30.04.2018 |

AFSA warns against corporate takeover of African seed systems

Farmers’ seeds are under threat (Photo: B. Haerlin)

African farmers’ seeds are increasingly under threat from policies designed to privilege corporate seed systems, says a new report launched on World Intellectual Property Day on April 26th. According to the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), an organisation that brings together small-scale food producers, indigenous peoples, farmers’ networks, consumer associations and other civil society actors, a policy shift is taking place on the continent towards the corporatisation of seeds, in direct contravention of international obligations to protect farmers’ rights and to conserve agricultural biodiversity. AFSA argues that a narrative runs through international policy, through national governments and development agencies, that asserts that it is crucial to replace farmers’ varieties with improved varieties, and to ‘modernise’ African agriculture in order to deal with hunger. “This approach is embedded within a ‘Green Revolution’ logic which assumes that access to and use of improved varieties and related inputs will increase yields, which will lead to more income and food security,” the report says. However, AFSA warns that “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.”

According to the report, two seed related policy processes are being advanced under the guise of this ‘feed the world’ narrative: On the one hand, the implementation of plant variety protection regimes that are strongly skewed in favour of breeders’ rights over farmers’ rights to attract investment from the private seed industry. On the other hand, seed trade laws are developed or tightened that privilege ‘improved varieties’ on the market and severely restrict the trade and exchange of farmers’ varieties. AFSA says 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 regulatory hurdles. “Regional bodies like SADC and COMESA are developing rules that will increase the availability of commercial seeds, only benefiting corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto,” says Elizabeth Mpofu, a Zimbabwean farmer and La Via Campesina General Coordinator. “Indigenous seeds are not recognised. 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.”

But the report also maps the way forward for building a continental movement to save African seeds. “The answer to seed sovereignty is not in the hands of corporates, but in the hands of smallholder farmers who feed the world,” says Peter Nzioka of Kaane Small Scale Farmers Association in Kenya. According to AFSA, 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. The report argues that those seeds are providing 80% of Africa’s food. “Farmer managed seed systems (FMSS) 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 report reads. AFSA therefore calls on African governments 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 food producers to provide sustainable local solutions. (ab)

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