An enabling policy environment strengthens resilience of communities
Influencing the development of favourable policies by the governments to guard indigenous seed against the threat of extinction due to the highly promoted GMO seeds by multinationals will strengthen seed and food sovereignty in Africa. Jane Nalunga, Executive Director, and Herbert Kafeero, Communications Coordinator, at the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) Uganda, explain why the Farmer Managed Seed System builds resilience for smallholder farmers in the face of climate crises and Covid-19.
Seeds are the first link in the food chain and seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. If farmers do not have their seeds or access to open-pollinated varieties, they cannot save, improve and exchange. This means that they have no seed sovereignty, and consequently, no food sovereignty. Farmers have been practicing plant breeding for a long time, just as in the field of agriculture. The bulk of farming in Uganda and most African countries is still mainly done by smallholder farmers. Farmer Managed Seed Systems (FMSS) stand out as the most reliable and affordable source of seeds for the vast majority of smallholder farmers.
Covid-19 brought new challenges worldwide and smallholder farmers have not been spared. The pandemic amplified shortages and inaccessibility of key agricultural inputs, especially for smallholder farmers. Covid-19 containment measures severely affected access to agricultural inputs such as seeds. Many smallholder farmers had to fall back on the Farmer Managed Seed System (FMSS) to continue with their farming activities. Yet despite the adverse challenges, smallholder farmers have been at the forefront producing enough food to feed communities and sustain food deliveries to the markets that depend on them.
Covid-19 has been an eye-opener in many ways. With the world’s food system dominated by industrialised farming methods, the pandemic highlighted how important community-based, localized and diverse food production actually is.
The multinational seed industries’ expansion into Africa has put pressure on developing Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). For many sub-Saharan African countries, the deregulation of formal seed systems started in the early 1990s, giving way to private seed companies. Increasingly, many governments are enacting and domesticating seed laws that protect exclusive ownership rights, such as patents and breeders’ rights while overlooking Farmers’ Rights. This privatization of seeds greatly restricts most smallholder farmers, who depend on free, open use, reuse, saving and exchange of seeds, ideally farmer-managed.
In many African countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, agro-business companies are increasing their operations and production chains, driving a commercial and industrial Green Revolution agenda. Exclusive rights and control over plant varieties developed by certain individuals and companies are being granted. Policies that call for enforcement of strict intellectual property protection over these plants are being developed. African governments are also under pressure by regional, international, bilateral trade and investment agreements to adopt discriminatory policy and legal frameworks unfavorable to smallholder farmers. Industrial forms of agriculture, which are increasingly marketed in East Africa and whole of Africa, have promoted increased usage of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers and agro-chemicals.
Yet genetically modified organisms have led to ecological, food and nutritional crises. This industrial mode of production puts small-scale farmers in great danger, as they lose control over their land, soil and seeds, and ultimately over their food. There is an ongoing push for the commodification, financialisation and privatization of nature in Africa. This corporate capture of food systems is being fueled by the influence of large transnational corporations (TNCs) on the continent’s governments to implement the seed laws they desire. As globalization continues to take centre stage in many aspects of human life and development, it has also facilitated ‘‘green grabbing’’ and ‘‘land grabbing’’. Private sector players are increasingly emerging in today’s global realm. The drive to control all facets of production and profit has led to the control of living things as “private property”. There is increasing corporate capture of food systems as six Multinational Corporations (MNCs) already control 96% of global market for patented genetically modified crops, 70% of the global pesticide market and 30% of the global seed market.
MNCs have used genetic engineering to develop crops that do not reproduce in subsequent seasons. Crops with resistance to their proprietary herbicides will not grow unless sprayed with a patented chemical concoction. Patented Genetically Modified seeds threaten to erode indigenous seeds and their recuperation practices, displacing or replacing them with contaminated seed supplies. Thus, increasing farmers’ dependence on private monopolized agricultural resources.
The Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement requires all World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries to adopt minimum standards of intellectual property protection for plant varieties, either in the form of patents or through a sui generis system (such as a Plant Variety Protection (PVP) system), or both. This has accelerated the spread of genetically engineered seeds that can be patented and collected for royalties. By giving extensive rights to plant breeders, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) threatens farmers’ rights and discounts farmers’ contribution to developing plant varieties over generations. It allows MNCs to monopolize local seed industries.
In opposition to this, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Uganda, including SEATINI Uganda among others, have been central driving forces in work to promote Farmers’ Rights. SEATINI has been active on influencing the formulation or review of relevant policies at the national and regional levels to develop seed-related policies that protect farmers’ and community rights.
Achieving sustained gains towards safeguarding and reclaiming Farmers’ Rights and food sovereignty, awareness creation and capacity building are needed to influence seed and agriculture-related policies at all levels effectively. SEATINI has, over the years, built a knowledge base and analyses of different seed-related policies and their implications. This knowledge base can be a useful tool to further advocacy around seed and farmers’ rights.
Visit the SEATINI Uganda website here: https://seatiniuganda.org/