The African Union (AU) has embarked on a mission towards harmonising seed regulatory frameworks across the continent, beginning with the establishment of a set of Guidelines on seed law harmonisation.

The African Centre for Biodiversity, along with other civil society organisations and farmers’ associations from Africa, have actively engaged in the development of these Guidelines. In April 2021, we attended an online stakeholder consultation and then provided preliminary comments.

These can be read here.

Then a draft report was published and, in response, we wrote a letter, where we welcomed the establishment of the proposed Task Force to look at how to integrate farmer managed seed systems (FMSS) into the Guidelines. We noted that this “should open a hitherto closed door to first, acknowledging the existence and vital role played by small scale food farmers”. We stressed that “special attention must be paid to translation of documents, meetings and consultations” to ensure inclusive consultation with a reasonable timeframe. In this letter we also made further substantive inputs into the Draft Guidelines.

You can read the letter in English here.

A revised draft of the Guidelines was then made available only a week before a proposed validation meeting scheduled for 23 August 2021, which did not allow sufficient time for inclusive consultation.

Thus, a larger group of organisations came together to quickly analyse the revised draft, as detailed in a joint discussion document, available in English and French.

We attended the meeting where we raised our substantive comments as well as pointing out the deficiencies in the process, in particular the insufficient time allotted for consultation.

The ACB has also sent a formal letter to the AU about our not participating in these captured and undemocratic processes. You can read the letter here in English, and here in French.

Clearly, what we are witnessing is the intention to formalise farmers’ rights and farmer managed seed systems within an industrial and commercial agriculture paradigm.

This process is being rushed to be finalised and submitted by the AU Summit in October/November this year. This process should be put on hold rather than steamrolling a very problematic and illegitimate process, which speaks to the larger issue of lack of democracy on the continent, including in the AU.

Processes like seed and biotechnology harmonisation seem to be decided behind closed doors between industry and the AU, with no participation by the majority of small-scale farmers. This way of operating is a betrayal of the democratic rights of the African people and must be fought against. Further we are extremely concerned about the expansion of the corporate seed industry on the continent, which these Guidelines are facilitating.

As a result of our collective voices speaking out at the meeting, it appears that the process of validating the guidelines has stalled, at this stage.