On 28th February 2015, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela enacted a new seed law. The law was adopted by the National Assembly and is the result of several years of consultation within the country, with ample participation of peasant organizations and civil society organizations.
The new law includes a prohibition of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and any form of patents and plant breeders’ rights, as well as detailed provisions on support for peasants’ and farmers’ seed systems.
The stated objectives of law are to: support a transition from industrial agriculture to agroecology and an eco-socialist agriculture; promote the production of seeds at national level and ensure self-sufficiency; protect agrobiodiversity; promote the traditional and local knowledge and practices of peasants, afro-descendant and indigenous peoples, and other local communities; prohibit patents and plant breeders’ rights on seeds; prohibit transgenic seeds; and guide public policies so that differentiated standards and policies are applied according to the scale of production.
In addition to the prohibition of GMOs, plant breeders’ rights and patents, the law prohibits seeds that endanger ecosystems, biodiversity, human health and food sovereignty. Violation of these prohibitions may be penalized with 5 to 10 years of prison.
One of the key features of the new seed law is that it has a strong focus on the promotion of farmers’ seed system. It reflects the recommendation of the FAO Voluntary Guide for National Seed Policy Formulation to “strengthen both formal and informal seed systems” as an integral part of the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA).
The new seed law creates a National Seed Commission, whose mandate is to monitor the implementation of the law and to draft a National Seed Plan. The Commission will be comprised by four representatives of the competent Ministry, as well as three representatives of social movements, peasants, afro-descendant and indigenous peoples.
It also creates a Popular Council for the Protection of the Local, Peasant, Afro-descendant and Indigenous Peoples’ seeds. The Council will mainly be comprised by representatives of social movements, peasants, farmers, communities and seed producers. The Council’s role is to promote peasant seeds systems, including the conservation, use and exchange of seeds, local seed banks, community seed production enterprises, collaborative breeding and participative certification mechanisms; as well as to participate in policy making and provide inputs to the National Seed Commission. It will develop its own working plan, and receive adequate funding from the National Seed Commission to implement the plan.
This is in line with farmers’ rights as recognized in Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), in particular the right of farmers to participate in decision making as well the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed.
All local, peasant, afro-descendant and indigenous peoples’ seeds, as well as seeds developed with state’ resources, are declared as free seeds that can be improved, produced, exchanged and freely marketed all over the national territory. These seeds are to be accessed under “licenses for the free use” to ensure that any person is entitled to use, study, share and improve any improvement of these seeds. The license will also establish that no royalty may be charged for the use of these seeds.
The new seed law has also provisions on seeds from the formal system, including the establishment of a Formal Seed Certification System and a National Seed Register, as well as detailed norms on seed quality, information and packaging. Although patents and plant breeders’ rights are prohibited, the law specifies that the state will protect investment and provide incentives for the breeding of new varieties. It is only the competent State authority that can authorize the use of biodiversity for the development of new varieties. Import of seeds is severely restricted to cases when national seeds are not available, and is subject to government approval.
The new seed law of Venezuela is available here (in Spanish): http://www.mat.gob.ve/boletines_pdf/LEY_DE_SEMILLAS_de_VENEZUELA.pdf (link is external)