October 17, 2004
-- CropChoice news -- GRAIN, Oct. 2004: When former
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul
Bremer III left Baghdad after the so-called "transfer
of sovereignty" in June 2004, he left behind the 100
orders he enacted as chief of the occupation authority in
Iraq. Among them is Order 81 on "Patent, Industrial Design,
Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety."
This order amends Iraq's original patent law of 1970 and unless
it is revised or repealed by a new Iraqi government, it has
the status and force of a binding law.
With important implications for farmers and the future of
agriculture in Iraq, this order is yet another important component
in the United States' attempts to radically transform Iraq's
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 US-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
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 commercialization
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 organization'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 compelled8 to
adopt seed patent laws through bilateral treaties. The
US 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 US 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 favored 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 United States 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 characterized by sustainable economic growth
through the establishment of a dynamic private sector, and
the need to enact institutional and legal reforms to give
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
US$5 million contract was granted to the US 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 capitalize on market opportunities
in Iraq. The legal framework laid down by Bremer ensures
that although US troops may leave Iraq in the conceivable
future, US domination of Iraq's economy is here to stay.
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 US has ensured
that Iraq's agricultural system will remain under "occupation"
Iraq has the potential to feed itself. But instead of developing
this capacity, the US 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. Samples of such farmers' varieties were starting
to be saved in the 1970s in the country's national gene bank
in Abu Ghraib outside Baghdad. It is feared that all these
have been lost in the long years of conflict. However, the
Syria-based Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR) center -- International Center for Agricultural
Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) still holds accessions of several
Iraqi varieties. These collections that are evidence of the
Iraqi farmers' knowledge are supposed to be held in trust
by the center. These comprise the agricultural heritage of
Iraq belonging to the Iraqi farmers that ought now to be repatriated.
There have been situations where germplasm held by an international
agricultural research center has been "leaked out"
for research and development to Northern scientists. Such
kind of "biopiracy" is fueled by an IPR regime that
ignores the prior art of the farmer and grants rights to a
breeder who claims to have created something new from the
material and knowledge of the very farmer.
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.
Source: URL: http://www.grain.org/articles/?id=6