Several groups in South Africa, including the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), the Surplus People Project (SPP), Trust for Community Outreach (TCOE), the Food Sovereignty Campaign and Biowatch South Africa submitted a detailed report to the Competition Commission in support of their requests that the Commission investigate Monsanto’s extraordinary market power in South Africa.

The report, produced by the ACB, titled ‘Heavy Hands: Monsanto’s control in South Africa’ shows that Monsanto controls 50% of the maize seed market and in the rapidly growing market for genetically modified (GM) maize seed, the biotech giant’s grip on the market is absolute.

“Over the course of our investigation, we could only find one GM maize variety, of over 140 registered in South Africa, that contained GM technology not owned by Monsanto. Indeed, Monsanto’s dominance has resulted in GM maize seed prices rising by over 45% in the last 5 years, while the price farmers receive for maize has stagnated”, said ACB director Mariam Mayet.

The largest growth in demand for GM seeds is for herbicide-tolerant varieties. Currently, Monsanto owns the GM traits in all herbicide tolerant seeds available in South Africa. Though non-Monsanto herbicides can be used with these, doing so farmers forfeit any rights to compensation in the event of problems with the seeds.

“This is typical of Monsanto’s world-wide strategy to lock farmers into using Roundup herbicides, and explains how they control 60% of the market in glyphosate based herbicides in South Africa. In this way Monsanto continues to reap in billions of dollars profits, while Roundup use around the world is leading to catastrophic consequences for local communities and the environment”, said Mayet.

The report also illustrates the way in which Monsanto uses its influence to force its pro-GM agenda on farmers.

“Our own experience with Monsanto reflect the findings of this report”, said Ricado Jacobs of the Surplus People Project.

According to Davine Witbooi, an emerging farmer and representative of the Food Sovereignty Movement, “field trials of Monsanto’s GM drought tolerant maize are being conducted in the Lutzville area without the consent of small holder resource poor farmers. ” Mercia Andrews of TCOE concurred.

“A recent study we conducted in the Eastern Cape makes a mockery of the claims that GM seeds are beneficial to small scale farmers. In fact it revealed quite the opposite; that they represent an agricultural system totally unsuited to their needs. The fact that the JSE recently announce record prices for a maize derivative contract speaks volumes for where the real benefits lie in this system.”

Rose Williams, Director of Biowatch South Africa, endorsed the report saying that such information needed to be in the public domain and with the Competition Commission. “Monsanto’s attempts to expand control over the country’s agriculture needs to be exposed and subject to intensified scrutiny” said Williams.

The groups are hoping that the Competition Commission will take remedial action to curtail the dominance that Monsanto currently enjoys. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has emphasized the crucial role that competition authorities can play in ensuring food security, singling out the South African Competition Commission as a particular example.

Read here.