Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
02 December 2019

Revolturas: our new publication on legal seed regimes

In their article published in the Journal of Peasant Studies, Diego Silva Garzón and Laura Gutiérrez Escobar explore seed-saving practices and activism in Colombia.

By Diego Silva Garzón

Revolturas is the result of ethnographic research about the seed saving practices of very different types of farmers in Colombia. While my co-author, Laura Gutiérrez Escobar, concentrates on the practices of indigenous agroecological farmers, my work focuses on industrial cotton farmers who cultivate genetically modified seeds. Our common participation in the 2018 Seed Activism Workshop organized in Geneva by Shalini Randeria and Karine Peschard allowed us to discuss the differences and commonalities that exist between these farmers’ practices of seed saving. While these types of farmers are usually analysed separately and as opposing to one another in the scholarly literature, we were puzzled by their common participation in the 2013-14 national agrarian strikes. Their complaints against the state’s confiscations of revolturas (collections of mixed seeds multiplied by farmers), pointed at their seed saving networks and informal markets as possible strategies of seed sovereignty activism.

In Revolturas we investigate the motivations, conditions of possibility, and strategies of seed saving between these two types of farmers in Colombia, and contrast them to different definitions of seed activism and seed sovereignty. For indigenous agroecological farmers, seed saving represents a form of resistance mobilized through narratives of tradition, sovereignty, freedom, and environmental protection. In contrast, industrial farmers, who grow genetically-modified cotton, carry out seed saving surreptitiously to minimize production costs and to resist the enclosure of seeds by corporations. Indigenous farmers rely on local knowledge and solidarity practices for the maintenance of their seed networks, but they also rely on constitutional privileges and legal loopholes that give place to seed saving. Industrial cotton farmers rely on the armed and productive power of some farmers, who multiply GM seeds outside of the state’s control, and on strategies of ‘mimesis’ that complicate the state’s monitoring of informal markets. Despite these two groups of farmers’ different political motivations and strategies, both types of seed saving practices challenge corporate seed control. Therefore, through a journey across the state’s intellectual property and biosafety regulations, as well as community seed banks and complex informal markets, the article argues for the inclusion of industrial farmers in seed sovereignty discussions.

Read the article here.