Farmers condemn launch of Plant Breeders’ Rights Registry

Faiza Ilyas

KARACHI: Describing a recent federal government decision to launch Plant Breeders’ Rights Registry from Feb 15 as ‘illegal’ and ‘unethical’, representatives of Pakistan Kisan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) at a press conference held at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday demanded that all laws granting control over agriculture to “imperialist states and corporations” be nullified.

The briefing was organised in collaboration with Roots for Equity, a non-profit organisation working for rights of vulnerable communities, especially landless farmers.

Sharing farmers’ concerns over a recent public notice of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research inviting applications for protection of new plant varieties of cotton and maize, Raja Mujeeb of PKMT-Sindh said that it’s an illegal step given the fact that a petition challenging the Seed Amendment Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016 had been pending in court since 2017.

“We filed writ petitions against these two acts before a full bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) arguing that these laws could not be passed by the parliament in the light of devolution under 18th Constitutional Amendment and that these laws have ignored and trampled on farmers’ rights recognised by Pakistan, which is a party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.”

“The Plant Breeders’ Act basically takes away centuries’ old traditional rights of farmers of saving, exchanging and selling seeds. As a result of national and transnational seed corporations claiming intellectual property rights (IPRs) over seeds, not only the country would become dependent on corporations for food security and sovereignty, but the royalties paid to corporations for IPRs would massively increase seed/crop prices.”

Farmers, who were already reeling from the increased cost of production and reduced crop prices, would have to shoulder the added burden of procuring the specific agricultural inputs mandated by the seed companies, said Asif Khan of PKMT-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

‘WTO dictates’

The speakers criticised the food ministry for starting registration of seed varieties for cotton and maize despite a major decline in cotton production due to use of international genetically modified (GM) seeds.

They also highlighted the devastating impact of GM crops on health and the environment which had led many European countries to impose a ban on them.

They claimed that the implementation of the Seed Amendment Act and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act was dictated by the World Trade Organisation under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

The agreement, it was explained, made it mandatory for the government to provide IPRs on new varieties of plants and seeds. “Essentially, the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act provides monopolistic control to IPR holders of the new plant varieties or seed by prohibiting their use and sale to all others without permission. The WTO, particularly, TRIPS, is thus the biggest imperialist weapon in agricultural production,” said Azra Sayeed of Roots.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2021

https://www.dawn.com/news/1606606

Plant Breeders’ Right Act – an Anti-Farmer Law

Press Release; February 10, 2021

Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) and Roots for Equity held a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on February 10th, 2021 to protest against the decision of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research to start the registration process for granting intellectual property rights over plants and seeds under the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016. The registration process is due to start on February 15th, 2021.

According to PKMT, implementation of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016, like the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 is dictated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual property rights (TRIPS) Agreement.  The TRIPs agreement makes it mandatory for the government to provide intellectual property rights (IPRs) on new varieties of plants and seeds. Essentially, the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act provides monopolistic control to IPR holders of the new varieties of plants or seed by prohibiting their use and sale to all others without permission. The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016, just like the intellectual property rights laws, is delivered through an ‘effective’ sui generis system, patents or a combination of both and provides mechanisms for owners holding intellectual property rights over plants and seeds to seek legal protection for their ownership of plant varieties in each country where they want commercial use of the variety. This is granted through Plant Breeders’ Rights laws. WTO, particularly TRIPS, is thus the biggest imperialist weapon in agricultural production.

Seeds are living organisms and through genetic modification, transnational corporations are commodifying nature and seeking intellectual property rights to gain control of the seed sector. This is a criminal act and goes against the ethical dictates of society. Farmers’ organizations worldwide have been protesting against genetic modification (GM) of seeds and the enforcement of intellectual property rights over living matter since the creation of the WTO in 1995. The negative impact of GMOs on human health and environment has become apparent leading a number of developed European countries to impose a ban on GM crops.

The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016 basically takes away farmers’ centuries old traditional rights of saving, exchanging and selling seeds. As a result of national and transnational seed corporations claiming intellectual property rights over seeds, not only will the country become dependent on corporations for national food security and food sovereignty but the royalties paid to transnational corporations for IPRs will massively increase seed prices. Farmers, who are already reeling from the impact of increased production costs and reduced crop prices, will have to shoulder the added burden of procuring the specific agricultural inputs mandated by the seed companies.

The Ministry of National Food Security and Research has requested for the registration of seed varieties for cotton and maize even though national cotton production has been facing decline and destruction due to the use of international GM seeds. Due to this, not only have the small and landless farmers been deprived of local and indigenous cotton seeds but as a result of relentless pest attacks causing crop failure, landless women agriculture workers are also being deprived of their livelihoods. On the other hand, the national economy is dealing with the high costs of cotton imports.

PKMT filed writ petitions challenging the Seed (Amendment) Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016 before the Full Bench of the Lahore High Court arguing that these laws could not have been passed by Parliament in light of the devolution under the 18th Amendment, and that these laws ignore and trample upon farmers rights as recognized by Pakistan, which is party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resouces for Food and Agriculture. In this light, the formation of the Plant Breeders’ Rights registry and the registration for IPRs on seeds by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research can be considered illegal and unethical. PKMT will be filing a stay application against the launch of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Registry before the Lahore High Court.

PKMT totally repudiates the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016 and demands that all laws granting control over agriculture to imperialist states and corporations should be nullified. PKMT and all small and landless farmers of Pakistan humbly request the respected Lahore High Court to recognize the principles of Food Sovereignty by swiftly reinstating farmers’ traditional rights over use, control and access of seeds in context to its sale and exchange.

Release by: Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) & Roots for Equity

PKMT organises conference on impact of pandemic

SUKKUR: The 13th Annual Conference on “Impact on Peasants and Labourers during the Pandemic” was organised by the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) through video link.

While talking about the national and global impact of Covid-19, Dr Azra Talat Syed, Roots for Equity, said the global capitalist system was responsible for the pandemic. She said they were struggling to fight one pandemic, whereas scientists worldwide are already predicting the outbreak of multiple similar pandemics in the future due to the widespread deforestation caused by capitalist greed. She said the viruses found in animals, residing deep in the forests, have now been spreading among the humans due to capitalist investors relentlessly cutting the forests.

Dr Azra said the pandemic has been used by the monopolist capitalist enterprises to strengthen their exploitative tools to increase their super profits, whereas the workers have been left to grapple with growing hunger, unemployment, disease and multiple other consequences of the pandemic.

She further resolved that at the same time, rich capitalist countries have been successful in using their financial and technological wealth to develop and globally disseminate vaccines for Covid-19, generating immense profits for themselves in the process.

The members from PKMT Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa spoke about the difficulties of small and landless farmers, who have been facing decreasing crop yields and crop destruction due to climate change. They were forced to acquire agricultural inputs at higher prices due to restrictions on mobility and transportation during the pandemic. On the other hand, due to limited and expensive modes of transportation, the farmers were forced to sell their products at extremely low prices. The farmers with production and distribution of perishable food items, like vegetables and milk, were the most affected.

Similarly, women agricultural workers earning daily wages lacked means of transport to go to fields and also fell prey to extortion. The contribution of working women is invaluable in fields, factories, home-based workers and in private and government offices. It is imperative to organise for the rights of women workers in order to ensure the implementation of labour laws and also develop women workers’ consciousness against the capitalist and patriarchal power structures.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/765513-pkmt-organises-conference-on-impact-of-pandemic

کورونا میں سامراجی ہتھکنڈے اور کسان مزدوروں پر اثرات

26-12-2020:پریس ریلیز

پاکستان کسان مزدور تحریک (پی کے ایم ٹی) نے 26 دسمبر، 2020 کو کورونا وباء کو مدنظر رکھتے ہوئے تیرہواں سالانہ اجلاس آن لائن منعقد کیا جس میں ملک بھر کے مختلف اضلاع سے پی کے ایم ٹی کے چھوٹے اور بے زمین کسان مزدوروں اور دیگر شعبہ جات سے تعلق رکھنے والے ارکان نے شرکت کی۔

ڈاکٹر عذرا طلعت سعید، روٹس فار ایکوٹی نے عالمی اور ملکی سطح پر کورونا کے اثرات پر بات کرتے ہوئے کہا کہ عالمی سرمایہ دارانہ نظام ہی کورونا وباء کا ذمہ دار ہے۔ ابھی ہم ایک وباء سے نہیں لڑپارہے اور دنیا بھر کے سائنسدانوں کی پیشنگوئی ہے کہ اب اس طرح کی کئی وبائیں آئیں گی کیونکہ سرمایہ دارانہ ہوس نے جنگلوں کو ختم کیا ہے اور یہ وبائیں زیادہ تر وہیں پائی جاتی ہیں۔ جنگلات کی کٹائی کے نتیجے میں اب یہ وبائیں انسانی آبادیوں میں جانوروں کے زریعے پھیل رہی ہیں۔

اس بحران نے اب دیگر بحرانوں کو جنم دیا ہے جس میں اقتصادی بحران مزدور کسان کے لیے وباء سے زیادہ سنگین صورتحال پیدا کررہا ہے۔ یہ وہ ہتھکنڈہ ہے جو اجارہ داری کی بنیاد پر سرمایہ داری کو بھاری بھرکم منافع کمانے کے لیے مواقع فراہم کر رہا ہے جبکہ مزدوروں کو اس وباء، بیروزگاری اور بھوک کے اندھے کنویں میں دھکیل دیا گیا ہے۔ اب ہماری سرمایہ داروں کی غلام ریاستیں اس وباء کو روکنے اور عوامی ضروریات پوری کرنے کے لیے درکار مالی، مادی اور انسانی وسائل استعمال کرنے کے لیے اپنا اختیاراستعمال کرنے سے بھی قاصر ہیں۔ عالمی سطح پر امیر سرمایہ دار ممالک اپنی دولت اور ٹیکنالوجی استعمال کرتے ہوئے کورونا کے خلاف ویکسین تیار اور ترسیل کرکے بے تحاشہ منافع کمانے میں کامیاب نظر آرہے ہیں۔ سرمایہ دارانہ نظام دعویٰ کرتا ہے کہ اس نظام میں سب کو یکساں رسائی حاصل ہوتی ہے لیکن کورونا ویکسین سے اس نظام کا یہ مکروہ فریب بھی کھل کر سامنے آگیا ہے کیونکہ یہ نظام طبقات پر مبنی ہے۔ جو زیادہ سے زیادہ دولت رکھتا ہے سہولیات بھی سب سے پہلے اسے ہی میسر آتی ہیں۔ Continue reading

The Pandemic and Imperialist Impositions: Impact on Peasants and Labour

Press Release: December 26, 2020

The Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), In light of the coronavirus pandemic, held its 13th Annual Conference online on 26th December 2020. PKMT members from numerous districts of Pakistan were in attendance as well as others also joined.

Dr. Azra Talat Sayeed from Roots for Equity, while talking about the national and global impact of Covid-19, said that the global capitalist system is responsible for the pandemic. We are struggling to fight one pandemic whereas scientists worldwide are already predicting the outbreak of multiple similar pandemics in the future due to the widespread deforestation caused by capitalist greed. These viruses that are found in animals residing deep within the forests are now spreading to humans due to capitalist investors relentless exploitation of forests.

This crisis has given birth to other crises out of which the economic crisis has resulted in even direr circumstances than the pandemic itself. The pandemic has been used by the monopolist capitalist enterprises to strengthen their exploitative tools and increase their superprofits, whereas workers have been left to grapple with growing hunger, unemployment, disease and multiple other consequences of the pandemic. Our puppet states are unsuccessful in their attempts to contain the spread of the pandemic and to fulfill their duty of providing social and economic welfare to the people. At the same time, rich capitalist countries have been successful in using their financial and technological wealth to develop and globally disseminate vaccines for Covid-19, generating immense profits for themselves in the process. Capitalist systems boast of equitable access to resources for all; however, the case of the coronavirus vaccine has exposed the system for what it actually is; a class-based system in which the wealthy are the ones with the easiest access to the highest amount of resources.

Members from PKMT Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Raja Mujeeb, Muhammad Zaman and Asif Khan spoke about the difficulties of small and landless farmers who while facing decreasing crop yields and crop destruction due to climate change were forced to acquire agricultural inputs at higher prices due to restrictions on mobility and transportation during the pandemic. On the other hand, due to limited and expensive modes of transportation, farmers were forced to sell their produce at extremely low prices. In many cases, produce was also wasted. Farmers affiliated with the production and distribution of perishable food items like vegetables and milk were the most affected. Similarly, women agricultural workers earning daily wages lacked means of transport to go to the fields and also fell prey to extortion by security forces. Continue reading

PKMT Jazba Farmers’ Cooperative Lower Dir Farm Land Preparation

Preparation of land for sowing seeds has been started on one acre land of the farmer named Bakhtiar Zaib from district Lower Deer,  Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa. The Farmer is spreading organic manure on the field to make it ready to implant seeds.                                     

   

PKMT Jazba Farmers’ Cooperative Muzaffargarh Farm Seeds Sowing

On November 10, 2020, PKMT Jazba cooperative sown 25 different varieties of wheat seeds in Muzaffargarh agroecology farm Muzaffargarh, Punjab. The farm is divided into two swaths of land, one is comprising of seven plots of 3.5 Marla in which 4 kilograms of seed sowed in each plot. The second swaths of land comprised 18 plots of 7 Marla each, in which 18 wheat varieties of 5 kilograms of seed have been sown. These wheat varieties belong to district Mansehra, Faislabad, Sahiwal, Haripur, D G Khan, and Rajanpur which are sowing since  2014.

     

“Rural People are Hungry for Food System Change”

Press Release

October 16, 2020

Roots for Equity and the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) in collaboration with  People’s Coalition for Food Security (PCFS), Pesticide Action Network, Asia and  Pacific (PANAP) and Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) is marking the World Food Day as World Hunger Day on October 16, 2020. A webinar and protest has been organized in this regard in which small and landless peasants including PKMT members participated from different districts.

This event is part of a campaign, launched on the occasion of World Hunger Day, and titled “Rural People are Hungry for Food System Change”. It aims to promote a strategy for highlighting the toxic impacts of industrial chemical agriculture production systems and the acute need for food sovereignty and agro-ecology based food production systems. This year’s global campaign focuses on the plight of rural populations during the pandemic, and their demands for changes in the food and agricultural systems.

Tariq Mehmood, a member of PKMT, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, spoke on the situation of hunger, poverty and unemployment during the Covid19 pandemic, He said that the transnational mega agro-chemical corporations’ domination in the food and agriculture system around the world, their exploitation and destruction of biodiversity and natural habitats is a catalyst for Corona pandemic.

According to a report by the United Nations FAO (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World), the epidemic could lead another 83 to 132 million people suffering from hunger by 2020, and if the current situation continues by 2030, 841.4 million people in the world will be hungry.

According to a member of PKMT Mohammad Zaman from Sahiwal, it is reported in the Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20, the corona virus had a severe negative impact on the Pakistani economy and at least another 10 million people are feared to be pushed to living below the poverty line in Pakistan. The number could increase from 50 million presently to 60 million. In the Global Hunger Index, Pakistan ranks 106th out of 119 countries where consumption of meat, poultry, fish, milk, vegetables and fruits is six to 10 times lower than that of developed countries.

The worsening situation of hunger and poverty can be gauged from the statement of Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Poverty and Social Protection, that “almost half of the country’s population will be covered by the Ehsas Program.” The statement indicates that in Pakistan, where almost half of the population is employed in the agricultural sector, the current epidemic of rising hunger, poverty and unemployment has exacerbated the pervasive exploitation and brutality of this rotten food and agriculture system that is based extracting super-profits from the poorest segments of society.

Speaking on the global food and employment crisis, Wali Haider, of Roots for Equity said that rural populations around the world are already aware of these facts and now the food and employment crisis and growing hunger during the Corona virus pandemic has proved that the current system of food and agriculture, which is dominated by the big capitalist countries and their for profit companies, has failed.

This domination of the imperialist powers over the global food and agriculture system has linked the local rural economy, in third world countries like Pakistan, to the global agricultural market. This has resulted in the most important resources like our agricultural produce, our land and water have become a source of surplus profits for multinational corporations.

A clear example of this is the increasing production of sugarcane and other cash crops for the production and export of agro-fuels like ethanol, while the production of the most important food crops such as wheat is declining. This is one of the reasons for the rise in food prices and the consequent increase in hunger.

There is an urgent need to change the system where farmers are forced to depend on seeds, chemicals and toxic inputs of companies. These chemicals also pollute the entire food and agricultural system and destruction of the ecosystems and biodiversity.

In contrast, a sustainable food production system, agro-ecology, provides farmers with a strategy that protects not only their rights but also of other small food producers. Farmers’ right to land under agro ecology guarantees the establishment of collective and individual seed banks and their exchange. It also protects and promotes safe and natural systems of food and agriculture production ensuring food security of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities as well as safe nutritious food and environment for all.

Speaking on the women farmers’ rights Azra Sayeed of Roots for Equity said that the livestock and dairy sector accounts for 56% of the total agricultural production and the majority of farmers involved in milk and meat production are small scale. It consists of cattle breeders, especially women, who make it possible to produce 60 billion liters of milk annually in the country, but these same rural populations are starving themselves as a result of the monopoly of capitalist companies in the food and agriculture sector.

In the name of achieving so called standardization of milk, meat and other foods, corporations are paving a clear path to monopolizing the dairy and meat sector. This will only lead to further exacerbation of hunger and malnutrition in the country. It is important to note that according to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, 53% of children and 44.3% of women in the country are suffering from anemia.

Raja Mujeeb, a member of PKMT Sindh, referring to the small and landless peasants are most affected by the Covid19 epidemic, said that food producers have been forced to depend on poor quality seeds where the companies have established a monopoly and at the same time land is in the hands of feudal lords and increasing encroachment of capitalist systems of production and marketing.

If the farmers have control over all the productive resources including land and seeds, then our farmers, laborers, fishermen and the rural population can get food even in the face of the current pandemic or any kind of emergency. That is why PKMT believes that food sovereignty and self-sufficiency in food and agriculture based an end to feudalism through just and equitable land distribution among farmers and imperialist food policies is critical for a peaceful democratic sovereign state!

Released by: Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) & Roots for Equity

Press Release in Urdu (PDF) 

‘Rural Women, problems and daily life’

JUMNI

The field staff of Roots for Equity met a farmer named Jumni in the village known as old Lashari of district Tando Muhammad Khan. She is also a member of Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT). At that time she was plucking grass out of the ground. She said that she is picking grass to feed buffaloes and goats as they are very useful for them. Buffaloes give milk which women use to make lassi, ghee, and butter from it. They sell and eat chicken eggs and meat too and sell big animals in time of need or at any celebration or important event. Animal dung is burnt as fuel and it is also used in the field as fertilizer.

Regarding vegetable cultivation, she said that we grow our own vegetables, eggplant, okra, guar, beans, chilies, etc, but this year lesser vegetables were grown due to early heavy rains and the corona disease. The eggplant is ready to harvest. Naturally grown vegetables are also used in the village such as lemons, radishes, spinach, lentils etc. These vegetables are nutritious and do not cause any diseases. These vegetables are often sown by most of the people in the village.

Highlighting the problems of women farmers, she said that women face many difficulties during farming and labor. They get tired on the way to the field. It sweats like water coming out of the body. The whole body becomes stiff like a stone due to hard work. The wages for cotton masonry are Rs. 400 per maund. That is Rs 10 per kg. In addition, the average wage is Rs.1, 200 per acre of any ordinary labor which continues for three to four days. Wages are calculated according to the amount of work, such as half a day, a day or two.

She said that there was lock down due to corona virus and markets were closed. We didn’t get any seeds. We got little amounts of seed with difficulty from here and there. Feeding animals was not difficult because there was grass in the surrounding area. We faced a lot of problems regarding availability of food, sometimes there were no vegetables and sometimes we ran out of flour. If this happens we usually get some from our neighbors and return what we had taken when we purchase it. Flour was scarce in the market; shopkeepers were giving only to their acquaintances.

The police was not allowing shops to reopen. There was a problem in mobility, I could not get even a ride to another village and bus fare was doubled. If someone is sick, it was difficult to get them to the hospital. But even in the hospitals doctors and/or medicines were not available. Prices had gone up; everything was expensive. This aggravated the problem of food. The ones who used to eat two times are now eating only once a day. Earlier it was corona virus, now it is heavy rainfall, the roads are closed and it is difficult to travel.

From the last two years, our tap water is bitter and we are getting sick for which no government action has been taken so far.

PATHANI

 The field staff of Roots for Equity spoke to various farmers in the village of Old Lashari Tando Muhammad Khan. A farmer named Pathani, who is also a member of PKMT, described the problems faced by women farmers and said, “I am a farmer. I work hard in the fields; sometimes I weed grass and sometimes sow the cotton. I work from sowing vegetables to harvesting, and then when I come back home in the evening I bring fodder along with me for the livestock at home. Women farmers have a lot of problems; they pick cotton all day and get Rs. 400 per maund (40kg), and at the same take care of the household tasks and the children in the evening. Women can get Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 for ordinary work done in field

Women in rural areas work all day in the fields on wages; they work in the fields on daily basis and work all day long. If a woman’s wage is kept at Rs.250, then a man earn Rs.500 of the same work, Women work more than men but men are paid more. Women are considered inferior. Women do not even raise their voice in front of men because if they do so they will not get work next time. If someone asks about increasing the wages, the landlords threatens them saying they could be replaced by machines.

There is no land in the name of women. A woman works all day in the field from sowing crops to watering and from watering to harvesting. She plants vegetables and takes good care of it. Even after doing all the work there is no land in the name of women and when the crop is sold, the men keep all the profit.

I don’t have my land. There is no land in the name of any woman in the village. It belongs to my father and brother. They cultivate crops with their own free will on it. We tell them to plant traditional crops. They don’t agree and angry with us for suggesting such changes. We help in their work but the decisions are in their hands

No action has been taken since corona begins; people have been living in their homes with fear of getting infected. Women could not go to the market. There was no transport. The available transport had a very high rent. If we visit the hospital, there were no doctors in the hospital; lady doctor could not come (due to the lockdown) and medicines were not available.

Due to the closure of the market, it also became very difficult to access food items. Farmers who were trying to sell vegetables had great difficulty in getting to the market, and then there were no buyers, also. Farmers have suffered immensely. Due to this disease, farmers, laborers, women, men, children, old and young are all troubled.

After the Corona Virus, we had to face further problems. This time there has been a lot of damage due to heavy rainfall; in particular, the cotton crop has been heavily damaged due to rains.

Inspiration to create a Farmer’s Market

Introduction:

This is a summary of an interview of Ms Maheen Zia conducted by Naveed Ahmed, Seed Sovereignty Program Coordinator from Roots for Equity. The context of the interview is on Maheen Zia’s work with Karachi Farmer’s Market based in Karachi, Pakistan.

Ms Zia is one of the key founders of the Karachi Farmer’s Market. She is working to highlight the work of farmers and give importance to their work. She is promoting the work of farmers while sitting in the city and has the passion and ability to work for farmers. We are grateful to her that she has given her time for this interview.

Question: What attracted you to create a farmers market?

Answer: The news keeps coming that our food has become contaminated, and pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs are being used for it. We are cut off from nature and at the same time, the way disease is growing, it is in front of us too. We are six people who decided to start the farmers’ market. In all of our (six founders) families someone has been sick. It has made us realize that what we were eating makes us sick, so what could be its alternative? Personally, my father had cancer. At that point we started looking for organic flour and milled flour (chaki ka atta) and started thinking about what we were eating. Now cancer has become very common – in every household, in our close friends’ families – someone has been through this disease.

We were searching for pure food items, someone tried to find desi eggs or milks – but we wanted to have a single market where we could buy what we needed for our households. We wanted to have a system that for those who were selling here we could check what they were saying was actually being practiced and it was correct. This is why we started the market; it was started in August 2015 – it will now be five years. It is a small market but in the past five years about 30% of the people regularly buy things from here. They know that products have been checked and are of quality.

Question: Artificial agriculture or chemical agriculture produces more. So why should farmers adopt agroecology?

Answer: If your income is good by giving poison to others, then this is not correct. First of all, it is wrong in principle to produce something of low quality just because you will get production and it will be sold. This is not being said for any particular farmer but making a point in general. For example, if you have land and you want to grow something that is harmful to health for others but grow pure food elsewhere for yourself, it is wrong. In this age, this is how the world has been set up, and it may be difficult to examine it in this manner. But the way you are growing now has a short time outlook. The way you are growing now, putting pesticides and fertilizers this will degrade your land in the next ten to twenty years – what will you do then? You will not even be able to exchange this land for another piece of land? This land will not be able to grow anymore. So for your present gain you are harming your future. The harm being inflicted on others by what you are growing is an other matter but you are destroying your future, as well.

Naveed: So in the beginning you pointed out the impacts on human health and now you are pointing out that farmers must practice agroecology as (chemical agriculture) impacts land and you will face other problems.

Maheen Zia: Land will be ruined; your health will be ruined. When you use pesticide, it will first affect your family, you will be impacted as well. I believe that there is acute poverty and hence people are helpless and their hands are tied, even when they understand, they don’t have an opportunity to do something else. There is a need to help them and understand their position (majbori).

Question: What benefit you get from farmer’s market?

Answer: It makes us happy! This is an opportunity for people, there are about 300-500 people that are buying from the Farmers’ Market. There is better food getting to their households; and through this small businesses have been set up and running – so a system has been initiated. But this is small, it’s just a handful of people– Karachi in itself is a very big city. A much bigger thing that has happened is the conversation that has been started – we need to eat organically grown food, or sustainable food, we need to consume pure food. Where can we get it? Why should we have pure food? Why is it so expensive? How can we increase its production so that prices can come down? So the discussion that has been started is very important and it has the potential to increase organic production.

Question: Will small and landless farmers benefit from agro ecology?

Answer: Absolutely. They will benefit as over time, their land’s soil quality will become better, production will be better. If we can connect them to the market whatever they grow will fetch a better price, there is also a market available. There is only benefit and no harm. Whoever goes toward chemical agriculture there is only harm; you may be getting money from it at the moment but there is no barkat in this money – this is what I believe.

Naveed: If you practice agroecology you can retrieve land fertility and get an environmentally friendly ecosystem. The way the environment has been impacted, there is disease and global warming, the natural environment has been lost, using poison all of this has died and we can now regain all this through promotion of agroecology.

Question: From where did you get the seed?

Answer: If someone is coming from outside (the country) – I research on heirloom seeds – ancient seeds. Some seed banks keep these seeds and the seeds are from different area, they may not of your area but if the seed adapts to your climate than I think its okay. These seed are generally not invasive but it is very important that where you are they are suited (to that environment), they should be pest resilient; they have more nutrition. So, I search for the seed, try it out and if it starts off, then use it the next year. This is the beauty of real seed; from one seed you can get a whole field because each seed will give you plentiful. This is what nature is; in nature if you work a little hard, respect it, it will give you plentiful benefits.  If you fight with nature than you will have to work hard every year, put poison every year, use chemical fertilizer and so in the end you have to work a lot and the result is still not favorable

Question: You mentioned that you get seeds from the ancient seed bank.

Answer: There is a company in the USA called Rare Seeds. They explain the origin of the seed like I have an Iraqi plant and a Chinese beans plant. These companies provide a complete chain of information, where did this seed come from, in which year, which person cultivated it, for how many years they cultivated it, who brought this seed to us, they value the seed, and this is what their work is.

Question: Can we say that the indigenous people of those areas own these seeds?

Answer: No, because the indigenous people are in a very bad condition and they have also lost their seed, there should be an attempt to find those seeds as well; for example there is a particular bean seed Cherokee Tears. When the Cherokee people were driven out of their lands about 150 – 200 years ago, they brought seeds with them. So it’s not necessary that the indigenous people are preserving their seeds. There are some farming communities and there are some people who think like us that the real asset is your seed, it needs to be saved, especially at a time when hybrids are on the rise and GMOs are being promoted. So this is a very important work that they are doing. People are also buying from them. Small farmers buy from them and plant seeds. And then they save the seeds.

Question: Have you ever tried to get seeds from areas of Pakistan or the suburbs of Karachi?

Answer: Once I was filming in Sindh – near Badin – there was a project where they were reviving Indigo which is an ancient seed of this area and it was a plant that died out in the British era. I took the seed from there but its plant did not grow, I thought I would bring the seed again when I go back to Badin. I try that if I get a real seed I grow it. When I went to Hunza two years ago, I also brought seeds from there, but it did not grow. But maybe its climate was different, only a small sprout came out; it still is good to try things out. We need to build a network within our climate zone so that we can save the real seeds among us. Make many seed banks so that if one seed bank fails there are still other seed banks. Like once I had a beautiful sunflower seed, it had a beautiful flower; I distributed this seed to friends so it could be continued. We have a network of people who try to spread seeds in this manner. I also take seeds from the pansar. For example there is a taramera seed– these are still pure seeds – it’s a local variety; there is also kolongi, there is gaozaban but it did not germinate. I have now brought this seed from abroad and have saved seeds from it and will try it again this year. It’s a very useful plant – you can make tea from its leaves and use it for colds or flu. So this is what I do but a systematic system needs to be set up. This is a science and there are different types of seeds, some are self-seeding and you don’t need to keep them away from other plants. But other variety mix with each other for instant maize, it has to be kept a mile away from other varieties so that they do not cross-pollinate. If we are working on seed preservation, it is important to follow the procedure.

Question: Pakistani farmers are facing financial loss – how can we address this issue??

Answer: I have met only few farmers who came to the market and do not have a very good understanding of Pakistani farmers; I have met a few farmers but have not studied the issue deeply as yet and need to understand it as well. I think our economic situation is dependent on a cash economy and it drives everything. Before we used to have a barter system as well it may not have been so difficult for farmers. There are now so many barriers for farmers. Maybe I need to ask you this question why farmers are facing so many losses?

Green Revolution began under General Ayub. The whole world has been suffering the consequences of the fifty years of Green Revolution, of chemical agriculture. One third of the land is damaged which was arable and we could grow on it; if there is decreasing production and farmers are suffering losses– a big reason has to be that their land and water has been spoiled.

Question: If farmers adopt agro-ecology they will suffer financial loss. How can we compensate for this financial loss?

Answer: We need to think on ways forward. There needs to be a diversity of income. For example may be also including handicrafts.  Also be involved in value added production so that they can have better value. All of us need basic education. It’s not a simple sum game. You will not get to know about everything from instructions on a packet. When we are growing things – it’s a natural process and we need to deepen our learning of nature, of soil. Why is soil so important, it’s not just dirt– it’s like our heart? All that we eat is based on this layer of soil. If we increase the quality of soil we will eat better. If we loose this soil then we will all face starvation. The quality of our soil is critical. We don’t understand the importance of water. These are Allah’s systems; they have been there for thousands of years. These systems were there before us and will be there after us. We are the ones who have destroyed these systems. We have used advanced technologies and believe that by using them we can make it better. But we need to go back to nature and study how systems are managed in nature.