On 8 and 9 December 2017 the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) hosted a national seed dialogue and celebration at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. Farmer representatives from eight provinces, along with civil society organisations, academics, and officials from the Agricultural Research Council and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) participated in cultural events and dialogues on current and emerging issues on smallholder farmers and seed diversity in South Africa.

A discussion on the political context highlighted the instability of the globalised corporate food system, and the possibilities and challenges for alternatives based on different systems of production and distribution to take root in material reality. A dialogue on current revisions to South Africa’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act and Plant Improvement Act raised concerns about the exclusive commercial focus of the Acts and the marginalising impact they have on farmer seed systems and on agricultural biodiversity.

In 2017 civil society and farmer associations raised their voices in public hearings and submissions. DAFF acknowledged the importance of popular participation and of agricultural biodiversity yet appears to be locked in an approach shaped by the interests of multinational corporations. Civil society has more work to do in 2018 to advocate for more equitable and transformative seed laws. Seed is not simply about agricultural productivity. Even in a country like South Africa where smallholder farmers are completely marginalised from the mainstream, seed continues to play an important role in culture, with longstanding and dynamic indigenous knowledge embedded in seed saving, sharing and use.

Elders led a dialogue on seed, knowledge and culture, discussing local seed varieties and their multiple uses. On Day 2, dialogues covered relatively new areas of work with smallholder farmers in the South African context. These included seed banks and seed saving, farmer participation in plant breeding and crop improvement, seed management and farmer-based quality controls. The event celebrated the important role of smallholder farmers in conserving and adapting agricultural biodiversity, and in keeping alive the possibilities for alternatives to our corporate-dominated food system. There are major challenges, but also windows of opportunity. To read the full report from the dialogues please follow this link.