On May 11, 2011, the Chilean Senate voted to adopt the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91), which essentially gives new rights to the “breeders” of new seed variants — meaning any person who has created, discovered, or developed a seed variety. In practical terms, this legislation means that it is illegal for farmers to save seeds from their crops and use them later on, so long as those seeds have been patented. The Convention will uniquely affect Indigenous peoples and some organizations are considering legal action against the State.
One such organization is the Mapuche Health Network, which met on Thursday, May 26th, about the new legislation and, ultimately, rejected it. According to their declaration, the Convention has the potential to “seriously damage [Mapuche] rights and ancestral heritage, particularly related to cultural health systems and food sovereignty.” The Mapuche Health Network — which is made up of multiple organizations — went on to state that the Government has already taken steps to register several seed types traditionally used by Mapuche people. In response to these actions, the Network stated that such actions, “seriously undermine our Mapuche health workers, our healing practices, our sacred sites, our lawen [medicine],” by taking seeds that have been developed by the Mapuche people over the course of millennia.
Furthermore, the Mapuche Health Network stated that UPOV 91 was passed without proper consultation under ILO 169 — an international convention that requires consultation with Indigenous peoples whenever an act affects them in a unique manner. The lack of consultation has the Network considering legal action against the State.
Today (May 27th), Senator Navarro (MAS) — with the backing of sixteen other senators — submitted a motion to the Chilean Constitutional Court, seeking to have UPOV 91 declared unconstitutional. Navarro said that the bill takes seeds away from Indigenous and peasant farmers who have used them for generations without any sort of compensation. The Constitutional Court will decide whether the case is admissible or not on May 31st.