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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for taking action!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa is an alliance of civil society and farmer organizations across Africa dedicated to promoting a strong, united voice of African-driven solutions of food sovereignty, agroecology, and social justice.
By Johanna Lundahl, AGRA Watch Intern
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) works to influence policy in Africa around community rights, family farming, promotion of traditional knowledge, the environment and natural resource management. This Saturday, October 15th, AFSA, along with the US-based Farmworkers Association of Florida, will be awarded the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. AFSA will be honored for its work in building a strong movement of people directly impacted by expanding corporate agriculture, including land and water grabs, and advancing food production systems controlled by food producers, making nutritious food produced in harmony with planet available to everyone.
Bernard Guri, Chairperson of AFSA, who will accept the Food Sovereignty Prize on its behalf, explains in a press release that traditional, more stable, and environmentally-friendly African agriculture is under attack from foreign corporations’ business interests: “Africa has a myriad of ways to feed her people and to keep her environment safe. However, a few international corporations from the global North have generated approaches strictly for their own profit by misleading our leaders and our people, stealing our seeds and culture, and destroying our environment.” Continue reading “Food Sovereignty Prize Winner: Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa”