The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has released its new report titled, ‘Harmonisation of Africa’s seed laws: a recipe for disaster- Players, motives and dynamics.

The report shows how African governments are being co-opted into harmonising seed laws relating to border control measures, phytosanitary control, variety release systems, certification standards and intellectual property rights, to the detriment of African small-holder farmers and their seed systems.

According to Mariam Mayet of the ACB, ‘The effect of these efforts, which are being pushed through African regional trading blocs such as COMESA and SADC [1] include:

  • facilitating the unlawful appropriation and privatization of African germplasm;
  • providing extremely strong intellectual property protection for commercial seed breeders and severely restricting the rights of farmers to freely use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds;
  • facilitating the creation of regional seed markets where the only types of seed on offer to small scale farmers are commercially protected varieties; and
  • threatening farmer- managed seed systems and markets.’

The report shows that harmonized intellectual property rights (plant variety protection- PVP) over seeds are all based on the 1991 Act of the International Union of the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV 1991). UPOV 1991 was developed by industrialized countries more than 20 years ago to suit their own interests and is totally inappropriate for Africa where 80% of all seeds are still produced and disseminated by small holder farmers.

“These harmonised PVP type processes and their protagonists do not recognise the current practices of 80 % of African small scale farmers but instead are set on undermining and disregarding the contribution these farmer-breeders have made, and are making, to seed breeding, genetic diversity and food security” said Joe Mzinga from the East and Southern African Farmers Forum (ESAFF).

According to Elizabeth Mpofu from Via Campesina Africa, “small farmers are by far the largest and most prolific seed breeders in Africa. These farmers have successfully cultivated an abundant and rich diversity of crops for centuries. The UPOV 1991-style PVP legislation may be a coup for the seed industry, but for farmers and indigenous people, it is a totally unjust and outrageous application of intellectual property.”

These seed harmonization efforts have excluded farmer and civil society participation. The international seed lobby and well-funded initiatives, institutions and agreements are at the forefront of rushing African governments into adopting PVP laws based on UPOV 1991. These players include: the World Bank; the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Citizens Action for Foreign Affairs; the US patent and trademark office, the Seed Science Centre at Iowa State University; Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred; the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA); Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

“The processes underway in developing harmonised seed policies and legal frameworks that exclude farmer participation are a gross violation of human and customary rights of African small farmers and communities” said Mayet.

The report can be downloaded from the website of the ACB:

[1] Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).