Of bigger pictures and tightrope walking…

Hello dear friends! It’s been over a week since I returned from the Regional Civil Society Organisations (CSO) meeting: Promoting Seed and Food sovereignty in Harare, Zimbabwe put together by the African Center for Biodiversity (ACB).

Promoting Seed and Food sovereignty meeting

My mind was racing from all the information I got over the 3 day program but my body was somewhat lagging from fatigue. To add to that- I forgot my purse in the hotel safe. Thanks to Cresta Lodge Harare, our hostess Nosizi of PELUM Zimbabwe, ZAAB coordinator Frances and her friends Mic and Talitha I got my purse back in my hands safe and sound! Allow me to let you all know na yamikila maningi. Zikomo. Be blessed! 

Interacting at the meeting

So a little rested from all that: where to start? Long post alert but an important one so do kindly bare with me! Day 2 of the meeting was very interesting! It’s like we didn’t have enough time in the day to get everything done. The aim of it was to engage at a policy level on what seed laws would look like for Africa. Africa as it stands is a goldmine for landrace varieties (seed which have not yet been selected and marketed by seed companies, nor developed by plant breeders).

The African Center for Biodiversity stand up for farmer-saved seeds, agrobiodiversity

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) was center stage on this day. In past interactions with CSO’s, ARIPO have come off as non engaging and non inclusive. They where charged with deliberately shutting CSO’s out of a number meetings to adopt draft Regulations intended to implement the the Arusha PVP Protocol. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) in their July 2015 and as well as April 2017 press releases felt that “the Arusha 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.”

An inter-governmental organization (IGO) that facilitates cooperation among member states in intellectual property matters
The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO)

In the meeting, the ARIPO stated that the drive to register seed is just for the sake of record. It begs the question- why go through the trouble of changing entire regional and national laws? You have to wonder what’s the big picture here? In reading this we ask that you look at the lowly farmer who trustingly shares his seed and details of which have been passed down to him from generations to those that have the backing of IP laws as facilitated by organsiations the like of ARIPO and SADC.

Protecting Farmer Led Seed Systems
Seeds carry in them stories far down you can’t even begin to trace

They say “the system” will be there to facilitate the movement of good varieties across regions. Under this system:

  • Can farmers rights really be protected?
  • What will the information on plant varieties be used for? Who will access it?
  • Seed systems are very complex and we’re trying to simplify our systems to fit into rigid systems. Is it just fitting us into the Multinationals systems? Shouldn’t we instead have a process that allows plasticity and adaptation of the environment?

We feel that these Multinational seed companies- Monsanto, Syngenta, Pannar Seed, Seedco and DuPont; the only 5 to have registered their seed varieties and who have also acquired stakes in a lot of African Seed Companies would be well set to lay claim to seed varieties as their private possessions and to prevent others from using these varieties without the payment of royalties.

There’s a mad rush to register seed varieties

While it was an honour that they graciously accepted the invite to the meeting (in CSO speak that’s being open to interaction and a very, very good sign)- ARIPO course denied shutting CSO’s out of the process stating that resources are sometimes limited and Countries are represented at the meetings by their Government officials who should be the channel for any concerns or inputs into the process. Just wow! Personally to me- this having been the first time I was actually directly interacting with the organisation, I felt their demeanor “tactfully passive aggressive.” It was hard to get any firm commitment or statement from them. Every statement was well thought through- neatly wrapped. You can imagine what tightrope CSO’s are walking to fight for a place at the table in the drafting of Plant Variety Protection laws. There are issues to be addressed at farmer level. The 1st being that Farmer Seed Systems are not recognized. The process to address these issues should be transparent and “actually inclusive.”

Look, many of us lay African’s do not understand what the possible implications of these laws would be. It could change the entire landscape of Africa’s food systems. To protect their property, owners of seed varieties deemed intellectual property can put in place bio-inhibitors that would ensure that anyone using their seed would have to run back to them for help (fertilizers, new seed, pesticides etc.) and farmers who can not afford this will be cut out. India, where similar laws have been implemented, has seen a rise in farmer suicides that have been attributed to several socio-economic factors that have enabled an environment vulnerable to distress in the agricultural belts.

A mouthful I know- but it conversations that need to be had no matter how uncomfortable. Imagine what loops we might be setting ourselves up to go through if we give off power to foreign entities with regards to the diversity of our food. How will it effect our health? Our ecology?

As CSO’s we are committed to continuing the battle to safeguard our seed and food sovereignty- to saving our food systems, improve our nutrition and health and to saving our planet. We’re all connected in this perfect circle called life. Be awake.

Seed should be free

I hope reading this has you thinking about yourself and the future of our Planet today. Be in touch with me on Twitter and Facebook. Your thoughts mean everything to me. Spark a conversation with your family; friends; colleagues and even the stranger on the bus. Please let me know even if you haven’t thought about anything…tell me about ‘nothing!’ Let’s inspire changes for a better life!

As always- I wish you love and light.

Yours in health- naturally


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