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The future of seeds

Tunisia - 29 Jun 09

At the third session of the Governing Body of the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, convened in Tunis from June 1-5, Slow Food was invited to open the meeting of countries who have ratified the treaty (121 countries), which was also attended by representatives of civil society.

Here is the address, given by Cinzia Scaffidi, director of the Slow Food Study Centre.

"In over twenty years’ activity we have seen how sensitivity towards issues such as the importance, function and protection of agro-biodiversity has grown in the world in general. More specifically, all the work that went into the drawing up and ratification of the Treaty has also exerted an educational and cultural impact on contemporary societies.

Turning to the concrete measures taken by individual States — including those that ratified the agreement — a lot of work still has to be done, but a number of positive signals, unfortunately among many contradictory actions namely the decisions in favour of the cultivation and commercialisation of GMO crops, are nonetheless evident.
In Italy, a few regional laws on seeds, and the 2008 decree on the marketing of conservation variety seeds clearly upheld the treaty recommendations, not only facilitating and protecting crops grown from such seeds, but also envisaging their commercialisation and direct selling.

Internationally, at least two important events provide grounds for hope:
- the Environment G8 recommendations outlined in the Siracusa Charter in April recognise the importance of local economies as promoters of biodiversity, along with the need to provide them with incentives;
- the Agriculture G8 document outlining the recommendations of agricultural and farming organisations — including those in African countries — highlights the invaluable role of small-scale traditional family agriculture and the distribution methods most suitable for it to achieve sustainable development in environmental, social and nutritional terms.

All this moves in the same direction as the work which Slow Food, present today in about 180 countries, has been performing since its inception. Slow Food in fact believes that only in a highly variable system it is possible to ensure food security and sovereignty from the political, economic and cultural points of view.

However, it is also necessary:

- for concrete biodiversity protection activities to multiply and for farmers promoting biodiversity to receive recognition — not least economic recognition — for the invaluable work they have made and will continue to make both for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources - which constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world - and for the environment on the whole.

- for economic efforts to be concentrated not only and not so much on ex situ conservation — which, of course, have an important role to play when devastating catastrophes happen — but on in situ/on-farm conservation which can lower the likelihood of such catastrophes happening, in the first place by ensuring populations life, beauty and health day by day. Individually, collectively and environmentally.

- for concrete actions to be taken simultaneously to inform consumers and rebuild a food culture that in many countries — mostly the wealthiest ones — would appear to be eroded away at the same speed as genetic resources. Slow Food can act as a bridge between the Treaty and the consumers. Rightly the Treaty has been focused on agriculture till now. But it is time to involve the consumers in the defence of Biodiversity. Farmers are, depending on the countries, from 60% to 2% of the population. Consumers are everywhere the 100%, and can make the difference.

- for public research to return to the top of government agendas and for significant actions to be implemented to support studies that can lay the bases for laws oriented by the environment and not only by the market."


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