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Resisting free trade agreements to protect local seeds, Thailand

Thai farmers resisting free trade agreements for their food sovereignty


For years, farmers in Thailand have been resisting pressure from the United States and Europe to adopt strong intellectual property laws on seeds. In the wake of Thailand joining the WTO, the country passed a PVP Act in 1999. The Act was a partial solution to avoid succumbing to stricter laws, such as UPOV, which would severely threaten Thailand’s 25 million peasant farmers. Although less restrictive than UPOV, the 1999 law already places some restrictions on what farmers can do with varieties protected by a PVP certificate. Farmers are allowed to re-use protected seeds, but there are many requirements: they must have purchased the original seeds themselves; they can only re-sow them on their own farm, meaning the seeds cannot be shared or exchanged; and in some cases there are also quantity restrictions.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Resisting free trade agreements to protect local seeds, Thailand
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Biopiracy and bio-prospection
Specific commodities:Biological resources
Fruits and Vegetables
Project Details and Actors
Project details

There are two main types of ‘intellectual property’ systems for seeds: patents and Plant Variety Protection (PVP). The US started allowing patents on plants in the 1930s, when flower breeders demanded a kind of copyright on their “creations” - they wanted to stop others from “stealing” and making money from their flowers. Plant patents are very strong rights: no one can produce, reproduce, exchange, sell or even use the patented plant without the owners’ authorisation. To use a patented seed variety, farmers must make a payment to the owner of the patent. Farmers who buy patented seeds are also obliged to agree to a set of conditions: that they will not re-use seed from their harvest for the following season, that they will not experiment with the seeds, sell them or give them to anyone else. Monsanto Company even asks farmers to spy on their neighbours and report anyone doing these things with ‘Monsanto seeds’ to the police. Today, patenting is standard for GMOs.

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Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:26/11/1999
Company names or state enterprises:Monsanto Corporation (Monsanto Co) from United States of America
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Union (EU)
Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Assembly of the poor
Biodiversity and Community Rights Action Thailand (Biothai)
Alternative Agriculture Network
Seed Freedom, Thailand
The Foundation for Knowledge Management and Farmer School Network of Nakhon Sawarn province
Food Security Network, Satingphra.
Network of fish folks,Phang-nga Bay.
The Network for Change in the East
FTA Watch
La Via Campesina
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The final outcome is not yet clear.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

(1) Plant Varieties Protection Act, B.E. 2542 (1999)
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

(3) Letter to the Chairman of International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants UPOV 1991
[click to view]

(2) Bangkok Post news article (28.11.2012) on EU-Thai talks regarding the Free Trade agreement (FTA)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video on impacts of FTA on Thai farmers
[click to view]

Video on Thai farmers protesting against the FTA talks
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EJOLT team
Last update17/02/2015
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