We don’t want to live as second class citizens anymore. We have always been discriminated against, but we are legal citizens of this country.
We had to breed our local seeds in hiding, since if government knew about this we wouldn’t get any support from government.
This victory at the constitutional court gives us back our Dignity. Recognition and openness to continue our creativity is the dignity for farmers and breeders.
– Joharipin, a breeder from Indramayu, Kertasemaya, Indonesia)
Between 2005 and 2010, more than a dozen farmers from Kediri and Nganjuk regencies in East Java were prosecuted after seed companies accused them of stealing seed. But a judicial review by Indonesia’s constitutional court has found several key articles of the legislation used to go after the farmers are unconstitutional.
The Plant Cultivation System Law, adopted in 1992, was meant to improve and expand diversification of crops to meet the needs for food, clothing, housing and health, as well as to support domestic industries and export; it was also intended to improve income and living standards for farmers and encourage the expansion and distribution of employment and business opportunities.
But the agricultural system it has enabled relies on industrially-produced seeds and other expensive inputs. Farmers are denied control over their basic means of production – seeds and soil – and their own techniques and technologies are disappearing.
"Do not be too creative. Do not breed your own seed, or you will be prosecuted."
This was the warning from the prosecution to East Java farmers who tried to breed their own seeds for corn. Tukirin, a 53-year-old corn grower in Nganjuk regency, was one of those hauled before the local court. A judge ruled he had violated Article 14(1) of the plant cultivation law, which states that seed certification is to be undertaken only by the government, or authorised individuals and legal bodies.
Tukirin explained to the court – he had no legal representation – how he had bred his own seed, and sold some to his neighbours. He insisted that he had not stolen seeds, copied breeding methods from PT BISI or marketed uncertified seed on a commerical basis (though he did sell some to his neighbours).
PT Bisi (a subsidiary of the Thailand-based agribusiness multinational giant PT Charoen Phokpand) accuses Tukirin and others of stealing parent seeds, though they have failed to prove this. An expert witness from the government’s seed supervision and certification office told the court it would have been impossible to breed seeds using Tukirin’s method.
Tukirin received a suspended six month sentence, a year’s probation, and was prohibited from planting his own seed for a year. Three others from the Kediri regency were found guilty of similar offences. Slamet and Kusen also got suspended sentences and probation, while Djumadi, a seed vendor, got a month in jail. All three banned from planting or breeding corn seeds.
Asked why he had no legal representation during his trial, Tukirin said he didn’t know he was entitled to a lawyer. "I do not know the law. I have rarely been out of my village and I simply do not understand the system," he said.
For poor farmers like Tukirin, appearing in court like a criminal to be subjected to questioning by strangers, while not understanding exactly what he has been charged with, may be a harsher penalty than imprisonment itself.
Local NGOs report many similar, but undocumented cases in these regencies and beyond, where farmers are afraid to talk to researchers or reporters about their prosecution. The cases put across one important message: "Buy your seeds from the companies or else…"
Pursuing imaginary pirates
Interviewed by IHCS (the Indonesian Human Rights Committee for Social Justice), a PT BISI staff member admitted that the company is struggling to control what it terms "seed piracy" by farmers.
"They (farmers) have more faith in local seeds that they breed [themselves]. It took us a long time and a lot of effort to persuade them to switch to our hybrid seeds," he said.
The Tukirin case, according to the staffer, was only the tip of the iceberg. He said farmers in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Sulawesi who bought BISI-produced seeds complained of low quality, poor performance and longer planting period. The company found that the seed in question had come from East Java, leading them to suspect a seed piracy network may be operating in the province. When asked for more details about who was involved in the seed piracy, he declined to respond. He just said that if farmers were allowed to breed their own seeds, the efforts of PT BISI would go to waste.
"Benih Kami Kedaulatan Kami" (Our Seeds Our Sovereignty) a collaborative documentary film from the Institute for Global Justice (IGJ) with Indonesian Peasant Alliance (API).
A coalition of groups brought the case to the constitutional court in September 2012, arguing that the Plant Cultivation Law unfairly treated small farmers and breeders as though they were large commercial enterprises.
The court agreed, ruling that articles 9, 12 and 60 are unconstitutional. This means that peasant farmers will no longer need permission from the government to collect local seeds, produce their own seeds, or to distribute it.
“This victory at the constitutional court is a victory for all struggles of farmers and local breeders, not only on Indonesia but for all peasants and local breeders that feed the world,” said Amalia Pulungan, a policy advisor for the Indonesia Peasant Alliance (API, Aliansi Petani Indonesia).
Knowledge and skill in breeding seed has always been the domain of farmers and this should be recognised and appreciated by the government, and given adequate legal protection. The country’s 1945 constitution recognises the collective rights of special, or vulnerable groups – and small farmers should be protected.
In order to sustain its rich biodiversity, according to IHCS, Indonesia’s government should pass and enforce laws designed to protect it. Measures should also protect farmers’ pattern of life and local wisdom.
“We will continue our struggle by socialising this court decision," said Adit from the NGO FIELD.
For more info on the seed case, and on farmers versus corporate power, contact:
For further questions on TRIPS in Indonesia contact:
For farmers’ responses and the Indonesia Coalition on Seed Case contact:
FIELD – Farmer Initiatives for Ecological Livelihoods and Democracy