Seed laws, certification and standardization: outlawing informal seed systems in the Global South

Tamara Wattnem | 03.17.2016

A series of relatively new seed laws are becoming novel mechanisms of accumulation
by dispossession in agriculture. Many researchers have argued that intellectual property
rights (IPR) laws that apply to living materials dispossess people of seeds by privatizing
germplasm. What these authors have not addressed is the role that non-IPR-related seed
laws play in the seed enclosure. I argue that we should pay more attention to the
implications of seed laws and regulations that do not deal directly with IPR issues,
because they are also being used to outlaw practices that are necessary for the
functioning of informal seed systems. As a result, they are setting the stage for the
further erosion of seed sovereignty and are becoming an additional threat to an
already waning agro-biodiversity, with direct consequences for farmers’ livelihoods.
These seed laws establish certification requirements and quality standards for the
marketing and/or exchange of seeds. I use the example of contemporary Colombian
seed politics to illustrate how and why certification requirements and quality
standards are currently being introduced throughout the Global South. I draw on
insights from the standards literature in order to explain the power, limitations and
consequences of these laws.
Keywords: certification; food sovereignty; seed laws; seed sovereignty; seed systems;
standards; Colombia