In Seed

Resisting Corporate Takeover of African Seed Systems and Building Farmer Managed Seed Systems for Food Sovereignty in Africa

International Seeds Day, observed annually on April 26th, serves as a pivotal moment for advocates of sustainable agriculture, farmers’ rights, and biodiversity conservation to unite in their commitment to a future where seeds are not mere commodities but sacred vessels of life, entrusted to our care for the sake of generations yet unborn. At the heart of this celebration lies a profound appreciation for farmers’ varieties – the diverse, time-honoured cultivars carefully nurtured and passed down through generations. It is a day dedicated to amplifying the voices of those who champion patent-free seeds and advocate for the preservation of traditional seed systems, which lie at the heart of Africa’s agricultural heritage.

Central to this movement is SEED IS LIFE, a campaign led by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) to promote Farmer Managed Seed Systems (FMSS) and resist the encroachment of industrial agriculture. FMSS represents more than just a means of ensuring food security; they are a testament to the resilience, ingenuity, and cultural richness of Africa’s farming communities. By empowering farmers to cultivate diverse crops and preserve traditional knowledge, FMSS lays the foundation for a future where African food systems are not only sustainable but also deeply rooted in the traditions and values of local communities. The operation of FMSS is crucial for feeding Africa’s people today and safeguarding the continent’s agricultural heritage for generations to come. It is about reclaiming control over seeds, ensuring that farmers can continue to use and enhance their biodiverse and resilient seeds, and asserting the rights of farmers to determine their own agricultural destinies.

Despite FMSS values, its contribution to biodiversity conservation and its potential for the world food and nutrition security, there exist strong barriers to its full expression :

Marginalization of FMSS Guardians, Particularly Women: Despite their crucial role for having been the primary custodian of seed and germplasm, providing reliable, affordable, and nutritious seeds, FMSS and their guardians, particularly women, face marginalization and lack official recognition and support. This marginalization undermines the resilience of traditional seed systems and exacerbates the challenges faced by small-scale farmers in accessing diverse and locally adapted seed varieties.

Influence of Colonization, Commerce, and Corporate Interests: The prevailing narrative around seeds in Africa is influenced by colonization, commerce, and corporate interests, which prioritize profit over the preservation of traditional knowledge and biodiversity. This influence undermines small-scale farmers’ diverse and knowledge-rich practices and perpetuates a cycle of dependency on industrial seeds.

Changes in Legislation and Regulatory Frameworks: Changes in national and regional legislation aimed at harmonizing seed laws and introducing protections for commercial breeders further constrain seed and food sovereignty in Africa. These legislative changes effectively strip farmers of control over their seeds and prioritize the proliferation of multinational agri-food companies’ plant varieties, sidelining indigenous farming practices.

Preference for Commercial Breeders’ Varieties: Guidelines for harmonizing seed regulatory frameworks, such as those issued by the African Union Commission, alongside protocols and agreements like the ARIPO protocol and the revised Bangui Agreement, demonstrate a clear preference for the proliferation of multinational agri-food companies’ plant varieties. This preference undermines the diversity and resilience of Africa’s food systems, perpetuating a cycle of dependency on external sources of seeds and agricultural inputs.

We therefore urgently call on African policymakers to:

Prioritize Farmer-Managed Seed Systems (FMSS) in Agricultural Policies and frameworks: Policymakers should integrate FMSS principles into national agricultural policies, ensuring they are recognized, supported, and promoted as viable alternatives to industrial seed systems. This includes allocating resources for research on farmer’s seed varieties, capacity building, and extension services that empower farmers to conserve, enhance, and exchange their traditional seeds.

Strengthen Legal Frameworks to Protect small scale Farmers’ Rights: Governments should enact and enforce laws that safeguard farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange, and sell their seeds. These legal frameworks should include provisions for the recognition of customary seed systems, protection against biopiracy and seed monopolies, and mechanisms for community-based seed governance.

Invest in Agroecological Research and Extension Services: Governments should allocate funding for agroecological research and extension services that support sustainable farming practices, biodiversity conservation, and climate resilience. This includes promoting participatory research methods that engage farmers in co-creating knowledge and adapting agricultural techniques to local contexts.

Promote Seed Diversity and Resilience through Seed Banks and Exchanges: Governments should support the establishment of community seed banks and facilitate seed exchanges to promote the conservation, exchange, and distribution of diverse and resilient seed varieties. These initiatives should be inclusive, participatory, and grounded in the principles of seed sovereignty, ensuring that farmers have access to a wide range of locally adapted seeds.

Integrate FMSS into International Agreements and Commitments: Policymakers and implementers should enforce the integration of FMSS principles into international agreements and commitments related to agricultural development, biodiversity conservation, and food security. This includes promoting the recognition of farmers’ rights in international forums, advocating for fair and equitable access to genetic resources, and resisting efforts to privatize and commodify seeds.

By implementing these recommendations, policymakers and all actors can contribute to the realization of a sustainable, biodiverse future where African food systems are resilient, culturally rich, and free from corporate control. This vision aligns with international commitments to farmer rights and underscores the importance of supporting FMSS as a cornerstone of agricultural development and food sovereignty in Africa and worldwide.

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