Please find here ACB’s comments to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development regarding the recently published Regulations to implement the Plant Improvement Act 2018, and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2018.

The Department has taken important steps in these Regulations to ensure that certain groups of farmers are exempt from these corporate seed laws. This allows for farmer seed systems to operate and, to some degree and indirectly, recognises and protects some elements of farmers’ rights, by taking a step towards allowing the practices of homestead, traditional and small-scale farmers to continue.

However, these exceptions do not constitute legal measures toward descaling industrial agriculture and upscaling agricultural biodiverse, agroecological, regenerative and just agricultural and seed and food systems. This is due to the orientation of these laws being geared towards commercial seed interests, with small-scale farmers and their seed only dealt with as exceptions.

Crucial elements, as articulated under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) are not addressed. Thus, the Regulations do not explicitly create the space to expand the use of genetically diverse seed, strengthen farmer seed systems or realise farmers’ rights and the right to seed.

This said, the regulatory space provided creates the basis for further work to be done in supporting and developing farmer seed systems and its integration with appropriate food and agriculture systems based on the principles of agroecology.