Participants at an advocacy workshop organized by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty In Africa (AFSA) in Accra, Ghana have express disapproval of a plant variety protection protocol recently signed by a few African diplomats in Tanzania. The protocol frowns on collective intellectual property rights and will displace indigenous seeds that have formed the backbone of human society since primitive communalism.
Under what has been christened the “Arusha PVP Protocol”, local farmers with small farm sizes but who ensures sustainable agriculture, provide diversity in food crops and who are in the lead of the campaign to eradicate hunger, will be greatly marginalized.
Opanyin Kwame Sekyere, a local organic seed producer from Offuman in the Techiman district of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana understands the criminality of the protocol so well. In an exclusive interview with this reporter in February this year, he said “… by soliciting my support to formulate a bill which seeks to make me rich and overcome poverty by registering my seeds but demanding that those seeds must be new, stable, distinct and uniform is like seeking my consent to dress me naked by removing my clothes and then drive me to the streets to be mocked at.
“The seeds I multiply under my huts you find over there were special seeds given to me by my father when I first married my wife. I survive by multiplying the seeds for the farmers in my community who in turn bring me some grains and other crops from their harvest. I also cultivate some of the seeds with my family on my fifteen acres of land. As I understand, the Plant Breeders Bill before the parliament does not accept my seeds and that is why I will not qualify for registration under the bill” he explained.
But the traditional farmer is even more disturbed. According to him, no parliamentarian alive to his responsibilities unless he be a bandit, a rogue or ignorant, will seek to pass a bill which will disrupt his livelihood because he mandates that parliamentarian to represent him.
A full text of the statement issued after the Pan African advocacy workshop is published below unedited;
African governments, ignoring the protests of their farmers and civil society, in July 6, 2015, agreed an oppressive ‘plant variety protection protocol’ that will open up their countries to commercial seed monopolists, while limiting farmers rights to save, use, exchange, replant, improve, distribute and sell the seeds they have developed over countless generations.
On 6th July 2015, in Arusha, Tanzania, a Diplomatic Conference held under the auspices of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) adopted a harmonised regional legal framework for the protection of plant breeders’ rights.
The Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (‘Arusha PVP Protocol’) is a slightly revised version of a previous Draft ARIPO Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (the ‘ARIPO PVP Protocol’).
The previous Draft has come under consistent and severeattack by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) because it is based on a Convention known as UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) 1991 – a restrictive and inflexible international legal precept, totally unsuitable for Africa.
Crucially, the ARIPO PVP Protocol proposed extremely strong intellectual property rights to breeders while restricting the age-old practices of African farmers freely to save, use, share and sell seeds and/or propagating material.
These practices are the backbone of agricultural systems in Sub-Saharan Africa; they have ensured the production and maintenance of a diverse pool of genetic resources by farmers themselves, and have safeguarded food and nutrition for tens of millions of Africans in the ARIPO region.
Traditional farming sacrificed to seed monopolists
The Arusha PVP Protocol is part of the broader thrust in Africa to ensure regionally seamless and expedited trade in commercially bred seed varieties for the benefit, mainly, of the foreign seed industry. Multinational seed companies intend to lay claim to seed varieties as their private possessions and to prevent others from using these varieties without the payment of royalties.
Germplasm developed by farming households over centuries is increasingly under threat of privatization; and ecologically embedded farming practices risk being destabilised and dislodged.
The broader modernization thrust of which the Arusha PVP Protocol is an intrinsic part, is designed to facilitate the transformation of African agriculture from peasant-based production to inherently inequitable, inappropriate and ecologically damaging Green Revolution/industrial agriculture.
Such a transformation will lead to many farming households being threatened with marginalisation or extinction, without alternative options for survival.
It is worthwhile to note that a 2002 Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Bank study, the ‘ International Assessment ofKnowledge, Science and Technology ‘ (IAASTD), strongly recommended a complete shift away from the Green Revolution’s industrial agriculture to agroecology.
Exclusion of African civil society
Despite AFSA’s well-established track record of constructive engagement with ARIPO on the Draft ARIPO PVP Protocol, and despite it being a Pan African network of African regional farmers and NGOs, working with millions of African farmers and consumers, AFSA was purposely excluded from the Arusha deliberations.
This restriction stands in sharp contrast to inclusion in the deliberations of the UPOV Secretariat, and other foreign entities, including the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) the European Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) and the French National Seed and Seedling Association (GNIS). The commercial seed industry (e.g. the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA)) was particularly well represented.
The Arusha PVP Protocol has major implications for national decision-making. AFSA’s exclusion is a violation of the right of farmers to participate in decision-making on matters related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (Article 9.2(c ) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).