AFSA PRESS RELEASE 26 April 2018 : Hands Off African Seeds! No Intellectual Property on Life

Hands Off African Seeds! – No Intellectual Property on Life

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) today launches a continental seed policy report challenging the corporate capture of African farmers’ seeds and seed systems. Launched on World Intellectual Property Day, the report documents the policy shift towards corporatization of seeds on the continent, in direct contravention of international obligations to protect farmers’ rights and to conserve agricultural biodiversity. It shows how these dangerous policies are rapidly advancing and how farmers are resisting. The report entitled ‘Resisting corporate takeover of African seed systems and building farmer managed seed systems for food sovereignty in Africa’ maps the way forward for building a continental movement to Save African Seeds.

Zimbabwean farmer and La Via Campesina General Coordinator, Elizabeth Mpofu said, “Regional bodies like SADC and COMESA are developing rules that will increase the availability of commercial seeds, only benefiting corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto. Indigenous seeds are not recognized. We believe in controlling our land and seeds and producing the healthy food that we want, the way we want. Our response is to fight for food sovereignty against these transnational corporations.”

The race to capture the intellectual property rights of seeds is at the heart of the problem, with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) in the driving seat. Civil society organizations around the world agree that there should be no intellectual property on life, yet the seed giants are using African regionalization policy processes to grab the IP rights to farmers’ seeds and planting material, and criminalize farmers traditional practices.

African agriculture policy is increasingly about ‘modernization’ through a massive increase in the use of chemical fertilizers and ‘improved’ seeds, switching the focus to staple crops and commodities tradable on global markets. In practice, this has led to a huge concentration on the development and marketing of hybrid maize seeds and artificial fertilizers.

The reality is that 90% of seeds sown in Africa come from ‘informal’ sources, local markets, or seeds saved by farmers or their neighbors – the majority of whom are women. It is these seeds that are providing 80% of Africa’s food. They are reliable, available and affordable, but the seed giants want them outlawed. These seeds and the cultural systems and knowledge that underpin them are under threat from policies designed to privilege corporate seed systems while criminalizing and vilifying farmer managed seed systems.

“The answer to seed sovereignty is not in the hands of corporates, but in the hands of smallholder farmers who feed the world,” said Peter Nzioka, Kaane Small Scale Farmers Association, Machakos, Kenya.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa calls on African nations to wake up to the dangers of these flawed policies; to scrap the externally-driven and damaging seed laws; and to recognize that the future of African food systems lies in supporting African food producers to provide sustainable African solutions.

The seed policy report ‘Resisting corporate takeover of African seed systems and building farmer managed seed systems for food sovereignty in Africa’ is available as a free download here. 

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For further information or interviews please contact:

Dr. Million Belay – AFSA Coordinator

Email: million.belay@afsafrica.org, afsa@afsafrica.org

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New video from the Zimbabwe Seed Soveriegnty Programme

In 2014, 7 NGO’s and farmer organizations came together to form the Zimbabwe Seed Sovereignty Programme (ZSSP). ZSSP raises awareness around seed-related laws that undermine food sovereignty while strengthening seed production and conservation practices across Zimbabwe. By facilitating seed fairs, it allows farmers to exchange seeds, learn about different local varieties, and have control over the seeds they choose to plant. Lazarus Nhamarare, Crop Specialist with Agritex echoed this idea, “When we are looking at seed sovereignty, we are saying that farmers have control, they can access seed because they grow it themselves, they do not wait for it to be handed to them”. ZSSP published a new video in December which presents an overview of their practices in Zimbabwe that support local farmers.

View it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nmA5rfBHa8&feature=youtu.be

Transnational Resistance to the Super Banana: How We Organized to Counter the Gates Foundation and Cornell Alliance for Science in Uganda

The battle over GMO’s is heating up in Africa, as several countries consider new laws to permit their production. As Uganda’s so-called Biosafety Law faces new challenges, AGRA Watch member Matt Canfield reflects on our transnational campaign to prevent the Super Banana from being grown in that country.

By Matt Canfield, a member of AGRA Watch and an anthropologist currently working at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

In 2014, AGRA Watch, a campaign of Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ) established a transnational coalition to resist the Super Banana. As its name suggests, the Super Banana is no ordinary banana; it is a genetically engineered, “biofortified” crop funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for Ugandan markets. Because the Super Banana contains high amounts of beta-carotene or Vitamin A, Gates claims that the Super Banana can save hundreds of thousands of children from child blindness. Yet, over two years, CAGJ and its allies raised major challenges about the Foundation’s support for this crop—from its health and safety to the potential harms that it poses for small-scale agricultural producers, to its disruption to biodiversity. Doing so not only offered a new model for transnational food sovereignty organizing, it revealed important insights into the Gates Foundation’s highly sophisticated efforts to transform African agriculture.

The fact that the Gates Foundation is funding bananas in Uganda is no surprise; it is part of a larger strategy to promote genetically engineering food across Africa. According to some proponents of genetic-engineering, “second-generation” crops (which include benefits for both producers and consumers) have the chance of greater public acceptance. In seeking to build public support for the Super Banana, the Gates Foundation offered the newest front in a decades-old struggle waged by states and corporations from the Global North to transform Uganda’s national laws to permit the commercial production and sale of GMO crops.

Like many African nations, Uganda has been hesitant to allow GMO crops. Only four countries in Africa currently allow the commercial production of GMOs. Western states and corporations have therefore been eager to develop markets for agro-chemicals, industrial inputs, and agricultural machinery by “improving” African agriculture. In 2006, the Gates Foundation became the face of this effort by launching the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). To date, it has funded $2 billion towards this effort. Most of that money, CAGJ, and its allies have found, has in fact been spent in the Global North, not in Africa, and much of it has gone to scientists, not farmers.

The Super Banana reflects Gates’ approach. First, the Banana was developed by Dr. James Dale at the Queensland University of Technology by combining strains of the East African Highland Banana with the Fe’i variety from Papua New Guinea, an action criticized as potential biopiracy. Then, after developing the Banana, it was sent for testing to Iowa State University, where Dr. Wendy White conducted tests on twelve undergraduate women. These tests were meant to allay concerns about the safety of the Banana, which some scientists worry may actually be toxic.

Finally, to discourage resistance on the basis of political, economic, or cultural grounds, the Gates Foundation created a new institution to frame these products in terms of science. In 2014, the Gates Foundation gave the founding grant to the Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), “an initiative for science-based agricultural communications that is focused on the global public good.” CAS serves as an academic platform to promote GMOs. Each year, CAS funds a class of fellows to attend a twelve-week program at Cornell to train them in promoting GMOs through “science-based communication.” Of the twenty-five inaugural Fellows, five came from Ugandan NGOs, government agencies, and other organizations.

As the Gates Foundation strengthened its efforts to promote the Super Banana, CAGJ assembled a coalition to resist. The initial participants for the coalition came out of the 2014 Africa-US Food Sovereignty Summit. From there, CAGJ engaged other participants strategically in Iowa, Europe, and Australia. In Australia, for example, CAGJ worked with anti-GMO activists to question Dr. James Dale. In Iowa, CAGJ worked with students at Iowa State University, who raised awareness among the University and local community about ISU’s’s role in promoting the Gates Foundation’s efforts. In Uganda, CAGJ worked with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. At the headquarters of the Gates Foundation in Seattle, CAGJ hand-delivered a prop representing the 57,000+ signatures on the petition that asked ISU and the Gates Foundation to cease supporting the transgenic banana study, including human feeding trials, and to change the trajectory for this type of research conducted at public universities.

In October 2017, well before other news outlets picked it up, the Cornell Alliance for Science announced, “Uganda Adopts GMO Law in a Monumental Victory for Science.” The passage of the National Biosafety Act of 2017 was indeed a victory for the Gates Foundation and their corporate allies. The Act marked the end an almost 20-year long process of developing national biosafety legislation. Despite the misleading name of the “Biosafety” Act,  there remains no consensus on GMO safety, and the Act would nevertheless permit the commercial development of GMOs.

Yet Gates and the CAS shouldn’t celebrate too soon. In December, the President returned the Bill to Congress refusing to sign it and demanding greater protection for indigenous agriculture. The Super Banana resistance coalition developed by CAGJ’s AGRA Watch campaign offers a key lesson for transnational organizing in an age of the Green Revolution. By mobilizing activists across the world, each engaged in their own struggles for food sovereignty, CAGJ was able to effectively raise awareness about the potential harms posed by the Super Banana. Not only did this put the Gates Foundation on alert, it showed the vast reach of the Gates Foundation and its efforts to promote its own vision of corporate agriculture in Africa.  CAGJ is committed to continuing to work in solidarity with our African partners, and to exposing the Gates Foundation’s role in pushing their corporate model of agriculture on the continent.

Challenge the #GlobalSeedGrab

Fight the Enabling the Business of Agriculture Supported #GLOBALSEEDGRAB

Dear community,

A few weeks ago, we shared about the World Bank’s dangerous Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project and the particular threats it poses to African agriculture (read our analysis here). Now is the time to increase the pressure on the Bank and its donors.

On January 18, letters signed by over 150 groups (including CAGJ) were sent to the World Bank as well as the five donors behind the EBA project, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, demanding an end to this hijacking of farmers’ rights to seeds and the corporatization of agriculture.

This joint advocacy led by the Oakland Institute has forced the World Bank to recognize the importance and value of farmer-managed seed systems! In the 2017 EBA report released this week, the Bank incorporated some of the language from the letters word-for-word into the seed section (see attached image for an example of the specific language copied from the letter).

However, beyond this recognition, the Bank is still running the EBA and promoting the pro-corporate regulations we have denounced. Now, everyone can email the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and EBA donors directly to request the withdrawal of this harmful project.

As we highlighted in our last blog, the seed indicators are part of a regime of power that seek to legitimatize a vision of agro-industrial production, commercialization, and privatization. For farmers, this means creating markets along the supply chain to displace farmer-managed seed systems and agroecological farming. The Bank’s small fix aimed at silencing criticism does not guarantee changes in these indicators or the promotion of pro-private sector seed policies and large-scale industrial agriculture.

We cannot let the World Bank dictate agricultural policies of sovereign nations at the expense of farmers. Tell World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and Western donors: DROP THE ENABLING THE BUSINESS OF AGRICULTURE INDEX NOW!
Share on facebook! Challenge the #GlobalSeedGrab

Thank you for taking action!

African Civil Society and farmer representatives blocked from ARIPO deliberations on regional seed (PVP) law

AGRA Watch partners the African Centre for Biodiversity and the PELUM Association in collaboration with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa issued a joint press release today. Read the full text below.

African Civil Society and farmer representatives blocked from ARIPO deliberations on regional seed (PVP) law

29 November 2016

The authoritarian nature of the African Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) Secretariat and its undemocratic processes are scandalous and unacceptable. Locking African farmer representatives and civil society out in order to allow unfettered draconian regional law making is deeply disturbing. What is at play here is entrenching an agricultural future for smallholder farmers in the 19 ARIPO countries that will ensure that profits accrue mainly to the corporate sector and a tiny group of elite players that can engage in the commercial agriculture value chain, while pushing the already marginalised majority of smallholder farmers further into hunger, poverty and dispossession.

ARIPO will host an Administrative Council meeting 5–8 December 2016 in Harare, Zimbabwe for its 19 ARIPO Member States, to adopt deeply troubling draft Regulations to implement a highly contested and controversial regional law on seeds – the Arusha Protocol on Protection of New Varieties of Plants (PVP). ARIPO has refused point blank to allow any African farmer representative or civil society to attend the December meeting on the spurious and frivolous grounds that ARIPO has no cooperation agreement with such civil society. Yet ARIPO has in the past, allowed a small handful of people representing smallholder farmers and from African civil society to attend Administrative Council meetings.

Civil society groups have consistently and constructively engaged with the drafting of the Arusha Protocol and several versions of the draft Regulations, and have submitted sets of substantive comments. In these comments we have raised serious concerns. We continue to have these concerns and also in relation to the most recent Draft Regulations that are up for decision making at the December meeting.

These include the impingement of national sovereignty; the failure to safeguard Farmers’ Rights and farmer seed systems; the failure to prevent bio-piracy and undermining the implementation of international Treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) as well as various international instruments on human rights.

The ARIPO Secretariat is hell bent on excluding those that represent the interests of smallholder farmers from key meetings where regional laws are being adopted, yet opening the doors to foreign interests. This has already happened in July 2015, when farmer representatives and African CSOs were deliberately shut out of the Diplomatic Conference held in Arusha, Tanzania when the Protocol itself was adopted.

We call upon all Member States of ARIPO to ensure open, transparent and democratic regional law making. Further we impress upon Member States to ensure that smallholder farmers have the rights to continue to access and use all seed freely without any impediments, including protected varieties, through saving, exchanging, and selling on the local markets in Africa. Such practices are the backbone of farming systems in the ARIPO region and support livelihoods, provide food, sustenance and nutrition for many millions of people on the continent.

Member States must ensure that mechanisms are put in place to operationalise their right to object to the plant breeders’ rights from being applicable and enforceable in their territories, as allowed by Article 4(1) of the Protocol, and to ensure that appropriate safeguards to prevent bio-piracy are put in place to prevent the exploitation of farmers and disallow breeders from hiding acts of bio-piracy behind confidentiality rules.

ENDS//

Contact:

Global Justice Now Tells a Tale of Two Food Systems

This excellent infographic sums up two potential food systems of our future.

By Johanna Lundahl, AGRA Watch Intern

The UK based activist organization  Global Justice Now(GJN) released a powerful new infographic this summer which illustrates an all too familiar story– a farmer-controlled farm relies on traditional seed systems and farm-produced fertilizers, while a corporate-controlled farm must purchase seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. Although both farms in the graphic are initially identical, they grow and change in radically different ways. The farmer-controlled farm adds animals and vegetables, the skies are blue, soil is healthy, and the farm is teeming with biodiversity. Meanwhile, the corporate-controlled farm grows bleak and grey. The seeds and pesticides that farmers in this system are forced to use grow crops in higher quantities in the short term. In the long term they leech nutrients from the soil, ultimately degrading soil quality. A farmer in the corporate-controlled farm is chained to a system of debt and dependence on the corporation.

Continue reading “Global Justice Now Tells a Tale of Two Food Systems”

Report-back on 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony and Encounter: Our Seeds of International Solidarity

Last week, representatives of over 20 organizations gathered in Seattle and Bellingham for several days of dialogue, action, and celebration of the growing food sovereignty movement.

Photo Credit: Colette Cosner
Representatives of groups across the US and Africa together for the Food Sovereignty Prize Encounter. Photo Credit: Colette Cosner

 

Last week, representatives of over 20 organizations gathered in Seattle and Bellingham for several days of dialogue, action, and celebration of the growing food sovereignty movement. The Encounter, co-hosted by Community Alliance for Global Justice and Community to Community Development, was a national gathering of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA). On Saturday, we honored Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and Farmworkers Association of Floridaas recipients of the 8th Annual Food Sovereignty Prize, awarded by the USFSA.

As an alternative to the World Food Prize awarded the same weekend in Iowa, the Food Sovereignty Prize recognizes that transformation of our food system comes from the grassroots, frontlines, and communities building power – not corporate, biotech, and Big Ag industries focused on profit over people and the planet. Coming together for the Prize and events was an opportunity to reflect on strengthening our organizing and advocacy for agroecology, food as a human right, dignity for workers across the food chain, and community-led solutions to hunger and climate change

 

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Photo Credit: Project Feed the Hood

Roundtable Meetings

With banners and signs reflecting messages of the movement in the center of a circle, folks gathered Wednesday night and Thursday at the WA State Labor Council to discuss the current political moment of the USFSA and the new methodology being proposed for building up grassroots leadership and regional structure in the Alliance.

Continue reading “Report-back on 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony and Encounter: Our Seeds of International Solidarity”