Dear Friends and Colleagues
Protecting Africa’s Farmer-Managed Seed Systems from Corporate Takeover
About 90% of seeds sown in Africa come from ‘informal’ sources, local markets, or seeds saved by farmers, the majority of whom are women. It is these seeds that are providing 80% of Africa’s food. These seeds and the cultural systems and knowledge that underpin them are under threat from policies designed to privilege corporate seed systems, while criminalising and vilifying farmer-managed seed systems.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) has launched a continental seed policy report, which documents the policy shift towards the corporatisation of seeds on the continent, aided by the capture of the intellectual property rights of African seeds. Two policy processes are being advanced to facilitate this goal, often via harmosied regional processes:
1) the implementation of plant variety protection (PVP) regimes that are strongly skewed in favour of breeders’ rights over farmers’ rights to attract investment from the private seed industry, based on the International Union for Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 Convention; and
2) tightening or development of seed trade laws that privilege ‘improved varieties’ on the market and severely restrict the trade and exchange of farmers’ varieties.
AFSA recommends a two-pronged approach to the problem: (i) building capacity and solidarity to resist those laws and policies that seek to replace or undermine farmer-managed seed systems, namely plant breeders’ rights laws and seed trade laws, and (ii) strengthening farmer-managed seed systems. At international level there is a clear role to formally engage with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources in Agriculture (ITPGRFA) which recognises farmers’ rights. Forty-three African countries are party to the ITPGRFA and therefore have a clear obligation to take steps to domesticate measures on farmers’ rights.
At the pan-African level farmers, support organisations, experts and a wider range of social movements and stakeholders must come together in a long-term consultative process to critically discuss the state of farmer-managed seed systemson the continent, elaborate a shared vision and the potential policy frameworks or mechanisms to effectively support and develop resilient farmer-managed seed systems.
With best wishes,
HANDS OFF AFRICAN SEEDS! - NO INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ON LIFE
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
Zimbabwean farmer and La Via Campesina General Coordinator, Elizabeth Mpofu said, “Regional bodies like SADC and COMESA are developing rules that will increase the availability of commercial seeds, only benefiting corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto. Indigenous seeds are not recognized. We believe in controlling our land and seeds and producing the healthy food that we want, the way we want. Our response is to fight for food sovereignty against these transnational corporations.”
The race to capture the intellectual property rights of seeds is at the heart of the problem, with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) in the driving seat. Civil society organisations around the world agree that there should be no intellectual property on life, yet the seed giants are using African regionalisation policy processes to grab the IP rights to farmers’ seeds and planting material, and criminalise farmers’ traditional practices.
African agriculture policy is increasingly about ‘modernization’ through a massive increase in the use of chemical fertilizers and ‘improved’ seeds, switching the focus to staple crops and commodities tradable on global markets. In practice this has led to a huge concentration on the development and marketing of hybrid maize seeds and artificial fertilizers.
The reality is that 90% of seeds sown in Africa come from ‘informal’ sources, local markets, or seeds saved by farmers or their neighbours – the majority of whom are women. It is these seeds that are providing 80% of Africa’s food. They are reliable, available and affordable, but the seed giants want them outlawed. These seeds and the cultural systems and knowledge that underpin them are under threat from policies designed to privilege corporate seed systems, while criminalising and vilifying farmer managed seed systems.
"The answer to seed sovereignty is not in the hands of corporates, but in the hands of smallholder farmers who feed the world," said Peter Nzioka, Kaane Small Scale Farmers Association, Machakos, Kenya.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa calls on African nations to wake up to the dangers of these flawed policies; to scrap the externally-driven and damaging seed laws; and to recognise that the future of African food systems lies in supporting African food producers to provide sustainable African solutions.
The seed policy report ‘Resisting corporate takeover of African seed systems and building farmer managed seed systems for food sovereignty in Africa’ is available as a free download at http://afsafrica.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/SEED-POLICY-ENG-ONLINE-SINGLE-PAGES.pdf
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The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa brings together small-scale food producers, pastoralists, fisher folk, indigenous peoples, farmers’ networks, faith groups, consumer associations, youth associations, civil societies and activists from across the continent of Africa to create a united and louder voice for food sovereignty. AFSA’s Resilient Seed Systems & Agroecology Working Group is leading the drive for farmers’ seed rights.
For further information or interviews please contact:
RESISTING CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF AFRICAN SEED SYSTEMS AND BUILDING FARMER MANAGED SEED SYSTEMS FOR FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IN AFRICA
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
Seed is an important entry point for development interventions that can potentially deliver an array of benefits for smallholders, including improved nutrition and food security, livelihoods, environmental benefits and resilience to climate change. Seed and agriculture also play an important role in community cohesion and culture in many African societies. The way that seed is considered through policy, funding and project implementation has a profound impact on the shape of agro-food systems, nutrition, socio-economic systems, social justice and environment.
One of the most striking findings of this research is the prevalence and power of a particular narrative that runs through international policy, through national governments and development agencies and all the way to the grassroots, that asserts that it is crucial to replace farmers’ varieties with improved varieties, and to ‘modernise’ African agriculture in order to deal with hunger on the continent. This approach is embedded within a ‘Green Revolution’ logic that assumes that access to and use of improved varieties and related inputs will lead to greater yields, which will lead to increased income and food security. However, the narrow focus on yield and productivity and the lack of acknowledgement of the multifunctional nature of seed and agriculture in Africa has resulted in blindness to the potential impacts of this model on socio-economic systems, food security, health, social justice, environment and culture.
Two seed related policy processes are being advanced under the guise of this ‘feed the world’ narrative:
1) the implementation of plant variety protection (PVP) regimes that are strongly skewed in favour of breeders’ rights over farmers’ rights to attract investment from the private seed industry - based on the International Union for Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 Convention;
2) tightening or development of seed trade laws that privilege ‘improved varieties’ on the market and severely restrict the trade and exchange of farmers’ varieties, which are deemed to be unproductive and unreliable, thereby causing hunger. An array of stakeholders with vested interests are pushing these policy processes at national levels, as well as implementing projects to harmonise policies through regional bodies in order to create larger markets to operate in and to reduce the regulatory hurdles and costs involved in registering, certifying and diffusing seed.
The implementation of these policies and laws are designed to profoundly transform African agricultural systems right from the roots and create what the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES-Food) call a “path dependency” to lock the continent into industrial agriculture. These seed-related laws privilege seed bred to yield in industrial agriculture systems while eroding Farmer Managed Seed Systems (FMSS) through a number of means, such as criminalising the trade of farmers’ varieties and reshaping public funding and research agendas to suit the needs of the seed industry.
Ill-conceived seed aid interventions and other agricultural development programmes, such as Farmer Input Subsidy Programmes (FISPs), go hand in hand with this approach, displacing FMSS and eroding farmers’ autonomy, skills and agricultural diversity. Three regional bodies – the African Regional Intellectual Property Association (ARIPO), its French counterpart OAPI, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), have implemented harmonised PVP laws, which taken together represent 42 African countries. The East African Community (EAC) has signalled its commitment to beginning a similar process. Pressure is also exerted at national level for countries to implement local PVP frameworks based on UPOV 1991. There has already been substantial work carried out by AFSA members and others players in resisting UPOV-style PVP regimes at national and regional levels.
This work has included analysis of the laws, capacity building and the development of campaigning materials, national and regional advocacy including substantial submission on policies, attendance at relevant decision-making fora and media work. A key focus at the moment is lobbying member states of ARIPO not to sign or ratify ARIPO’s Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, which was adopted in July 2015. The Protocol will come into force once four countries ratify. In December 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Dr Hilal Elver, gave her support for this campaign when she wrote an open letter to ARIPO member states warning of the potential impact the Arusha Protocol and similar PVP regimes modelled on UPOV 91 will have on the right to food.
In terms of harmonisation of seed trade laws, three West African regional economic communities (RECs) have harmonised their regulations – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and the Economic Community of West African States (CLISS). In addition, SADC and COMESA and have each implemented harmonised seed trade regulations. All have developed regional variety catalogues for the regional trade of certified seed. However, the regulations of these RECs are not in harmony with one another or necessarily with the national laws of their members. For each of the mentioned RECs, the harmonisation process may in many instances require amendments to national seed laws to ensure compliance and these processes could further threaten FMSS. But at the same time, reviewing national seed laws could also open opportunities to lobby for greater acknowledgement and support for FMSS, if civil society is vigilant and prepared.
An alternative and ignored narrative on how to approach the problem of hunger in Africa is based on the reality of African farmers’ experience, as well as on cultural norms and values that embrace seed and agriculture beyond commodification. African smallholders produce 80% of the food in Africa on just 14.7% of the agricultural land and control 80% of the seeds produced and exchanged. The majority of these smallholders are women. Farmer managed seed systems are complex, multifunctional and resilient and these systems, not the formal seed industry, form the backbone of African agriculture. However, FMSS are neglected in policy, funding, research and extension support, leaving them exposed to genetic erosion and impeding their ability to adapt to the vagaries of climate change, new pests and the array of other challenges encountered in agricultural production.
The United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources in Agriculture (ITPGRFA) both acknowledge the contribution of farmers in the development and conservation of agricultural diversity and set up mechanisms to facilitate the flow of genetic materials that are important for agriculture. The ITPGRFA is the only international legally binding instrument that recognises Farmers’ Rights. Forty-three African countries are party to the ITPGRFA and therefore have a clear obligation to take steps to domesticate measures on Farmers’ Rights and to develop policies that promote the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for agriculture (PGRFA). The ITPGRFA’s implementing programme, the Second Plan of Action, aims to provide support at national level for a wide range of activities that could support the strengthening of FMSS, including work on in-situ and ex-situ conservation, sustainable use of PGFRA including support for plant breeding and diversification of crop varieties for sustainable agriculture and support for seed production and distribution, and building human and institutional capacity. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the majority of African governments are signatories to the ITPGRFA, there is a lack of political will to domesticate Farmers’ Rights legislation at national level or to engage with programmes focussed on promoting the sustainable use of plant genetic resources.
Many organisations are working intensely at grassroots level supporting and building FMSS, for example through community and household seed banks, seed caravans and fairs. This work is currently being carried out in a policy vacuum and within the ‘grey areas’ of the law because while policy to promote and support the formal seed industry is advancing across the continent apace, the policy environment to support and build FMSS is largely absent at national and regional levels. It is therefore important role to bringing actors together, with farmers at the forefront, along with relevant experts to share information, best practices, challenges and critiques to inform and formulate policy in this regard and advocate at all levels for implementation and financial support.
AFSA has already identified the need to implement a two-pronged approach to the problem – on the one hand building capacity and solidarity to resist those laws and policies that seek to replace or undermine FMSS, namely plant breeders’ rights laws and seed trade laws, and on the other, to work at strengthening FMSS. This research has identified a gap in policy to support FMSS.
At international level there is a clear role to formally engage with the ITPGRFA and to play a role in exerting pressure on pan-African, regional and national bodies to implement their obligations on Farmers’ Rights and the promotion of sustainable use of plant genetic resources.
There is also a role to play in accessing opportunities for funding, technical support and pilot projects in terms of the Second Plan of Action, to support on-going work on strengthening FMSS at national level.
At the pan-African level farmers, support organisations, experts and a wider range of social movements and stakeholders must come together in a long-term consultative process to critically discuss the state of FMSS on the continent, elaborate a shared vision and the potential policy frameworks or mechanisms to effectively support and develop resilient FMSS. It is recommended that FMSS is placed on the African nutrition agenda, possibly through engaging with the AU’s Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy (ARNS) and the Africa Renewed Initiative on Stunting Elimination (ARISE), and the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN). In terms of resisting industrial style seed policy, pan-African platforms are needed for actors resisting seed harmonisation laws to share their research, to debate and clarify positions, build solidarity and prepare joint plans and proposals. It is crucial for farmers to be involved and well capacitated on these issues. Civil society should also engage with the AU’s Africa Seeds project to counter the strong industry element that is defining the African policy and programme agenda on seed.
Important regional work includes supporting work to stop ARIPO member states from ratifying the Arusha PVP Protocol and monitor activities in the RECs on seed harmonisation. SADC, COMESA and ECOWAS are all underway; EAC is about to initiate activities.
At national level, vigilance is need with regard to the revision/development of national seed and PVP laws to comply with harmonisation efforts. Work may include building capacity on these issues and using the pan-African voice to strengthen key national campaigns at crucial moments, for example through media statements, petitions or open letters to key institutions, etc.
In terms of building a positive narrative around FMMS and building evidence-based campaigns for the support of FMSS, case studies of best practice and challenges should be compiled, to raise awareness and strengthen FMSS practice and inform policy.