NEW SEED LEGISLATION SPELLS DISASTER FOR SMALL FARMERS IN AFRICA


Civil society organisations from the SADC region, and around the world
have condemned the /*SADC draft Protocol for the Protection of New
Varieties of Plants (Plant Breeders’ Rights)*/ as spelling disaster
for small farmers and food security in the region. These groups,
representing millions of farmers in Africa and around the world have
submitted their concerns to the SADC Secretariat. They are calling for
the rejection of the Protocol and urgent consultations with farmers,
farmer movements and civil society before it’s too late.

According to the groups, the Protocol is inflexible, restrictive and
imposes a “one-size-fits-all” plant variety protection (PVP)
system on all SADC countries irrespective of the nature of
agricultural systems, social and economic development. It is modeled
after the 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New
Varieties of Plants (UPOV 1991), an instrument which was developed by
industrialized countries to address their own needs. UPOV 1991 grants
extremely strong intellectual property right protection to plant
breeders, and disallows farmers from continuing their customary
practices of freely using, exchanging and selling farm-saved seeds.

According to Moses Shaha, regional chairman for the East and Southern
African small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF): /“The proposed
legislation gives big-business breeders significant rights, but in
doing so, disregards and marginalizes small farmers and their plant
varieties. It fails to recognize that small-scale farmers and their
customary practices of freely exchanging and re-using seed for
multiple purposes, constitute the backbone of SADC’s agricultural
farming systems.”/

About half of SADC members are Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and
are not currently under any international obligation to put in place
any such PVP system. Indeed, the majority of SADC members have limited
or no experience with PVP systems, or the impact these systems will
have on food security, farmers, farming systems and livelihoods in the
region.

According to Elizabeth Mpofu, a small farmer from Zimbabwe: /“Small
farmers in Africa play a vital role in keeping food costs down, and
contribute immensely to the development of locally appropriate and
adapted seeds, and to the diversity of crops. Any PVP system that
fails to support and promote these farmer managed systems, and instead
adversely impacts on them, is clearly a recipe for disaster for the
region’s farmers.” /

Like UPOV 1991, the Protocol is severely lacking in flexibilities to
allow vulnerable states to address their particular socio-economic
problems. The Protocol imposes a “one grant system” whereby the
SADC Plant Breeders’ Rights Office will have the full authority to
grant and administer breeders’ rights on behalf of all SADC members.
/“This top-down approach effectively undermines the rights of SADC
member states to take any decision related to the protected plant
varieties; decisions that are at the very core of national
socio-economic development and poverty reduction strategies/. /The
Protocol also does not contain concrete measures to prevent
misappropriation of plant genetic resources and does not live up to
international commitments of the majority of SADC members to promote
the sustainable use of plant genetic resources and plant breeding with
the participation of farmers”/ pointed out Andrew Mushita, of the
Community Trust for Development and Technology, in Zimbabwe.

“/The whole rationale and underlying premise for the Protocol is
unknown to us because we, as civil society, have been locked out of
the process. What specific consultations have taken place, and with
whom? What data and impact assessments have guided the development of
the Protocol?”/ asks Mariam Mayet, of the African Centre for
Biosafety.

http://www.acbio.org.za/index.php/publications/seedfood-sovereignty/423-civil-society-statement-on-comesa-seed-trade-laws

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