African Nations Agree To Plant Variety Treaty; Traditional Farmers' Group Shut Out From Negotiations

from the definitely-not-suspicious dept

Techdirt has been covering discussions to establish a harmonized pan-African legal framework for the protection of plant breeders' rights for a couple of years now, in particular the fears that this will benefit Western seed companies the most, at the expense of Africa's plant diversity and seed independence. As the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) website reports, what is now known as the "Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants" has been agreed:

The ARIPO Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants has been adopted by the Diplomatic Conference that was held in Arusha, the United Republic of Tanzania on July 6, 2015.



The Protocol seeks to provide Member States with a regional plant variety protection system that recognizes the need to provide growers and farmers with improved varieties of plants in order to ensure sustainable Agricultural production.

Eighteen Member States of the Organization were represented at the Diplomatic Conference namely; Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As well as those African nations, a number of international organizations took part in the discussions: the World Intellectual Property Organization, the EU's Community Plant Variety Office, France's National Seeds and Seedlings Association, the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The inclusion of representatives from the US, EU and French plant organizations is indicative of some of the key driving forces behind the Arusha Protocol. That stands in stark contrast to a rather significant absence from the talks: the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), an association that champions "Small African Family Farming/Production Systems based on agro-ecological and indigenous approaches." AFSA writes on its site:
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 is not the first time that AFSA has been unwelcome at ARIPO meetings, as we reported last year. That's presumably because AFSA has long-standing concerns about the whole move towards giving plant breeders greater rights in Africa. Here's its view on the new Protection of New Varieties of Plants (PVP) protocol:
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 privatisation; and ecologically embedded farming practices risk being destabilised and dislodged. The broader modernisation 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.
While AFSA is worried that the new Protocol will harm traditional cultivation practices, supporters claim that it will lead to more and better plant varieties being created, to the benefit of farmers. That would obviously be welcome, assuming it isn't simply a cover for multinational companies to privatize and industrialize Africa's food production. Unfortunately, the refusal to allow the participation of representatives of traditional African farming in drawing up the new Arusha Protocol has to raise fears that this is precisely what is planned.

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Reader Comments

The First Word

In Africa's climate, such plants traditionally have low yields and GMO could very well be made to give a better output and could be a real solution to Africa's starvation problem.

Oh yes, GMO can yield higher output. The price for that is lock-in: nothing else will grow on the RoundUp-poisoned acres for a long time. GMO are also covered with extensive patent claims and industrial seeds come with industrial fertilization requirements.

The net results is that the means for production are firmly controlled by foreign interests. Those require payoffs, so a significant part of the produced food is siphoned off. And in order to keep at least some of the produce for actually feeding people, part of the costs have to be covered by other means. Since industrial production is more effective on larger areas, farmers are pressured to sell their lots to international interests. Part of this is sustained by bribing local politicians.

So basically the industrialized food production, of which GMO is the crown, is used for a massive redistribution of production resources and properties to foreign industries and the local farmers are disowned and hanged to dry.

The net result is more food, and fewer people who can afford eating it. It gets exported or gets to rot locally, with imported weapons making sure nobody gets to "steal" any of it.

World food production is sufficient for feeding the current populace even without GMO. They just cannot afford access to the food, and the commercial structures built around GMO food acerbate the problem.
—David

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Jul 2015 @ 12:09am

    Simple rule of thumb:

    Whether you're talking about recent 'trade' agreements, or 'agricultural' agreements like this, if you're barred from attending, and especially if they go out of their way to invite everyone but you, odds are good it's because they're planning to screw you over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 22 Jul 2015 @ 5:00am

      Re: Simple rule of thumb:

      I have yet to see one of such agreements between gentlemen (read: Govts and huge corporations) that don't try to make money at the expense of everybody else. Seriously. Do you have an example where such agreements actually benefited the citizenry?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Seegras (profile), 22 Jul 2015 @ 2:10am

    USPTO

    When a patent office gets involved, don't expect anyone to profit except big companies. And the USPTO is one of the worst offenders in illegally granting patents, so you know somebody is getting screwed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2015 @ 2:46am

    On the serious side "Traditional Farmers" are usually groups who insist on cultivating native plants alone. And I mean really, REALLY insist in an almost fundamentalist-like manner.

    In Africa's climate, such plants traditionally have low yields and GMO could very well be made to give a better output and could be a real solution to Africa's starvation problem.

    Now, locking them out of talks is not a good solution at all, but with the interests of giants like Monsanto being on the line it's easy to see why they don't want to have a balanced discussion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 22 Jul 2015 @ 3:24am

      Re:

      In Africa's climate, such plants traditionally have low yields and GMO could very well be made to give a better output and could be a real solution to Africa's starvation problem.

      Oh yes, GMO can yield higher output. The price for that is lock-in: nothing else will grow on the RoundUp-poisoned acres for a long time. GMO are also covered with extensive patent claims and industrial seeds come with industrial fertilization requirements.

      The net results is that the means for production are firmly controlled by foreign interests. Those require payoffs, so a significant part of the produced food is siphoned off. And in order to keep at least some of the produce for actually feeding people, part of the costs have to be covered by other means. Since industrial production is more effective on larger areas, farmers are pressured to sell their lots to international interests. Part of this is sustained by bribing local politicians.

      So basically the industrialized food production, of which GMO is the crown, is used for a massive redistribution of production resources and properties to foreign industries and the local farmers are disowned and hanged to dry.

      The net result is more food, and fewer people who can afford eating it. It gets exported or gets to rot locally, with imported weapons making sure nobody gets to "steal" any of it.

      World food production is sufficient for feeding the current populace even without GMO. They just cannot afford access to the food, and the commercial structures built around GMO food acerbate the problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Seegras (profile), 22 Jul 2015 @ 3:50am

        Re: Re:

        And another thing that happens: GMO companies have a record of patenting crops that already exist in the wild. It's like claiming copyright over public domain works.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2015 @ 4:32am

          Re: Re: Re:

          As I said before:
          Now, locking them out of talks is not a good solution at all, but with the interests of giants like Monsanto being on the line it's easy to see why they don't want to have a balanced discussion.

          It's a lose-lose situation: on one hand farmers don't have the resources to get a good output with what they have; on the other those who have resources bring lock-in and obsolescence with them.

          On the resources front, simply dumping money in African farmer's hands is not a solution as it will simply end in the pockets of local warlords.

          And "leaving Africa alone" isn't much of a solution either as the continent had been struggling since well before the Spanish/Americans/etc. came there.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2015 @ 4:40am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I also forgot to add: Healthy. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.

            BTW, I'm not affiliated with any agricultural entity and in fact I couldn't give a dead rat about Monsanto et. co. and their profits.

            However I do happen to have relatives who farm (non-GMO crops) and know firsthand just how problematic things can be.
            And this in a country with temperate climate, no tornadoes and no dustbowls / sandstorms.

            Idealism is good, but only in small doses.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2015 @ 5:09am

      Re:

      Why not let farmers plant whatever they want? If they can make a living at it what do you care, especially since they probably live in some other country. GTFO is what they are thinking.

      But nooooooo, can't have that. Just think of the multinational corporation's rights, who is going to stand up for those poor suffering bottom lines?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 1:34am

        Re: Re:

        What? No! If it's their land they can plant spiny bushes for all I care. But then they complain that spiny bushes don't yield enough per ha to feed their families and make a profit.

        They basically tell the state:

        Farmer:
        "Give me money to plat traditional desert spiky bushes".
        State:
        "Have some corporate seeds instead. They actually grow into something".
        Farmer:
        "B...but patriotism. Nationalism. They're seeds from the greedy white devil man".
        Warlord:
        "Did someone say money? I want my cut!"

        Comical BS aside, if you deny corporate help for being greedy bastards (which they are) and you deny foreign help it's self-serving and besides "great white devil" and you add some power-hungry village chiefs into the mix, how do you propose to solve this ?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Eugene, 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:38am

    Re: Anonymous, et al

    This is not a problem of seeds. Or, I should say, this is not a problem of seeds alone.

    It's a problem of food sovereignty.

    The issue of corporate control of seeds and GMOs is not about yields, there isn't a problem yielding crops around the world by any measure (except by the measure of orgs affiliated with corporations that profit by selling their seeds and promoting their GMOs)

    The problem is an economic one. As it stands, our food system is hugely globalized, so that most small farmers aren't growing food that feeds themselves/their families, they are growing commodity crops that can be sold to a corporation that will go into the food/feed that it produces. In this system, farmers don't really have much choice what to grow or how to grow it and have to be slaves to the inputs they can find and the price levers pulled by multinational corporations. As local market infrastructure lags, you don't have the opportunity for small farmers to grow actual food that can be part of a healthy diet and thus, through local networks and cooperation, encourage biodiversity. Instead, this system concentrates power in the hands of few and reduces farmers to subsistence and servitude rather than stewardship and cultivation of a rich, landed, agricultural heritage, deeply rooted in culture and history.

    If you look at the work of agroecologists or permaculturists, or really anyone who is looking at farming from a perspective of ecological sustainability, you can see that better ways to do all of this exist, and we need to empower small farmers with knowledge and sustainable practices because industrial agriculture has really only made the situation worse at every turn. Maybe then we can reverse the degradation of our soils, our seeds, and our global food system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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