Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe cautious on controversial seed treaty

Zimbabwe cautious on controversial seed treaty

Zimbabwe+farm+farmland+Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
ZIMBABWE has stayed away from a controversial treaty that threatens to steal the rights of African small-scale farmers to breed their own seed, bringing hope that the corporatisation of seed breeding will not be foisted on poor local farmers, at least for the time being.


On July 6, a diplomatic meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, adopted the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation’s (ARIPO) Plant Variety Protection Protocol, but not everyone rushed to sign, except Mozambique, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Ghana. The protocol aims to transfer the control of seed from small farmers to profit-driven multinationals and governments by creating a harmonised regional plant variety protection system that favours seed producers.

However, the protocol has drawn fierce criticism from farmers, experts and the civic society who see it as a sinister plan by multinational seed companies to privatise seed varieties for own profit, dis-empower small farmers and takeover Africa’s agriculture.

One farmer, Mr Nelson Mudzingwa, recently described ARIPO’s plans “as a new wave of colonialism over (African) food systems” designed to create seed monopolies that disadvantage small farmers.

Now, as only four of ARIPO’s 19 member states consented to the protocol in Arusha, Zimbabwe opted for caution and signed nothing, ostensibly to allow for wider consultation, research and understanding on the potential impacts of the protocol on one of the country’s most important economic sectors, agriculture.

There is clearly no consensus in the public, private and civic sectors on whether Zimbabwe should hand its seed sovereignty over to a few powerful foreign seed companies keen to oil their own private profit.

But for how long will Zimbabwe continue to sit on the fence? “For the time being, until Zimbabwe ratifies and becomes a contracting state, the protocol will not apply to Zimbabwe and the current laws of Zimbabwe will apply to smallholder farmers,” said Mr John Wilson, an agro-ecologist from Harare.

“The protocol will come into effect when four countries ratify it. The regulations must also be made to bring the protocol into effect.

“The really important thing now is for there to be an open and transparent process in Zimbabwe on the question of ARIPO.

“The danger is that ARIPO will eventually render local regulation over breeders’ rights redundant.”

It is not clear whether when the four countries needed to ratify the protocol to bring it into effect will do so, the actions of the four will be binding on the others who have yet to give their formal consent.

In Arusha, several delegations raised serious concerns that the protocol eroded national sovereignty because of the extensive decision-making powers vested in the ARIPO Plant Breeders Rights Office (PBRO), which operates at a regional level, according to a statement by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a pan-African organisation promoting food independence.

“The government of Malawi, in particular, said that this would “have a demeaning and nullifying effect,” said AFSA. Here, Government is under pressure to reject ARIPO’s plans on similar grounds, and more.

Not only does the protocol dis-empower small farmers, it also threatens food security, already a pressing issue here, as changing climates alter rainfall patterns, yielding frequent drastic droughts or flooding. Farmer seed independence is considered crucial to avoiding food losses that are climate change-linked. By breeding their own seed, farmers are able to create varieties that are suitable for their specific regions and climates, helping them cope better with climate change, experts say. “Dependence on commercially bred varieties leads to mono-cultures and loss of resilience in farming,” said Mr Wilson.

“Community based seed systems are very critical in the face of climate change because the seeds that communities save are seeds that are adapted to that particular situation/environment.

“Also, in the kind of farming where community based seed systems are thriving, farmers grow many different species and different varieties within species.”

Across Africa, the ARIPO protocol has been viewed with scepticism, as part of the broader thrust to ensure regionally seamless and expedited trade in commercially bred seed varieties for the benefit, mainly, of the foreign seed industry.

“The modernisation thrust, of which the ARIPO 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,” AFSA said.

“Such a transformation will lead to many farming households being threatened with marginalisation or extinction, without alternative options for survival.

“This protocol’s underlying imperatives are to increase corporate seed imports, reduce breeding activity at the national level, and facilitate the monopoly by foreign companies of local seed systems and the disruption of traditional farming systems.”

A 2002 Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Bank study recommended a complete shift away from the green revolution’s industrial agriculture to agro-ecology.

God is faithful.


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