Harmonisation of Africa’s seed laws: death knell for African seed systems
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has released its new report titled, ‘Harmonisation of Africa’s seed laws: a recipe for disaster- Players, motives and dynamics’. The report shows how African governments are being co-opted into harmonising seed laws relating to border control measures, phytosanitary control, variety release systems, certification standards and intellectual property rights, the detriment of African small-holder farmers and their seed systems.
According to Mariam Mayet of the ACB, “The effect of these efforts, which are being pushed through African regional trading blocs such as COMESA and SADC include:
• facilitating the unlawful appropriation and privatization of African germplasm;
• providing extremely strong intellectual property protection for commercial seed breeders and severely restricting the rights of farmers to freely use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds;
• facilitating the creation of regional seed markets where the only types of seed on offer to small scale farmers are commercially protected varieties; and
• threatening farmer- managed seed systems and markets.”
The report shows that harmonized intellectual property rights (plant variety protection-“PVP”) over seeds are all based on the 1991 Act of the International Union of the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV 1991). UPOV 1991 was developed by industrialized countries more than 20 years ago to suit their own interests and is totally inappropriate for Africa where 80% of all seeds are still produced and disseminated by small holder farmers.
“These harmonised PVP type processes and their protagonists do not recognise the current practices of 80 % of African small scale farmers but instead are set on undermining and disregarding the contribution these farmer-breeders have made, and are making, to seed breeding, genetic diversity and food security” said Joe Mzinga from the East and Southern African Farmers Forum (ESAFF).
According to Elizabeth Mpofu from Via Campesina Africa, “small farmers are by far the largest and most prolific seed breeders in Africa. These farmers have successfully cultivated an abundant and rich diversity of crops for centuries. The UPOV 1991-style PVP legislation may be a coup for the seed industry, but for farmers and indigenous people, it is a totally unjust and outrageous application of intellectual property.”
These seed harmonization efforts have excluded farmer and civil society participation. The international seed lobby and well-funded initiatives, institutions and agreements are at the forefront of rushing African governments into adopting PVP laws based on UPOV 1991. These players include: the World Bank; the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Citizens Action for Foreign Affairs; the US patent and trademark office, the Seed Science Centre at Iowa State University; Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred; the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA); Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).
“The processes underway in developing harmonised seed policies and legal frameworks that exclude farmer participation are a gross violation of human and customary rights of African small farmers and communities” said Mayet.
Mariam Mayet, Tel + 11 646 0699, Email Mariammayet@mweb.co.za
Elizabeth Mpofu, Via Campesina Africa. Tel +263 772 44316, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The report can be downloaded from the website of the ACB:
Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
This press release is available at http://www.acbio.org.za/index.php/media/64-media-releases/413-harmonisation-of-africas-seed-laws-death-knell-for-african-seed-systems
Harmonisation of Africa’s seed laws: a recipe for disaster - Players, motives and dynamics
Seeds are the very basis of human society and have been for all of human history. Until very recently, farming and seed breeding were undertaken by farmers on their own land, season after season. However, we are now witnessing the separation of these two interdependent activities, with seed breeding increasingly being privatised and farmers becoming increasingly dependent on seed varieties made available to them at the discretion of seed companies. This process of separation began in Europe and North America at the turn of the nineteenth century, and continues today in developing countries and developed countries alike.
However, in Africa, where the majority of farmers are still in control of their seed and knowledge systems connected to cycles of food production, the pressure is on to change.
Intellectual property over plant varieties was placed on the global trade agenda via the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). TRIPs gives countries the option of implementing a sui generis system of their choice with regard to intellectual protection over plant varieties. It was thus anticipated that African governments would try to find an equitable balance between the rights of breeders and farmers and develop appropriate plant variety protection (PVP) legislation, by taking into account the African Model Law for the Protection of the Rights of Local Communities, Farmers and Breeders and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Regrettably, this has not been the case. One by one, African governments are being co-opted into reviewing their seed trade laws and supporting the implemention of PVP laws through fast-tracked regional harmonisation processes and trading blocs. The strategy is to first harmonise seed trade laws at the regional level, such as border control measures, phytosanitary control, variety release systems and certification standards, and then move on to harmonising PVP laws. The effect of these collective efforts is the creation of a bigger, unhindered seed market, where the types of seeds on offer are restricted to commercially protected varieties.
Harmonised PVP laws in Africa are all based on the 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV) and these therefore go well beyond what TRIPs requires of member countries. UPOV 1991 was developed by industrialised countries over 20 years ago to suit their own interests. At its core is the strengthening of breeders’ rights and the undermining and prejudicing of farmers’ rights.
Efforts towards the harmonisation of PVP policies and laws in Africa are characterised by high levels of political commitment and support, major funding and the conspicuous absence of farmer participation.
Additionally, the international seed lobby has rapidly created a vast network of well-funded initiatives, institutions and agreements rushing African governments into adopting PVP laws based on UPOV 1991. The players that are involved are numerous and include: African regional trade blocs such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA); intellectual property agencies such as the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO); the World Bank; the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Citizens Action for Foreign Affairs; the US patent and trademark office, the Seed Science Centre at Iowa State University; agrochemical/seed companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred; seed associations such as the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), public sector research institutions such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA); and African research institutions such as the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).
PVP harmonisation processes and their protaganists do not recognise the current practices of 80 per cent of African farmers but instead are set on undermining and disregarding the contribution these farmer-breeders have made, and are making, to seed breeding, genetic diversity and food security. Policies and laws based on UPOV 1991 will severely negatively impact on agricultural biodiversity, farmers and local communities, and consequently on food security. Furthermore, processes underway in developing harmonised legal frameworks that exclude civil society and farmer participation is a gross violation of human and customary rights of African communities.