On this day in 1961, a Geneva-based intergovernmental organisation with six European member States took the first step to colonise seeds. The UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden founded the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), setting in motion a strategy to strip communities’ rights to seeds in favour of corporate control.
Prior to that date, any attempt to privatise seeds or restrict farmers’ rights to access seeds would have been considered absurd. For decades, most saw UPOV as such (absurd) and few countries signed on. But in the early 1990s, powerful Global North countries started making UPOV mandatory for World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership, and through free trade agreements (FTAs). The WTO is controlled by the countries with the largest economies — the countries who have benefited most from colonisation and imperialism — and controls the terms of global trade. Countries that have gained independence from colonial powers are forced to import and export on the global market to survive. In order to do so, they need WTO membership.
UPOV gives Global North governments the power to weaponise the Global South’s dependence on the WTO to claim ownership over the biodiversity that communities in the Global South have cultivated and sustained over millennia. They do this through intellectual property rights, upheld to serve Global North corporate interests.
Today, there are only three countries in the world that have completely resisted UPOV’s grasp, Bhutan, Venezuela, and Cuba. Others, like Mexico, Thailand and Chile are standing up as best they can.
Through UPOV, corporations are criminalising the foundation of agriculture — farmers' ability to save, exchange and breed seeds. It’s time to recognise that seed colonisation is underway. It’s time to resist. Find out actions against #UPOV that happens around the world via the Facebook group.