Arusha, Tanzania, 11th March 2019

We, East African farmer and civil society organisations, met in Arusha on 5th – 6th March 2019, to deliberate on the East African Community (EAC) Seed and Plant Varieties Bill 2018 and its implications for smallholder farmers and their seed systems. The rationale given for the Bill is that this will create a conducive environment for improving regional availability of seed and planting materials. However, we are convinced that this proposed law will displace local seed systems, further entrench inequalities and corporate capture of food and seed systems, and marginalise the rural poor, especially women. We therefore demand that policymakers ensure transparency, public consultation and the inclusion of farmers’ rights to save, reuse, share, exchange and sell all seed in their seed and farming systems.

We are deeply concerned that:

  1. The EAC Seed Bill focuses exclusively on the commercial seed system and completely neglects and overlooks farmer managed seed systems and farmers’ rights. The Bill fails to recognise, protect and implement farmers rights as provided for in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (‘Treaty’). All of the Partner States of the EAC are Parties to the Treaty, except for South Sudan. Such neglect and exclusion not only flouts international law, but will have long-term adverse impacts on agricultural biodiversity, as well as food and seed sovereignty in the EAC.
  2. There has been inadequate transparency, public participation and consultation in the process of developing the Bill. This seriously violates the provisions of the EAC Treaty, in particular, Articles 5, 6 and 127 of the EAC Treaty, that call for inclusive and democratic processes with regard to policy and law making.
  3. The EAC Seed Bill, once enacted, will be binding on all member states and will supersede all national seed legislation. Consequently, it will prevent any member of the EAC from exercising its national sovereign rights to protect and implement farmers’ rights, including the right to save, reuse, and sell all seed in their seed and farming systems.

We demand that:

  1. The EAC immediately halt the ongoing Seed Bill development processes due to the above concerns.
  2. EAC Partner States adopt a fair and impartial policy approach that recognises, supports and strengthens farmer managed seed systems.
  3. Farmer and civil society organisations be included as participants in all processes involving the development of the EAC Seed Bill.

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Notes to Editors:

  1. The East African Community Seed and Plant Varieties Bill 2018 is a harmonised legislative framework aimed to regulate the seed sector through centralised systems that will be binding on all EAC member states including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan. It incorporates a Seed Bill, a Plant Variety Protection Bill and Regulations.
  2. It draws heavily on UPOV 1991, a restrictive and inflexible international intellectual property legal regime emanating from industrialised countries in response to the advent of large-scale commercial farming and commercial plant breeding. UPOV 1991 grants extremely strong intellectual property rights to commercial breeders and undermines farmers’ rights. It focuses solely on promoting and protecting industrial seed breeders that develop genetically uniform seed/plant varieties suited to mechanised, large-scale agriculture.
  3. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA), also known as the “International Seed Treaty”, is an international agreement between states on the equitable conservation and maintenance of agricultural biodiversity as a shared resource. It sets out several provisions dealing with farmers’ rights.