Landraces in Brazil: context and Instituto Socioambiental’s actions

The Brazilian context is characterised by a massive and widespread presence of commercial seeds, the only source of most farmers; exceptions are small decapitalised farmers 1, who keep the seeds from harvest to harvest, buying only a small part – or not buying – on the market. However, there are numerous initiatives to strengthen the use of traditional seeds(landraces).

At the regulatory level, the 2003 “seed law recognised traditional seeds; this same law and the implementing regulations exempt from the register of cultivars, thus favouring their use and authorising their exchange and marketing; the scope of marketing was further expanded in August 2012. By contrast, the 1997 “cultivar law”, which guarantees the ownership of varieties, can be used against the same small farmers who use traditional seeds 2. Finally, the absence of specific rules for regulating access to biodiversity and the fair sharing of benefits puts at risk the spread of traditional seeds and the information associated with them.

The Socioambiental Institute has been working for many years on biodiversity and protecting the knowledge of traditional communities and production systems 3. In this context, in the last five years, two initiatives directly linked to traditional seeds have been developed and consolidated:

  • the first one, connected to forest seeds, led to the structuring of the Rede de Sementes do Xingú, in the Amazon 4;
  • the second one, directly linked to agricultural seeds, is in the Vale do Ribeira (state of S. Paulo).

This one took the form of a Fair of exchange of seeds and traditional seedlings of the Afro-descendants (maroons) villages of the Vale do Ribeira, whose first edition was in 2008 5; the 2012 edition was the fifth. More than 15 quilombola farmer villages and almost 100 farmers are involved in the seed exchange; in 2009, seeds of 78 species were present at the fair, and nearly 200 different varieties were recognised by farmers. This initiative was further consolidated with the participation of the farmers of the Vale do Ribeira at the I Traditional Seed Exchange Fair of the State of S. Paolo. The realisation of the fairs has raised the interest of local farmers for the cultivation, particularly of food products; particular challenges locally represent the survival of the local food production system and a participatory improvement of the traditional seeds traded.

  1. This category represents 39% of household production units; the gross production value of these farmers represents 4% of total production, but this indicator does not include products used for self-subsistence or marketed in a completely informal way (see: Carlos Guanziroli et al., Agricultura familiar e reforma agrária no século XXI, Garamond, Rio de Janeiro 2001).
  2. The “law of seeds” is Lei n. 10.711 of 05/08/2003; the decree that expands marketing possibilities is Decree no. 7.794 of 20/08/2012. The “law of cultivars” is Lei n. 9.456 of 25/04/1997. For an in-depth analysis of Brazilian legislation on seeds, biodiversity and fair sharing of benefits and rights of farmers, see Juliana Santilli, Agrobiodiversidade e 

    direitos dos Agricultores, Peirópolis, São Paulo 2009

  3. The Socioambiental Institute (ISA) aims to “defend social, collective and widespread goods and rights related to the environment, cultural heritage, human and peoples’ rights”. For more information, see www.socioambiental.org.
  4. The Rede de Sementes do Xingú “aims: to carry out a continuous process of formation of seed collectors at the sources of the Xingú river, to make available the seeds of the regional flora in the quantity and with the quality required by the market; to form a platform for the exchange and marketing of seeds; to enhance the native forest and its diverse cultural uses, to create income for family farmers and indigenous communities, and to serve as a channel of communication between seed collectors, nurseries, rural owners and other stakeholders” (see www.sementesdoxingu.org.br).
  5. The fair’s first editions were implemented within the 8596/MAIS/BRA project, carried out by MAÌS and RE.TE, in partnership with the Socioambiental Institute, co-funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.