its work, with stimulus from meetings such as Terra Madre 2004, and this week the first draft of a Manifesto on the Future of Seeds was drawn up in Florence. This work also required successive refinements in identifying key issues.
The draft that was officially presented on September 5 states that seeds are the result of farmers’ collective capacity for innovation and improvement, and therefore represent cumulative and collective knowledge; it states that the system under which seeds should be managed and used is one of shared knowledge and not patents; it states that Food Communities, defined for the first time by Terra Madre, are the owners and custodians of seeds and that quality food systems should meet criteria involving taste, compatibility with the physiological and cultural characteristics of communities, the degree of biodiversity, the environmental impact, participative processes and distributive justice. ‘Good, clean and fair’ begins with seeds.
But most importantly, it states that seeds, by their very nature, must be exchanged, that farmers have the right to sow what they want and to produce crops using their own seeds. There are laws, even in Italy at present, that prevent two neighboring farmers from giving each other seeds—a time-honored act replete with life-affirming significance. The laws governing our system, now gripped by uniformity and money, stipulate that farmers have to buy their seeds each year and cannot sow any seeds not listed in the legislation, hybrids that will not yield appreciable results after a second harvest. The laws prohibiting the international exchange of seeds at least have a fig leaf of justification due to the risk of plant diseases being imported from countries with a more complete biodiversity (and significant public debt).
But restrictions on seed exchange within the same country do not even have that excuse. Anyone can see how absurd the situation is and it is time for civil action. It is appropriate that an organization of seed savers, Civiltà Contadina, is currently circulating information and appeals via e-mail.
So let us disobey. The draft Manifesto on the Future of Seeds will be submitted to the Food Communities at Terra Madre accompanied by this appeal. Let us demand the right to normal practices and continue exchanging seeds as we always have done.
First printed in La Stampa on September 10, 2006