Position Statement regarding the Proposed Amendments to the Seed Industry Development Act

July 6, 2024

by MASIPAG National Office

Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) raises concern over the recent developments in the ongoing amendments of the Seed Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 1992 to further strengthen the corporate capture and restriction of seeds in our country by harmonizing it with the Plant Variety Protection Law (PVP 2002).

According to the information gathered by MASIPAG, the ongoing amendments of SIDA, spearheaded by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), aim to “strengthen” the farmer seed system by formalizing a sui generis 1system, akin to its formal counterpart, for the varietal registration of farmers’ seed system in accordance to the current Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Law. Moreover, survey, inventory, and establishment of a database of plant genetic resources belonging to farmers’ seed systems were also eyed in the amendment. While this identified action is somehow a “step” in recognizing the enormous contribution of farmers to the country’s agriculture and genetic resources, understanding it in the present political and economic dynamic will tell us otherwise.  

To understand SIDA is to understand PVP and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants or UPOV that explicitly criminalizes farmer-to-farmer seed exchange, and the takeover of huge agro-corporations and pseudo-public institutions such as IRRI, on seeds. Historically, the rationale of “recognizing” the enormous contribution of Filipino farmers in our seed system is only secondary. The PVP Law was primarily a compliance matter for the Philippines due to our commitment to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) via our membership in the World Trade Organization rather than the “protection” of our seeds – what the WTO prescribes is either PVP law that is attuned to the guidelines of UPOV or UPOV itself. To cut to the chase, the creation of our PVP Law intended to be harmonized with our farmers’ seed system is nothing but a step in the commodification and enclosure of our seeds and plant genetic resources by structuring it under protection and registration regimes. 

Since its implementation in 2002, MASIPAG has been critical to the Plant Variety Protection Law as farmers and scientists themselves at that time already identified the gaps and inconsistencies of the said law that would further disadvantage small farmers. In particular, Section 43 of the PVP law which states “the right of small farmers to freely use, save, exchange, and sell seeds” is stated as an exemption rather than a supreme right, always to be respected and upheld, in itself. Moreover, the stated right can only be operationalized granted that these activities are to be conducted in their land – which many if not all small farmers have little to no access to and autonomy over. 

There is also no basis nor rigorous research backing Section 2 of the Plant Variety Protection Law that claims that it will be beneficial to the country’s food security, and even the improvement of our agriculture. Moreover, the implications of PVP’s implementation in the farmers’ seed system were never discussed, specifically its impacts on food security, economic gains, and crop diversification. Ironically, what it promotes is nothing but a trend of monovarietal cropping, dependent on proprietorial seeds which has been shown by the Green Revolution as detrimental to food security and sovereignty, the economy, the environment, and farmers’ welfare and livelihood.

Globally, farmers’ seed systems already provide on average more than 80% of the total food crop seed used by farmers. Now, in a farmer seed system that greatly flourishes in the spirit of Bayanihan, collectivism, and solidarity, why adopt a system that thrives in individual growth and divisiveness such as the varietal registration and protection? Being a “first-to-file rule” to secure such rights, applying the current PVP sui generis system to our farmers’ seed system through the proposed SIDA amendment will only foster a culture and mentality of business royalty rather than solidarity, inclusive growth and development, and ultimately, the full realization of farmers’ rights to seed. 

The right to seed is recognized in international human rights law and takes precedence over other legal norms such as the proposed amendments of SIDA. 

Section 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasant and Other People Working in Rural Areas  (UNDROP) explicitly declares that peasants have the right to seeds including the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their seeds and tradition whereas the state shall take measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to their seeds. Moreover, the state shall recognize the rights of peasants to rely either on their seeds or on other locally available seeds of their choice and to decide on the crops and species that they wish to grow. 

Moreover, the proposed amendments to SIDA also show either the belittlement or shortsightedness of the government towards the local and indigenous knowledge systems (LINKS) of Filipino farmers that are integral to the seed’s identity and help maintain and further improve our seeds for many years. Structuring these intricately interwoven dynamics between farmers’ seeds and the LINKS associated with them into a profit-oriented enclosure system undermines the ever-evolving value and potential of seeds in accommodating the ever-changing needs of the community. As a state that has passed the Indigenous People Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, and also recognizes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), it should be imperative for the Philippine government to uphold its provisions namely Article 31 wherein indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their seeds and their knowledge that governs it. Likewise IPRA’s Section 34 on their right to indigenous knowledge systems and practices and to develop their sciences and technologies and Section 35 on the access to biological and genetic resources and indigenous knowledge related to the conservation of resources such as seeds. 

Yet, we are once again repeating the failures of the Green Revolution and MASAGANA 99  that almost erased our country’s rice biodiversity by taking the prescriptive and top-down route.

Likewise in MASIPAG, farmer breeders and farmers who have been caring for and conserving our traditional and farmer-bred seeds have a long and deep-rooted understanding that these seeds are freely shared and accessed by everyone – as a common property. The complex nature of seeds and varieties, consisting of biophysical, informational, and cultural elements, implies that their collective governance needs to consider aspects of different common categories in contrast to the flawed, market-oriented sui generis system tailored to protect corporate interests rather than a very narrowed sui generis system.

  1.  Sui generis is a Latin term for “a special kind”. In seed policy, it is a patent-like rights to formal plant breeders also known as Plant Variety Protection (PVP) here in the Philippines. What gets protected in this case is the genetic makeup of a specific plant variety with the criteria for protection is through the distinctness uniformity, and stability. ↩︎