from the why-not-adopt-big-ag's-patented-approach-instead? dept
Seeds might not seem to have much to do with digital technology, but the DNA that lies at their heart is in fact digital information, and thus many of the issues that concern Techdirt also apply here. One of the key battlegrounds for seeds and their ownership is Africa, as we discussed back in 2013. The Belgian site Mondiaal Nieuws has an update on what’s happening in one of the poorest African countries, Tanzania. Things aren’t looking good there following a change in the relevant law:
“If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa”, says Michael Farrelly [from an organic farming movement in Tanzania].
Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300 [about $213,000], or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified.
“That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day”, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT).
The article indicates that “certified” in this context means patented. That’s obviously a problem for small-scale farmers, since they would be unable to afford to go through the patenting process, even if that were even a realistic option. For multinationals like Syngenta or Monsanto, by contrast, patenting is as natural as breathing, and so the new system will strengthen their hand considerably.
“As a result, the farmers’ seed system will collapse, because they can’t sell their own seeds”, according to Janet Maro. “Multinationals will provide our country with seeds and all the farmers will have to buy them from them. That means that we will lose biodiversity, because it is impossible for them to investigate and patent all the seeds we need. We’re going to end up with fewer types of seeds.”
Here’s why this is all happening:
Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What’s particularly regrettable here is not just the loss of biodiversity, and the fact that African farmers will be beholden to Western corporations, but that the NAFSN program will achieve the opposite of its stated aims, and end up taking away what little independence Tanzanian farmers enjoyed under the traditional seed system. No wonder, then, that last year Members of the European Parliament called for the NAFSN to “radically alter its mission“. Judging by what’s happening in Tanzania, there’s no sign of that happening.