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.

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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//

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N2Africa, the Gates Foundation and legume commercialisation in Africa

N2 Africa report

By Sarah Herrington, AGRA Watch Intern

In August, the African Centre for Biodiversity released a report titled N2Africa, The Gates Foundation and legume commercialization in Africa, as a result of a 3 year research program. This report focuses on the N2Africa program, which claims to be an initiative for the development and distribution of new legume varieties, as well as promotion of the use of inoculants and synthetic fertilizers, in order to develop a commercial legume market for smallholders. The program is backed by a conglomerate of organizations, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), public research institutions, farmer associations, and universities. The majority of funding, however, comes directly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with smaller donations from its affiliate, the Howard G. Warren Foundation.

Legumes have a long history as a food source in Africa due to their high nutritional value. Although the development of new legume varieties offers possibilities for nutritional and ecological benefits for smallholders and the African population, the program follows the pattern of other Green Revolution initiatives – resulting in problems such as economic instability, land holding risks, and misplaced objectives. This report outlines the problematic potentials of the N2Africa Program as well as projected outcomes. The report points out the parameters that should be recognized as the primary goals of the initiative (the nutritional and ecological benefits) and how these parameters are actually thrown into a secondary category of developmental goals, behind international commercial market development.

 

 

 

 

The Making of Farmer-Consumers

Farming is production at its most fundamental. Today it is often claimed that the agricultural revolution was humanity’s most transformative innovation. And whether you see the first seed sown as our original sin or as the beginning of civilization there is little debate over one fact: farming irreversibly influenced the fate of humanity. It was the prerequisite for the growth of cities, the division of labor, and for so much subsequent history.

Farming is also human agency at its most unadulterated. The knowledge acquired by the world’s agriculturalists—how to harness the powers of nature for our nourishment, how to select and save the best seed for the following year, how to foster fertile soil and channel life-giving water to crops—all this became vital and empowering. With the development of farming, humans became active agents on this earth in new, more powerful ways than ever before.

Historically, food production has been the source of most subsequent forms of production: without farming there would be no freedom from the incessant search for food; there would little art or architecture, no surplus to feed doctors, politicians, and teachers. Even today, with a diminishing portion of the world’s population involved in farming, most within the development community agree that a robust farming sector is almost always necessary for sustained economic growth.

And yet many of the same politicians and development economists who acknowledge the importance of a sustainable agricultural sector also treat farming merely as a means to industrial ends. Agriculture becomes the slave of industry, exploited to feed the voracious appetite of urban factories with raw materials, financial capital, and displaced farmers themselves. In this model, it is often forgotten that farming is the source of nourishment for each and every human body; it is the essence of production and not merely a tool for capital accumulation.

It is strange then that modern farmers—the archetypal producers—have been reduced by the economic and technological hegemony of agribusiness to the status of consumers. The past century has witnessed a steady penetration of farming by capital—formerly self-reliant farmers coaxed and pressured into purchasing expensive inputs such as fertilizer and seed held by an increasingly small number of transnational corporations. This capital-intensive agriculture leads to a vicious cycle of debt and dependency from which it is difficult to escape. Today, food producers at all points along the spectrum, from large poultry farmers in America to small potato farmers in the Andes, have been significantly disempowered by corporate heavyweights.

Agribusiness has long sought to consolidate corporate power over agriculture, gaining ground with hybrid seeds and chemical inputs manufactured during the mid 20th century. The most recent way in which these companies reduce food producers to consumers is through genetically engineered (GE) seed. As the promoters of this technology are eager to point out, humans have been manipulating seed for millennia, selecting desired characteristics and bringing these forward for the next generation. However, these corporations fail to acknowledge that there is a crucial difference with GE: this seed manipulation takes place not by farmers on the land but instead by scientists in the lab. These companies, moreover, appropriate seed developed by farmers over thousands of years and then ‘improve’, patent, and sell it back to the same farmers as an original product, claiming sole authorship. Labeled biopiracy by critics of GE, it is an action that clearly illustrates the dynamic between seed corporations and farmers.

Philanthropies and their private sector partners are also seizing on the growing hunger and climate crisis to push GE on small farmers in the developing world, particularly in Africa. This ostensibly well-meaning effort to foster development is based on several questionable practices and assumptions including a failure to acknowledge the deleterious history of farmer debt and dispossession, environmental degradation, and social stratification that has long accompanied this capital-intensive agricultural paradigm.

The word ‘farm’ comes from the Proto-Germanic word ferhwo meaning ‘life force’ or ‘being’ and is related to the Old English feorh meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘life.’ Etymologically this reflects the vital place of farming as a source of human productivity. Yet today, in a global economy geared towards limitless growth, consumption is king and even farmers, the original producers, are rendered sterile, manipulated into becoming consumers on their own fertile lands.