African Governments Sell Out Their Farmers in Secret Seeds Protection Deal
African governments, ignoring the protests of their farmers and civil society, have agreed an oppressive 'plant variety protection protocol' that will open up their countries to commercial seed monopolists, while limiting farmers rights to save, use, exchange, replant, improve, distribute and sell the seeds they have developed over countless generations.
African Governments Sell Out Their Farmers in Secret Seeds Protection Deal
By Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa / theecologist.org

On 6th July 2015, in Arusha, Tanzania, a Diplomatic Conference held under the auspices of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) adopted a harmonised regional legal framework for the protection of plant breeders' rights.

The Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants ('Arusha PVP Protocol') is a slightly revised version of a previous Draft ARIPO Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (the 'ARIPO PVP Protocol').

The previous Draft has come under consistent and severe attack by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) because it is based on a Convention known as UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) 1991 - a restrictive and inflexible international legal precept, totally unsuitable for Africa.

Crucially, the ARIPO PVP Protocol proposed extremely strong intellectual property rights to breeders while restricting the age-old practices of African farmers freely to save, use, share and sell seeds and/or propagating material.

These practices are the backbone of agricultural systems in Sub-Saharan Africa; they have ensured the production and maintenance of a diverse pool of genetic resources by farmers themselves, and have safeguarded food and nutrition for tens of millions of Africans in the ARIPO region.

Traditional farming sacrificed to seed monopolists

The Arusha PVP Protocol is part of the broader thrust in Africa to ensure regionally seamless and expedited trade in commercially bred seed varieties for the benefit, mainly, of the foreign seed industry. Multinational seed companies intend to lay claim to seed varieties as their private possessions and to prevent others from using these varieties without the payment of royalties.

Germplasm developed by farming households over centuries is increasingly under threat of privatisation; and ecologically embedded farming practices risk being destabilised and dislodged.

The broader modernisation thrust of which the Arusha PVP Protocol is an intrinsic part, is designed to facilitate the transformation of African agriculture from peasant-based production to inherently inequitable, inappropriate and ecologically damaging Green Revolution/industrial agriculture.

Such a transformation will lead to many farming households being threatened with marginalisation or extinction, without alternative options for survival.

It is worthwhile to note that a 2002 Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Bank study, the 'International Assessment of Knowledge, Science and Technology' (IAASTD), strongly recommended a complete shift away from the Green Revolution's industrial agriculture to agroecology.

Exclusion of African civil society

Despite AFSA's well-established track record of constructive engagement with ARIPO on the Draft ARIPO PVP Protocol, and despite it being a Pan African network of African regional farmers and NGOs, working with millions of African farmers and consumers, AFSA was purposely excluded from the Arusha deliberations.

This restriction stands in sharp contrast to inclusion in the deliberations of the UPOV Secretariat, and other foreign entities, including the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) the European Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) and the French National Seed and Seedling Association (GNIS). The commercial seed industry (e.g. the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA)) was particularly well represented.

The Arusha PVP Protocol has major implications for national decision-making. AFSA's exclusion is a violation of the right of farmers to participate in decision-making on matters related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (Article 9.2(c ) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

Least Developed Countries and sui generis options

Upon adoption, the Arusha PVP Protocol was immediately signed by representatives of the governments of Ghana, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Gambia. Ironically, Mozambique, the Gambia and Sao Tome and Principe are defined as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), along with a further 10 of the 19 members of ARIPO - some of the poorest countries in the world.

LDCs are currently not under any international obligation to provide any form of plant variety protection until 2021, let alone one based on UPOV 1991! In any event, all countries have an option to develop sui generis (i.e. unique) plant variety protection systems that cater for their specific conditions.

Acceptance of the Arusha PVP Protocol will eliminate this option. Smaller countries are bullied into accepting their subordination to regional bodies that are dominated by more powerful foreign countries and multinational corporate interests.

The countries involved as ARIPO members are Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda Zambia and Zimbabwe.

National sovereignty and slight changes

During the deliberations in Arusha, several delegations raised serious concerns that the Draft ARIPO PVP Protocol eroded national sovereignty because of the extensive decision-making powers vested in the ARIPO Plant Breeders Rights Office (PBRO), which operates at a regional level.

The government of Malawi, in particular, said that this would "have a demeaning and nullifying effect". Consequently, after long hours of negotiation, changes were made that now give Contracting States an explicit right to object to any Plant Breeders' Right (PBR) - as granted by the ARIPO PBRO, regionally - in which event the PBR will not be awarded national protection.

Further, Contracting States and not the ARIPO PBRO will have the right to issue compulsory licenses in the public interest.

Notwithstanding these changes, a centralised regional PVP approval system will be established and the ARIPO PBRO will have full authority to grant and administer breeders' rights on behalf of all Contracting States (e.g. to decide whether or not to grant protection, nullify or cancel PBRs, etc).

These regionally granted PBRs will have a uniform effect in all Contracting States. Expediently, Contracting States will be required to put scarce public resources at the disposal of breeders to enforce breeders' rights at the national level.

Joining UPOV 1991 - and shirking ITPGRFA-guaranteed farmers' rights

The Arusha PVP Protocol will come into force when four member states of ARIPO ratify it. In April 2014 the UPOV Council, at the cost of breaking its own rules, verified that the Draft ARIPO PVP Protocol conformed to the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention, allowing ARIPO itself as well as ARIPO Members that ratify the Protocol, to become Parties to the 1991 UPOV Convention.

With the new changes, to become a member of UPOV 1991, ARIPO will have to re-submit the Arusha PVP Protocol to the UPOV Council, to reassess its conformity with the 1991 Act.

Hence AFSA calls on UPOV members to reject the Arusha PVP Protocol. On numerous occasions AFSA has challenged the legitimacy of the whole process-leading up to and culminating in the adoption of the Arusha PVP Protocol.

AFSA has also indicated, in many public statements during discussions on the Protocol, that UPOV 1991 restricts farmers' rights to save, exchange and sell farm-saved-seed and/or the propagating material of protected varieties in their possession.

Farmers' rights are recognised in the ITPGRFA yet this has been ignored by the 14 member states of ARIPO that are also Parties to the ITPGRFA. By adopting the Arusha PVP Protocol these countries have placed the rights of plant breeders ahead of farmers' rights.

AFSA vows to continue struggle for seed sovereignty

AFSA is vehemently opposed to the Arusha PVP Protocol. This Protocol's underlying imperatives are to increase corporate seed imports, reduce breeding activity at the national level, and facilitate the monopoly by foreign companies of local seed systems and the disruption of traditional farming systems.

AFSA remains committed to ensuring that farmers, as breeders and users, remain at the centre of localised seed production systems and continue to exercise their rights freely to save, use, exchange, replant, improve, distribute and sell all the seed in their seed systems.


This article presents a Statement issued by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa(AFSA), 8 July 2015.

Also on The Ecologist: 'Seed Freedom! A last chance to thwart the great African seed grab' by Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah.

More information on AFSA's detailed position on the Draft ARIPO PVP Protocol.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 8,250 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
This Short Film Plays Out Like an Epic Movie That Will Shake Your Soul - But the Movie Is Real, and We are The Actors
6 min · 4,461 views today · For next year, we need a resolution capable of confronting the crisis we face, and making a future worth fighting for. This short film looks back on the crisis and confusion...
Social Media Echo Chambers: Here's How Most of Us are Living in One
2 min · 3,421 views today · Americans are blocking out the friends and news sites that won't confirm their views.
The Daily Show's Trevor Noah Talks With Conservative Host Tomi Lahren
14 min · 3,357 views today · "Tomi" host Tomi Lahren gives her take on the Black Lives Matter movement and explains why she lashed out against Colin Kaepernick for his national anthem protest.
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 3,156 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,080 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Why We Need Big Picture Activism
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 2,218 views today · Despite the countless grassroots projects already under way, the global economic juggernaut can seem too powerful to stop. But because more and more of us are becoming aware of...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 1,793 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 1,664 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Who's Really to Blame for Fake News? Look in the Mirror, America.
Neal Gabler · 1,154 views today · Consider for a moment the oxymoronic concept of “fake news,” which we have been hearing so much about lately. This isn’t your typical disinformation or misinformation —...
How a Land High in the Western Himalayas Can Help Us Understand The Crisis of The Modern World
9 min · 1,149 views today · This is a clip from The Economics of Happiness. Watch it here. It's a brilliant film that was easy to put at the top of our list of the top 100 documentaries we can use to...
Bernie Sanders: Carrier Just Showed Corporations How to Beat Donald Trump
Bernie Sanders · 1,103 views today · We need a president who can stand up to big corporations, not fold to their demands.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 936 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 888 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
South Koreans Are Really Good at Protesting
2 min · 851 views today · South Koreans organize some of the largest and most peaceful protests in the world. Here's what makes them so good at protesting.
The Most Mind-Altering Photograph of All Time
4 min · 772 views today · Carl Sagan narrates the story of the Pale Blue Dot, the one place we all call home. 
Corporate Giants' "Sustainable" Palm Oil Revealed as Sham
Nika Knight · 631 views today · Nestlé, Kellogg's, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and others are linked to child labor and forced labor in Indonesia
The 6 Grand Illusions That Keep Us Enslaved
Sigmund Fraud · 604 views today · For a magician to fool his audience his deceit must go unseen, and to this end he crafts an illusion to avert attention from reality. While the audience is entranced, the...
What Humans Are Really Doing to Our Planet, in 19 Jaw-Dropping Images
Michael McCutcheon · 580 views today · Last week, Pope Francis and church officials encouraged everyone to consume less and think more about our impact on the environment. It's a timely warning because the next six...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 410 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
African Governments Sell Out Their Farmers in Secret Seeds Protection Deal