MisFortune 500
 Vol. 2,  No. 3 / October 2007
A Project of
In This Issue
Women and the Corporate Control of Seeds: An Overview
Rural Women's Declaration
Manifesto on the Future of Seed
Open Letter to John Ruggie: An Update
Upcoming Events

Dear friend,

Each year 16 October marks World Food Day, an occasion that
heightens public awareness of the world food problem and strengthens solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

It is estimated that there are more than 850 million chronically hungry people worldwide. Nearly 90 percent are women and children, even though women make up more than a half of the agricultural workforce worldwide and play a key role as food providers and producers.

In this month's issue we explore seeds, a resource crucial to the livelihoods and survival of women farmers. The ever-increasing corporate concentration in seed patenting, cultivation and marketing has had detrimental impacts on rural women. Through forming seed banks and fairs and organizing against corporate seed giants, women are standing up for their rights and control of their seeds.

Women and the Corporate Control of Seeds: An Overview

Seeds preservation, conservation and germination have been primarily women's work in agrarian societies for thousands of years. Yet women farmers face challenges that threaten the vitality of their farms, families and communities.

Women have less access than men to necessary resources for farming. In many parts of the world, gender discrimination prevents women from owning and inheriting land and receiving credit. With limited resources, women farmers often manage small-scale operations and farm for subsistence with low income-generation. Thus women need low-cost, low-input farming methods in which they rely on natural diversity and their indigenous knowledge for seed selection and planting.

The particular challenges women farmers face are expounded by the increasing corporate control over seeds. Last year the top 10 seed corporations took in a cumulative $12.6 billion in seed revenues and accounted for 55% of the commercial seed market worldwide, up from 37% in just ten years.

The World's Top 10 Seed Companies (2006)
Based on 2006 Seed Revenues


2006 seed sales
US $ millions

1. Monsanto (US)


2. Dupont (US)


3. Syngenta (Switzerland)


4. Groupe Limagrain (France)


5. Land O' Lakes (US)


6. KWS AG (Germany)


7. Bayer Crop Science (Germany)


8. Delta & Pine Land (US) (acquisition by Monsanto pending)


9. Sakata (Japan)


10. DLF-Trifolium (Denmark)


Source: ETC Group

Seed corporations-such as MisFortune 500 companies Monsanto and Bayer-take over local markets that women depend on, exploiting women's limited resources and using their power to take advantage of their indigenous knowledge of seed management and breeding.

Through patent systems, these corporations stake their claim to seeds, making use of the local biological diversity for their own profits and overriding the rights of local communities. Once a corporation is given a patent they have effectively taken away farmers' rights to the seeds. Farmers cannot save, grow, exchange, or re-sell the patented seeds and poor and small-scaled farmers, mostly women, suffer the most from these impacts.

Corporations have also introduced hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seeds to the market. This includes "terminator" technology, which is the genetic modification of plants to produce sterile seeds.
When commercialized, these GM technologies prevent farmers from re-using seed from their harvest, forcing them to return to the commercial seed market. Also, chemical fertilizers and pesticides tailored for cultivation of GM crops causes soil erosion, while dams constructed to develop water irrigation systems required for large-scale farming result in loss of land and water resources. This has a negative impact on smallholder and subsistence farmers.

The loss of seed from the household also means the loss of women's power. Women's dependence on the market for seeds displaces them from control over a technology that is at the heart of agriculture. And women farmers and agricultural workers-particularly ethnic minorities, those from poor families or with migrant status-have little-to-no representation in debates and decision-making processes about GM technologies.

In the meantime, unless farmers can exercise their rights to food sovereignty, corporations will continue to proclaim the benefits of GM seeds for eradicating hunger and reducing poverty to the detriment of women's lives and livelihoods.

Rights, Empowerment, Liberation Rural Women's Declaration: Rights, Empowerment, Liberation

"We, 52 women from 14 countries, representing peasants, agricultural workers, indigenous women, Dalit women, workers and migrants, assert our rights to self determination, secure livelihoods, land and productive resources, just wages, health, food sovereignty and democracy." So begins the Rural Women's Declaration: Rights, Empowerment and Liberation, a result of a recent meeting on rural women's rights held in Manila, Philippines. The Declaration calls for, among other things, the elimination of pesticides, genetically engineered seeds and patents on life, as well as the promotion of organically and biodiversity-based ecological agriculture. The Declaration demands that women have access to and control over productive resources, such as seeds, water, and forest and pasture lands.

Manifesto on the Future of Seed: Sign the Petition to Protect Biodiversity and Save Our Seeds

By the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture

Today the diversity and future of seed is under threat.

The freedom of seed and freedom of farmers are threatened by new property rights and new technologies which are transforming seed from a commons shared by farmers to a commodity, under the central monopoly of corporations.

The rapid extinction of diverse crops and crop varieties and the development of non-renewable seeds, such as property hybrids and sterile seeds based on the terminator technology,, threatens the very future of seed, and with it the future of farmers and food security of the world.

Seed saving and sharing is humanity's ethical duty and thus cannot be prohibited by any national or international law which makes this duty a crime.

Publicly launched and endorsed on the occasion of Terra Madre 2006 at Torino, the Manifesto on the Future of Seed aims to strengthen the movement to protect biodiversity, and help defend the rights of farmers to save, share, use and improve seeds, and enhance our collective capacity to adapt to the hazards and uncertainties of environmental and economic change.

Sign this campaign to:

  • strengthen and accelerate the movement towards sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and agricultural diversity, and food sovereignty;
  • help defend the rights of farmers to save, share, use and improve seeds;
  • unify and strengthen the call to counter the threat to seed and biodiversity imposed by industrial agriculture and multinational corporate interests.
16 Days Next month's focus: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

From 25 November to 10 December, women's rights organizers will mobilize globally for the elimination of all forms of violence against women, as part of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. During the 16 Days of Activism, MisFortune 500 will highlight some of 2007's leading stories of women taking action against corporate violations of their rights, lives and livelihoods. Share stories from your country or community by 10 November!

Open Letter to John Ruggie: Endorsement deadline extended

Earlier this month, more than 150 groups and individual activists endorsed the Open Letter to John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights. The letter addressed four issues critical to the current UN debate over business and human rights: deepening the UN's focus on victims' perspectives of corporate human rights violations, analyzing the factors driving the failure of states to adequately discharge their 'duty to protect' the rights of individuals, communities and indigenous people, assessing the inherent limitation of voluntary initiatives, and spreading awareness of the compelling need for global standards on business and human rights.

ue to such broad and rapid support by civil society, the endorsement process of the Open Letter has been extended until 25 October, at which point the additional endorsements will be presented to the Special Representative.

Click here to read John Ruggie's initial response to the Open Letter, issued 15 October.

Upcoming events
Editor: Nadia Johnson
Researcher: Nguyen Thi Mai Hoa
MisFortune 500 is a parody of Fortune magazine's annual listing of top profit-making companies. Instead of ranking 'winners' and 'losers', MisFortune 500 exposed corporate activities that violate women's rights, threaten lives and livelihoods, and cause environmental destruction. MisFortune 500 documents women's resistance and promotes corporate accountability.

MisFortune 500 is a project of
Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO)