Is it already Monday? Time seems to be flying away, as I haven’t even been able to recap what I did the weekend before last – namely, all the great movies I saw at Festival Alimenterre! Hosted by SOS Faim, this film festival tries to highlight the pressing food system issues of our day – so this was a perfect opportunity for me to learn, learn, learn. Let’s start toward the end with one of the last movies I watched, namely 9.70. You can watch the entire film on Youtube here. But is it worthwhile?
9.70 is the number of a new resolution that Colombia passed after signing their free trade agreement with the United States. According to the documentary, this law prohibits farmers from saving seeds – an ancestral practice they have done since starting agriculture. Now, seeds have to be “certified” in order to be sold in the marketplace (for phytosanitary reasons) and then the “certified” seeds are under copyright so saving them and growing more food from the previous harvest would amount to stealing intellectual property. Well, that’s an argument we’ve heard before.
The movie tries to show this entire trade deal from the eyes of a Colombian village – where, out of the blue and without forewarning, government troops came to confiscate and destroy the best rice of the community that they had stored for the next sowing. They didn’t know about the law, couldn’t understand the reasons for the new rules, and stood there with huge economic losses while their bags of rice were being destroyed on landfills.
The film follows all the rules of polemic investigative journalism – it’s shocking, emotional, and tells a great story about the good guys and the bad. It’s caused a huge discussion in Colombia itself, with the Colombian Institute for Agriculture, one of the main ‘bad boys’ according to the movie, calling the information ‘inexact, false and erroneous’ (three words for the same thing?) in a 16-page-long commentary.
To be honest, after reading the commentary, I do see the movie with a bit more perspective. Some of the arguments it brings up:
- The resolution 9.70 was only an update on previous phytosanitary resolutions that have existed since the 1970s and has nothing to do with the signing of the free trade treaty;
- The fact that the rice in the documentary was destroyed is strongly linked to the fact that it had been stored in fertilizer- and pesticide-packaging and was therefore not seen fit for human consumption;
- There are exceptions for seed-saving for farmers that have plots smaller than 5 hectares, who can announce their intention to ICA;
- ICA has no possibility to judicially prosecute anybody since they are only a sanitary body; therefore, the fear of being prosecuted for ‘piracy’ seems overblown;
- It’s also false information that the majority of certified seeds sold in Colombia come from multinational organizations – according to ICA’s numbers, 85% are being produced by 37 national companies;
- And basically, ICA argues that its investigations are just part of doing its job in preventing large-scale disease outbreaks from tainted, illegal seeds.
Hmmm… maybe things are not always black and white?
The movie is pretty interesting nevertheless, since what is definitely apparent is the absolute disconnect between the institution and the people. Even giving ICA the benefit of the doubt, and assuming the movie overemphasizes certain elements for cinematic effect, it is clear that the reasoning of the rules and their implementation has been extremely poorly communicated. Plus, it gives a great insight on the state of agriculture in Colombia. Just take it with a grain of salt, ya?