East African farmers under the umbrella of civil society organisations have petitioned the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO), following the latter’s proposed draft of a regional harmonised policy and legal framework on plant variety protection.
The draft policy, which is based on the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Convention of 1991, will make it mandatory for small-scale farmers in East Africa to buy all their seeds from multinational firms and stop using seeds from past harvests.
The group faults the process used to develop the draft policy and the negative impact its adoption would have on small-scale farmers, food security and on agricultural biodiversity.
Mariam Mayet, director of the African Centre for Biosafety told The EastAfrican that the legal framework will not only facilitate the theft of African germplasm and privatisation of seed breeding, but will ensure the unhindered creation of a commercial seed market.
She said such a market will see farmers’ rights to freely use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds taken away as the types of seeds on offer will be restricted to commercially protected varieties.
Michael Farrelly, director of the Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity, told The EastAfrican that the proposed law does not take into consideration Tanzania’s 4.8 million smallholder farmers who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and who plant using seeds from previous crops.
Mr Farrelly said the draft policy would reduce the availability of local plant varieties, weaken Tanzania’s rich biodiversity and deny millions of farmers the right to breed and share seeds.
Moses Mulumba from the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development in Uganda said the proposed law did not consult farmers, civil society organisations and farmers’ movements.
“It is unimaginable that the ARIPO could facilitate and encourage African governments to adopt the comprehensive International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 law without first ensuring that all stake holders were consulted,” said Mr Mulumba.
He said it is crucial for ARIPO to undertake comprehensive consultations with all relevant stakeholders and desist from rushing governments into adopting the draft legislation.
Mr Mulumba added there was a need to support the development of a legal framework that acknowledged the contribution of farmers as breeders, and upheld and promoted the customary practices of small-scale farmers.
The draft policy will give powers to ARIPO regional offices to grant and administer breeders’ rights on behalf of all the contracting states and provide adequate opportunities for consultations with farmers, farmer movements and civil society organisations before any further work is undertaken.
The draft policy also paves the way for the African Union to start discussions on the cultivation, import and export of genetically modified crops in Africa at the next AU summit to be held in January 2013.