For centuries, our plate of rice or ‘Buth Patha’ has provided us not only a wholesome meal but has become part of our culture and traditions. Now unknown to most people, often because they are not bothered to know, a serious danger is lurking and it might affect not only tens of thousands of farmers but also millions of people.
The activists and truly Patriotic Movement for Land and Agriculture Reforms (MONLAR) which was started by the enterprising civic rights activist Sarath Fernando is urging socialist parties and civic action groups to join it in a massive demonstration outside the Agriculture Ministry next Tuesday to protest over the introduction of the Seed Act. On the first reading its sounds like something good or harmless but under the surface the ground reality is that if this Act, is approved our farmers will become slaves of transnational seed and agro-chemical companies. In terms of this Act, the Agriculture Director General will be given sweeping powers and he will be like the executive president of agriculture. He will have complete control over any or all transactions involving seeds. He will have the power to order a search of any premises and any farmers found to be involved in seed transaction without his authority could be heavily fined or jailed for six months.
MONLAR says that according to present trends it is likely that all transactions of seeds will be handed over to transnational seed or chemical companies and their local agents here. Farmers will be able to buy seeds only from them. These companies are likely to promote a variety of hybrid or genetically modified seeds which often produce a good first harvest as a temptation to the farmer. But the F-1 hybrid seed for instance does not germinate and comes within the control of terminator technology. That means the seed will die and new seeds will have to be obtained from TNCs or private local companies for every harvest. In crude terms it is a privatisation of agriculture which has been not only part but the very heart of our culture and civilisation for about 3,000 years. Now all that is coming to an end. A famous author once wrote that the farmer, when the mud is washed off his back, is fit to be a king. The Seed Act will turn the farmer into a beggar in the mud-hole, so much for the kings of our civilisation.
The proposed Seed Act, more appropriately an agriculture monster is being pushed through at a time when the unchecked and excessive use of imported chemical ferlilisers, weedicides and pesticides has added a little poison to the vegetables and fruits we eat. With every meal we are consuming a little poison and that may be the reason why most people are sick most of the time and overcrowded hospitals have become one of the biggest businesses. In addition the excessive use of agro-chemicals is known to have polluted the ground water especially in our rice bowl of the North Central Province and hundreds of farmers or their family members are suffering from kidney failure.
Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front is rebelling against the UPFA government and one of the demands it has made is the withdrawal of this Seed Act. President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting with Mr. Weerawansa is reported to have said he would withdraw the Seed Act but most independent analysts say promises these days are often mere words and the Seed Act, like the casino bill might come back with a new mask. If the people of Sri Lanka do not come forward and raise their voice against the degradation of our farmers and the privatisation of agriculture, then our sovereignty will be so strong that we may have to get patent rights from TNCs even for our ‘Buth Patha’.