400 farmers participated in the 4th national meeting of the Bionatur network, from the 22nd to the 24th of last May, in Candiota, in the province of Rio Grande do Sul, at the southern tip of Brazil. A strategic weapon for the Landless Workers Movement (Movimiento de los Trabajadores Rurales sin Tierra, MST) and defender of agro-ecological seeds since 1997, the Bionatur network has brought together farmers who work to preserve biodiversity and to promote agro-ecology. Faced with attempts by multi-national agro-industrial companies to control animal and vegetable biodiversity, the network opposes all attempts to patent the living, and constitutes an important link in the campaign “Seeds, heritage of humanity” launched in 2003 by Via Campesina .
Taking up the challenges of peasant farming against agro-industrial seizure
While multinational corporations are attempting to appropriate national resources and impose transgenic farming, the MST calls for debate and civic resistance, stating that it is pointless to conquer the earth if it means losing the heritage of seeds. The Bionatur network includes familes of farmers and workers from the agrarian reform which, in the 1990s, sought to construct an alternative to the so-called integration system, which penalises producers. With this system, big companies who sell seeds to farmers have a monopoly on their commercialisation, and thus make profits which are not fairly shared out. The Bionatur network, which supports alternative farming, guarantees producers a certain autonomy in the commercialisation of their seeds. Reconstruction of the countryside, recuperation of the productive capacity of the earth, promotion of security and of food self-sufficiency…, the Bionatur network is not only a project to preserve seeds, but also a new experience in seed reproduction which will enable ecological farming. With 11 years of experience, the network produces today more than 20,000 kilos of 110 varieties of catalogued vegetables, and sells more than 45 cultivated species. It is the biggest producer of ecological seeds in Latin America.
Organised debates and the inauguration of an ecological seed production unit
The two days of the Bionatur national meeting were devoted to the organisation of production and access to markets, to the technical training of the farming families of Bionatur, and to the challenges raised by agro-industry, which oppresses peasant farmers and decimates the environment. All participants noted the extent to which the risks of agro-ecology have been heightened by “the offensive of capital into the countryside, control of land, agricultural commerce, the problem of transgenics and the lack of concrete aid on the part of the government for agrarian reform” explains Ciro Correa, an MST activist. The meeting was also the occasion of the general assembly of the cooperative Conaterra, the legal branch of Bionatur. Future directions were decided: a more professional approach in terms of production management, of industry, and of the market; reinforce family training, optimise commercialisation. It was also decided that information would be published and made available to other families on the possibilities of agro-ecology. The meeting ended with the inauguration of the network’s first production unit: the Seed Improvement Unit, constructed with the help of the Brazilian National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform, with the promise of a wider development for Bionatur.
Also read: Resonances Latin America N° 25 - June 2008