Manifesto for another perspective on the present
by Ariane Leblanc, coordinator of La Semeuse

Today, the living organism is capital’s new arena of conquest. The stakes are high for every aspect of human life is involved: health, nutrition, education and reproduction.

Capitalism has demonstrated an incredible capacity to anticipate and absorb a multiplicity of notions in order to transform them and divert them from their original purpose, while maintaining the people’s blind faith in the good intentions of market laws.

Today, the property race operates through patents, defining newly acquired rights, and through the lawyers who defend them. But first the living organism had to be made ‘patentable’. Previously, patenting was reserved for new inventions as opposed to discoveries. In the United States, the turn dates back to 1980, when a judgment was passed at the Supreme Court authorising for the very first time the patenting of a living organism, a transgenic bacteria. Europe then followed suit. In July 1998, directive 98/44 of the European Parliament established the legal protection of animals, plants and isolated elements of the human body: “biological material that is isolated from its natural environment or produced by means of a technical process may be the subject of an invention even if it previously occurred in nature”, which is to say, it may be patented.

If the market were to become a very broad organisational matrix of society, we would conclude that everything that governs our environment can be the subject of monetary transaction. Nature, humanity’s shared property, could henceforth be appropriated and privatised.  These individual or collective modes of appropriation have a history, especially in relation to land, raw material and water resources. It developed through the collective appropriations of different spheres in order to give certain multinational companies a better image — like Total for instance, which invests not only in oil and renewable energy but also in culture.

This gives rise to open competition for the control of this property, translating as the mass expropriation of farmers and territories that become the private turf of multinationals. Western laboratories explore plant genetics in developing countries and sell patents at an extremely low price to companies such as Monsanto or Dupont-Pionnner, appropriating in this way plants that have been used for centuries by indigenous populations, thus precluding them from using them.

Based on this analysis, how might we apprehend the contemporary situation? To what extent can we trust what we consume? How can we apprehend our human society if there is no framework of humane values? In the absence of respect for human beings and their environment, we run the risk of reducing everything to the environment’s production value, that of a standardised production and consumption machine constantly calculating how to best optimise its material property.

Diversity is a notion tied to difference and variety. The diversity of living things is considered a key asset for humanity insofar as it has contributed and continues to contribute to our knowledge of the environment we inhabit. Indeed, we glean a better understanding of something by multiplying our perspectives on it.

The standardised, unconscious subjectivity that emerges with capitalist culture has a hegemonic function that produces unilateral exchange systems. Proposed and then imposed, mass culture suffocates the diversity of living things. Monsanto and Sygenta, now merged into a single company, control almost 50% of seeds in the world. The process involves standardising seeds, which are rendered sterile and then sold to farmers, who produce at a loss because every year they are obliged to purchase seeds in order to continue producing. The aim is food dependency, for the companies are perfectly aware that by controlling food production they can effectively control populations.

Put into effect in 1995, the WTO’s Agriculture Agreement aimed to facilitate access to markets, namely by reducing customs duties (by 36% between 1995 and 2000). The agreement had significant repercussions for poorer countries, with an increase in imports to the detriment of local production: according to the FAO, in 2002 Bangladesh had doubled its agricultural imports while Africa also witnessed the massive arrival of imported food products. The opening up of markets was indeed carried out in very uneven conditions: making intensive and specialised farming in the North and certain agro-exporting countries of the South (Brazil, Thailand, Vietnam…) compete with diversified, non-subsidised family farming. The principal victor in this configuration is therefore industrial farming: it is difficult to compete when the productivity gap between African and European farmers ranges from 1 to 500.

Food sovereignty is a concept that Via Campesina, an international network of peasant farmers, presented during the FAO’s World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. It refers to an international right allowing States and State clusters to implement agricultural policies the most suited to their populations and which do not have a negative impact on other populations. In this way, food sovereignty is at odds with the very principles of the WTO. Complimentary to food security, which concerns the quantity of food products available and the population’s access to them, food sovereignty also gives central importance to the social and environmental conditions of production. By valuing the traditional know-how and expertise of peasant farmers, the food sovereignty perspective stresses the fact that food products are not mere consumer goods. It defends local food systems in order to reduce the distance between producer and farmer and give control back to producers.

Let’s defend our local producers!
Take back control over what we eat!
Give back nature’s rights!

Today, the La Semeuse project is working to reassert exchange and swapping systems. The objective is to enable this research platform for urban biodiversity to become a site for information and reflection on contemporary issues relating to genetically modified organisms. The reappropriation of food production involves understanding what multinational companies, with their links to government policies, impose on producers and consequently on consumers. To this end, La Semeuse is working to establish a network of swappers in the Île-de-France (Greater Paris) region in order to foster the exchange of seeds, plants and experiences. The aim is to generate independent local production, among and with participants, but also to involve the broader public in these issues in order to reassert each individual’s capacity to act. We will be programming a series of reflection/discussion sessions and workshops on questions related to seeds, planting and food more generally, which will draw on participants’ know-how, especially those who make up the everyday life of Aubervilliers.

Paris, May 2016