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Farmers defend their rights against a new seed law, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan farmers on the streets fighting to preserve their traditional knowledge and against seed restrictions promoted new law


Sri Lankan farmers are currently opposing a new law proposal called the ‘Seed and Planting Material Act’. Organised in a network of over 700 organisations working for the rights of farmers called MONLAR, they have held marches and mass protests. The new draft law would require the mandatory registration of farmers and the certification of their seeds. In addition to requiring the state to maintain a list of seed producers and suppliers, the law authorises government officials to raid farms in search of ‘illegal’ seeds. If such ‘illegal’ seeds are found, farmers would have to pay a minimum fine of Rs. 50 000 (US$380) and could go to jail for up to six months. The law benefits industrial seeds by rendering them the only legal ones, to the detriment of both farmers and state-run programmes producing essential crops such as rice. Those in favour of the law say that it is needed to safeguard farmers from seeds of bad quality on the market. However, farmers argue that this is not a main concern for them because, at the village level, they know who produces the seeds that they buy locally. The issue of bad quality seed on the market is more of an issue for multinational companies which want to safeguard their monopolies. With the law, this extends to protecting monopolies on other ‘planting material’ including green manure made by farmers— in favour of the companies who produce synthetic inputs. Finally, Sri Lankan farmers are also concerned that the new law will disrupt their collective seed use. In many villages, farmers maintain small seed houses that distribute seeds at the local level. Under the new law, these, too, would become illegal. In addition to losing their own seeds that are adapted to their needs and tastes, farmers argue that purchasing certified seeds and other inputs would add a burden of cost that will put their livelihood at risk. For this reason, farmers all over the country are mobilising. In October 2014, a group of 4,000 farmers, agricultural workers, fishers and people supporting food sovereignty and land reform travelled through 25 different cities in the country as part of a Caravan for Seed and Food Sovereignty. In addition to marches and rallies, they presented their crops and also held community theatre presentations in order to convey to the public in the streets what they are struggling to protect and defend.(1)

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Farmers defend their rights against a new seed law, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :GMOs
Biopiracy and bio-prospection
Specific commodities:seeds
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/2014
Relevant government actors:- National Freedom Front (NFF)

- Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- MONLAR (the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform)

- Navdanya

- National Women's Federation (VIKALPANI)

- National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Caravan for Seed and Food Sovereignty
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:It will depend on the parliament vote
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Seed Act, n°22 of 2003 -  An act to regulate the quality of seeds and planting material
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

The Law of the Seed
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform - Proposed Seed Act in Sri Lanka; A threat to life, Fight for rights!
[click to view]

(1)GRAIN, Sri Lanka: farmers seeds becoming illegal
[click to view]

Navdanya is a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 17 states in India
[click to view]

Other documents

[click to view]

Street protest
[click to view]

The People's Caravan for Seed and Food Sovereignty- MONLAR, Sri Lanka
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Carolina Modena
Last update18/10/2016