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Smallholder farmers score victory at international ‘Seed Treaty’ meeting

By Gertrude Pswarayi-Jabson and Sabrina Masinjila*
November 2017

A landmark decision on the establishment of an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group to realize farmers’ rights was recently taken by the seventh session of the Governing Body (GB7) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA; also known as the ‘Seed Treaty’). There was stiff opposition from countries from the global North and the seed industry, who argued against that there was already a working group, under the Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture that was addressing farmers’ rights. However, this group has never seriously considered farmers’ rights since the Seed Treaty was adopted in 2004 more than 13 years ago.

At its meeting in Rwanda from 30 October to 4 November 2017, delegates from many of ITPGRFA’s 144 contracting member states and over 40 observers – including farmers’ organisations and civil society organisations – came together to discuss the theme: ‘The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Role of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture’. Included on the agenda were: Enhancement of the Functioning of the Multilateral System for Access and Benefit Sharing, Farmers’ Rights, Enhancement of the Funding

The GMO crisis in Swaziland

The GMO crisis in Swaziland

By Tsakasile Dlamini
Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum) Swaziland Country Coordinator
October 2017
Swaziland is under enormous pressure to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country’s farming system. This pressure is coming not only from Monsanto but also from farmers and some sections of the public who have been fed a great deal of misinformation and hype by the pro-biotech machinery. The farmers, acting on incomplete and often unsubstantiated information, are pushing for the adoption of genetically modified (GM) cotton, in the hope that it will give them greater yields, while reducing the costs of production.

Currently, according to Swaziland’s legislation, to import GM products or live GMOs (seeds) one needs to apply for a permit; a lengthy process that requires evidence that the GMO in question is safe. However, it is an open secret that farmers are bringing GM cotton and maize seed into the country illegally from South Africa because they have been informed that GM-based farming is more cost effective. It is unfortunate that a majority of our cotton farmers are told disingenuously about the “great yields and benefits” of GM cotton and not about the dangers associated with this technology. There is a serious

Seed sovereignty for Peasant Farmers in Malawi blocked by emerging national seed policy

By Bright Thamie Phiri

September 2017
The government of Malawi is poised to adopt a draconian National Seed Policy that blocks peasant farmers’ opportunities to secure and strengthen farmer-managed seed systems (FMSS), and which would undermine farmers’ rights and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, to which Malawi is a Party.
An ad hoc stakeholder policy dialogue on the draft National Seed Policy held at the Ministry of Agriculture headquarters in Lilongwe (Malawi) on 07 September 2017 marginalised the voices of farmers and civil society at large. It dismissed out of hand concerns that have been made via various submissions and petitions. Civil society raised the following three key aspects: the omission of FMSS from the National Seed Policy framework, including the narrow scope of the definition of seed so as to exclude farmers’ varieties; the implications of aligning seed policy with harmonised regional seed trade regulatory systems under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA); and lack of recognition and protection of farmers’ rights.
The meeting advanced provisions in the policy framework that require standardisation and certification of seed varieties by mandating

Erosion of farmers’ seed and agricultural systems in Tanzania

Rice_bags

By Sabrina Masinjila and Linzi Lewis of the African Centre for Biodiversity

There are no simple answers when it comes to predicting the future of African food systems. Across the continent, the push to commercialise African agriculture to feed the growing and urbanising population, increase incomes, and reduce poverty is well known. However, this ‘solution’ is also heavily criticised for its ineffective, inappropriate and misdirected approach for Africa. It not only neglects the significant role that farmers and farmers’ seed systems have played and continue to play in maintaining agricultural biodiversity and ensuring access to seed for smallholder producers; it also criminalises and replaces this system with corporate-controlled agricultural systems. This was evident in field research we did in Tanzania in August 2017.

Our trip started in mid-August when we attended a farmer seed workshop organised by ACB in partnership with MVIWATA in Morogoro. We hoped the workshop would give policy- and decision-makers something to ponder about, regarding the current state of affairs with farmers’ local varieties. In the recent past, government has shunned farmer-managed seed systems and local varieties, but the debate in the country still rages on. It did not come as a surprise when farmers stood up

MVIWATA and ACB Opposing Application for Field trials of Stacked GM Maize MON 87460 X MON 810

Monsanto_WEMA_Experimental_Plot_Ilonga_ARI

The Tanzania National Farmers Network Organisation, Mtandao wa Vikundi vya Wakulima Tanzania (MVIWATA) and the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) are objecting to an application submitted by the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) for confined field trials of Monsanto’s stacked GM maize MON 87460 X MON 810 (GM drought tolerant stacked with throw-away and ineffective insect resistant technology).

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WEMA Project shrouded in secrecy: open letter to African governments to be accountable to farmers, civil society

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The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project promises to develop drought tolerance in maize for the benefit of small holder farmers, but is really a project designed to facilitate the spread of hybrid and genetically modified (GM) maize varieties on the continent.
WEMA involves five African countries: Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. It works through the National Agricultural Research (NAR) agencies of these countries, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT)
and Monsanto. The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Secrecy
There is a great deal of secrecy that surrounds the WEMA project. The AATF (the so-called ‘not for profit’ organisation that coordinates WEMA) exercises extremely tight control over any information related to WEMA and has prevented researchers from speaking to WEMA partners, including the NARs. Information relating to performance and quality control is notably absent from the WEMA website. The NARs are public research institutions and are accountable to the public, especially in regard to the use of public goods under their control, such as germplasm, institutional resources and capacities. They are under constitutional and