In Defense of their Food, Ecuadorians Protest Unconstitutional Entry of GMOs

By Janneke Bruil, Colectivo Agroecológico, and Javier Carrera-Andrade, Red de Guardianes de Semillas (Ecuador)

All photos by Colectivo Agroecologico

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The Constitutional Ban

Back in 2008, farmers and activists around the world applauded Ecuador and its recently elected President Rafael Correa for banning genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops through its new Constitution. This constitutional ban was the first of its kind, and part of an equally unique and explicit national commitment to food sovereignty. Civil society played a big role in drafting the subsequent legislation.

Few however know that as soon as 2012, Correa publicly stated the GM prohibition was a ‘grave mistake’ pushed through by ‘leftist activists’. Ever since, he has been advocating for Ecuador to develop a national GM research center, arguing that Ecuador having its ‘own’ GMOs would entail an exemplary form of food sovereignty. Until recently, this seemed unlikely. But a newly adopted seeds law opened the door for Correa’s plan, however unconstitutional, four days before he left office.

Who Controls Our Seeds?

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After 5 years of debate, in May 2017 the Ecuadorian parliament approved a new law for agrobiodiversity and seeds which was received by civil society with mixed feelings. On the positive side, the law protects traditional, native and farmer’s seeds and declares that these can be exchanged and sold without the need for certification, but at the same time several other articles clearly contradict this right, leaving the door open to future conflict between the State and farmers. The law maintained, and even reinforced, the constitutional ban on genetically modified seeds and crops.

A few days after the parliamentary approval of the new law, and awaiting the presidential OK which seemed only a formality, the shocking rumor circulated that Correa would veto it because he wanted to lift the GM ban. All of this happened while the parliament was in transition after February’s elections.

The rumor turned out to be true.

As soon as this was confirmed, Ecuador’s alert and well- organized farmer groups and food activists moved into action. There were only two weeks left before the parliamentary vote on June 1- very little time to mobilize the public and convince parliamentarians, in a very unfavorable political context.

As a priority, we addressed parliamentarians directly through phone calls, letters, whatsapp messages, personal visits and briefing meetings, and informed them of a) the dangers of GM seeds and crops, b) the unconstitutionality of the veto and c) the existing public opposition. Hastily put together petitions were circulated among our networks and generated a stream of letters to parliamentarians from inside and outside Ecuador which, in the words of one of them, was ‘impressive’ considering the short time frame. We also reached out to the press and mobilized a social media campaign, which gave visibility to the widespread protest against the entry of GMOs.

On June 1, just days before Correa’s successor Lenin Moreno was to be inaugurated as President, the new parliament approved Correa’s amendment to the law – although notably, all opposition party parliamentarians rejected it or abstained. This step effectively allows genetically modified seeds into the country ‘for research purposes’. Farmer leaders and activists however argue that nobody will invest in research if there are no possibilities to sell the results.

The Fight Continues

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The citizens of Ecuador are not giving up, however. A range of strategies are being developed, including appeals to the Constitutional Court, considering that the new law is clearly anti- constitutional – both the process (the way it was imposed) and its concepts. We are also working with provinces and municipalities to declare ‘GMO free zones’. New alliances are being built, with other people and organizations affected by the new law, including agro exporters who risk losing markets such as in the case of organic banana producers.

Across the country, manifestations took place in front of federal and provincial institutions on June 21 in which a great variety of movements and collectives participated. Not coincidentally this was also the day of solstice or Inti Raymi, which in Andean culture marks the start of a new growing cycle. In a first victory, an alliance of cooks and agroecological farmers convinced the mayor of the northern city of Cayambe to announce the district ‘free of GMOs’.

Ecuador has a long tradition of strong, peaceful and effective civil resistance. Opposition to genetically modified crops and seeds is widespread. There is growing concern about the quality of food, livelihood and damage to the environment. We will therefore continue to defend our rights to produce and eat healthy and local GM- free food produced by the country’s many small-scale men and women farmers.

What can you do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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