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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.