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New Iraq Patent Law Will Make Traditional Farmers Seed Saving Illegal

November 15, 2004, Issue #380
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
>From a Public Interest Perspective

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For generations, small farmers in Iraq operated in an essentially
unregulated, informal seed supply system. Farm-saved seed and the free
innovation with and exchange of planting materials among farming communities
has long been the basis of agricultural practice. This has been made illegal
under the new law.

The seeds farmers are now allowed to plant --- "protected" crop varieties
brought into Iraq by transnational corporations in the name of agricultural
reconstruction --- will be the property of the corporations. While
historically the Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership of biological resources, the new U.S.-imposed patent law introduces a system of monopoly rights over seeds.

Inserted into Iraq's previous patent law is a whole new chapter on Plant
Variety Protection (PVP) that provides for the "protection of new varieties of
plants." PVP is an intellectual property right (IPR) or a kind of patent for
plant varieties which gives an exclusive monopoly right on planting material
to a plant breeder who claims to have discovered or developed a new variety.

So the "protection" in PVP has nothing to do with conservation, but refers
to safeguarding of the commercial interests of private breeders (usually
large corporations) claiming to have created the new plants.

To qualify for PVP, plant varieties must comply with the standards of the
UPOV Convention, which requires them be new, distinct, uniform and stable.
Farmers' seeds cannot meet these criteria, making PVP-protected seeds the
exclusive domain of corporations. The rights granted to plant breeders in
this scheme include the exclusive right to produce, reproduce, sell, export,
import and store the protected varieties.

These rights extend to harvested material, including whole plants and parts
of plants obtained from the use of a protected variety. This kind of PVP
system is often the first step towards allowing the full-fledged patenting
of life forms. Indeed, in this case the rest of the law does not rule out
the patenting of plants or animals.

The term of the monopoly is 20 years for crop varieties and 25 for trees and
vines. During this time the protected variety de facto becomes the property
of the breeder, and nobody can plant or otherwise use this variety without
compensating the breeder.

This new law means that Iraqi farmers can neither freely legally plant nor
save for re-planting seeds of any plant variety registered under the plant
variety provisions of the new patent law. This deprives farmers what they
and many others
worldwide claim as their inherent right to save and replant seeds.

The new law is presented as being necessary to ensure the supply of good
quality seeds in Iraq and to facilitate Iraq's accession to the WTO. What it
will actually do is facilitate the penetration of Iraqi agriculture by the
likes of Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical --- the corporate giants
that control seed trade across the globe.

Eliminating competition from farmers is a prerequisite for these companies
to open up operations in Iraq, which the new law has achieved. Taking over
the first step in the food chain is their next move.

The new patent law also explicitly promotes the commercialisation of
genetically modified (GM) seeds in Iraq. Despite serious resistance from
farmers and consumers around the world, these same companies are pushing GM
crops on farmers around the world for their own profit. Contrary to what the
industry is asserting, GM seeds do not reduce the use of pesticides, but
they pose a threat to the environment and to people's health while they
increase farmers dependency on agribusiness.

In some countries like India, the 'accidental' release of GM crops is
deliberately manipulated, since physical segregation of GM and GM-free crops
is not feasible. Once introduced into the agro-ecological cycle there is no
possible recall or cleanup from genetic pollution.

As to the WTO argument, Iraq legally has a number of options for complying
with the organisation's rules on intellectual property but the US simply
decided that Iraq should not enjoy or explore them.

Iraq is one more arena in a global drive for the adoption of seed patent
laws protecting the monopoly rights of multinational corporations at the
expense of local farmers. Over the past decade, many countries of the South
have been compelled to adopt seed patent laws through bilateral treaties.
The U.S. has pushed for UPOV-styled plant protection laws beyond the IPR
standards of the WTO in bilateral trade through agreements for example with
Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

Likewise, post-conflict countries have been especially targeted. For
instance, as part of its reconstruction package the U.S. has recently signed
a Trade and Investment
Framework Agreement with Afghanistan, which would also include IPR-related

Iraq is a special case in that the adoption of the patent law was not part
of negotiations between sovereign countries. Nor did a sovereign law-making
body enact it as reflecting the will of the Iraqi people. In Iraq, the
patent law is just one more component in the comprehensive and radical
transformation of the occupied country's economy along neo-liberal lines by
the occupying powers. This transformation would entail not just the adoption
of favoured laws but also the establishment of institutions that are most
conducive to a free market regime.

Order 81 is just one of 100 Orders left behind by Bremer and among the more
notable of these laws is the controversial Order 39 which effectively lays
down the over-all legal framework for Iraq's economy by giving foreign
investors rights equal to Iraqis in exploiting Iraq's domestic market.

Taken together, all these laws, which cover virtually all aspects of the
economy --- including Iraq's trade regime, the mandate of the Central Bank,
regulations on trade union activities, etc. --- lay the bases for the U.S.'
bigger objective of building a neo-liberal regime in Iraq. Order 81
explicitly states that its provisions are consistent
with Iraq's "transition from a non-transparent centrally planned economy to
a free market economy characterised by sustainable economic growth through
the establishment of a dynamic private sector, and the need to enact
institutional and legal reforms to give it effect."

Pushing for these "reforms" in Iraq has been the US Agency for International
Development, which has been implementing an Agricultural Reconstruction and
Development Program for Iraq (ARDI) since October 2003. To carry it out, a
one-year U.S.$5 million contract was granted to the U.S. consulting firm
Development Alternatives, Inc. with the Texas A&M University as an
implementing partner.

Part of the work has been sub-contracted to Sagric International of
Australia. The goal of ARDI in the name of rebuilding the farming sector is
to develop the agribusiness opportunities and thus provide markets for
agricultural products and services from overseas.

Reconstruction work, thus, is not necessarily about rebuilding domestic
economies and capacities, but about helping corporations approved by the
occupying forces to capitalise on market opportunities in Iraq. The legal
framework laid down by Bremer ensures that although U.S. troops may leave
Iraq in the conceivable future, US domination of Iraq's economy is here to

Food sovereignty is the right of people to define their own food and
agriculture policies, to protect and regulate domestic agricultural
production and trade, to decide the way food should be produced, what should
be grown locally and what should be imported.

The demand for food sovereignty and the opposition to the patenting of seeds
has been central to the small farmers' struggle all over the world over the
past decade. By fundamentally altering the IPR regime, the U.S. has ensured
that Iraq's agricultural system will remain under "occupation" in Iraq.

Iraq has the potential to feed itself. But instead of developing this
capacity, the U.S. has shaped the future of Iraq's food and farming to serve
the interests of US corporations. The new IPR regime pays scant respect to
Iraqi farmers' contributions to the development of important crops like
wheat, barley, date and pulses.

While political sovereignty remains an illusion, food sovereignty for the
Iraqi people has already been made near impossible by these new regulations.
Iraq's freedom and sovereignty will remain questionable for as long as
Iraqis do not have control over what they sow, grow, reap and eat. [
November, 2004 ]