AFSA Condemns COMESA’s Approval of Seed Trade Regulations
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) has strongly condemned the approval of the draft COMESA Seed Trade Harmonization Regulations, in September 2013, by the Council of Ministers of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).
The COMESA seed regulations which are set to be binding on all COMESA Member States in terms of article 9 of the COMESA Treaty are said to spell disaster for Smallholder farmers and food sovereignty in the region at large. In a statement released by AFSA, after the approval, AFSA stated that the move, despite its huge impact on people – especially smallholder farmers – it did not demonstrate the involvement of and consultation with the citizens in COMESA countries, particularly small scale farmers, despite numerous pleas to COMESA to consult with small farmers.
According to the statement, submissions made by CSOs and small scale farmer representatives to a COMESA workshop organized by the ACTESA during 27 and 28 March 2013 in Lusaka, Zambia containing concerns both about the flawed nature of the process and the implications of the regulations for small farmers and agricultural biodiversity in Africa, have pointedly been ignored.
About the Regulations
The ostensible rationale for the seed regulations, the statement reads, is to increase the diversity, quality and quantity of seed available for farmers in the region and reduce the transaction costs for the seed industry which they currently face, brought about by differing regulatory and trade arrangements across countries in the region. These differing regulatory arrangements are regarded as non-tariff barriers. The envisaged scenario is the free flow- regionally seamless trade of seed across national boundaries in the COMESA region, which in turn will attract improved private investment through the expanded markets.
Furthermore, AFSA condemns the approval of the regulations as the entire orientation of the Regulations is towards genetically uniform, commercially bred varieties in terms of seed quality control and variety registration whereas smallholder farmers in Africa, seeking to develop or maintain varieties, create local seed enterprises or cultivate locally adapted varieties are excluded from the proposed COMESA Seed Certification System and Variety Release System. This is because smallholder farmers’ varieties will not fulfill the requirements for distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS).
On another note, the AFSA statement also notes that eight member states of COMESA (The Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe) are also member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which itself has a set of Technical Agreements on Harmonisation of Seed Regulations in the SADC Region, that differ from the COMESA regulations in significant aspects, particularly relating to the registration of landraces and other local varieties and the registration of genetically modified varieties. The incompatibility between these regulations is a cause for concern and will no doubt give rise to a great deal of anomalies and confusion.
According to the Food Alliance, the regulations turn a blind eye to small farmers and their traditional seed varieties. They do not contain any measures to safeguard the diversity on-farm and the continued maintenance of heterogeneous crop varieties, which is so vital to ensure food security and resilient food systems for the future. Hence, the primary concerns centre around the extent to which the variety release and seed certification provisions will impact on the conservation of plant genetic diversity of heirloom, traditional, open pollinated varieties and landraces.
That is because these varieties are typically unregistered plant varieties and those that are not protected by plant breeders’ rights, patents and other forms of intellectual property. These varieties will typically not meet the DUS requirements set out in the law and will not qualify for registration on the COMESA regional variety listing. Indeed, there is nothing in the seed regulations that safeguard genetic diversity from being eroded.
Another concern by the pan-African Alliance is that the regulations are silent on the protection of farmers’ rights which arise from the past, present and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving and making available genetic resources, particularly those in the centers of origin/diversity. The concept of Farmers’ Rights is recognized in the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture (FAO) International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, (“The Seed Treaty”), which entered into force in 2004.
Lack of Access is also another concern of the Alliance as the seed regulations, according to AFSA, do not promote equal access to the COMESA seed market for all players. The legislation has not adopted a fair approach to all players in the sector. The COMESA seed regulations have created only one system, one that favours genetically uniform commercial seed. No thought has gone into the creation of a suitable system for farmers’ varieties at all.
The general views by AFSA is that, while farmers need to have access to good quality seeds, the COMESA seed regulations are not oriented towards the needs of small farmers; but have been formulated for the benefit of corporate seed producers that seek to control the seed and food markets in the COMESA region. Small farmers will not be able to afford the cost of purchasing registered seeds, despite the anticipated increased availability of such seeds on the regional market.
AFSA demands that the COMESA Seed regulations be scrapped in their entirety, calling for upon donors to desist from supporting the implementation of these regulations, which undermine our national sovereignty and policy space. The Alliance also calls for an open, transparent process, involving small farmers especially, to discuss appropriate seed laws for Africa, where the obligation of protecting biodiversity, farmers’ rights and overall ecological productivity is entrenched as a primary objective.
You can read the full statement and other Statements by AFSA here
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