Outcry over acquisition of Africa’s SeedCo by Monsanto
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) has expressed deep concern on the recent acquisitions of large parts of SeedCo, one of Africa’s largest home-grown seed companies calling it “an inevitable consequence of the fierce drive to commercialise agriculture in Africa.” The deals in question involve French seed giant Groupe Limagrain, the largest seed and plant breeding company in the European Union, who has invested up to US$60 million for a 28% stake in SeedCo. SeedCo has also agreed to sell 49% of its shares in Africa’s only cottonseed company, Quton, to Mahyco of India. Mahyco is 26% owned by Monsanto and has 50:50 joint ventures to sub-license its genetically modified (GM) cotton varieties throughout India. Mahyco also specialises in hybrid cotton varieties, unlike Quton, who also produces open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) of cottonseed.
These acquisitions follow closely on the heels of Swiss biotech giant Syngenta’s take-over in 2013 of Zambian seed company MRI Seed, whose maize germplasm collection was said at the time to be amongst Africa’s most comprehensive and diverse. This effectively means that three of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, all now have a significant foothold on the continent in markets for two of the three major global GM crop varieties: maize and cotton. SeedCo started off as a farmer-led and owned organisation to improve the availability of quality maize seed in 1940. Today it is Africa’s largest seed company, operating in 15 countries across the continent and has significant market shares in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. SeedCo also has access to government and donor-funded input subsidy programmes in Zambia and Malawi and has set its sights on potentially lucrative markets in Nigeria and Ghana.
AFSA expressed concern over what it termed “the creation of an predominantly privately owned seed industry in Africa is a vital component of the Green Revolution push, which equates agrarian transformation in Africa with the adoption of commercial (corporate) certified seed and other expensive inputs such as fertilizer.” The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) claims to collaborate with 80 small and medium sized seed companies across Africa and has also organised public-private-partnerships between seed companies and public research institutions. AFSA questioned how many of these newly established entities will remain independent of global seed industry players.
“Multinational capture of local seed companies is a process that has long been underway in South Africa, a country much further down the Green Revolution path than any other in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said AFSA. In 1999 and 2000 Monsanto purchased two of the country’s largest seed companies, Carnia and Sensako, and the Missouri based company now enjoys a dominant position in South Africa’s commercial seed market. In 2012 the largest domestic seed company, Pannar Seed, was taken-over by US firm Pioneer Hi-Bred, itself a subsidiary of the DuPont chemical company. The purchase not only gave Pioneer access to Pannar’s vast maize germplasm collection and agro-dealer network in South Africa, but also the company’s long established footprint in 23 other countries across the continent. Even the smaller South African companies have now been under undue take over pressure with Link Seed being taken over by in 2013.
Apart from these concerns, AFSA alleges there are numerous worrying implications arising from these deals among them the implications of Mahyco’s (and thus Monsanto’s) involvement in the cotton seed sector in Africa through its SeedCo interests given their focus on hybrid and GM cotton seed, as opposed to SeedCo’s current focus on OPVs? Monsanto’s involvement with public research bodies in Africa through the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is alleged to be a conspiracy whereby scarce African agricultural budgets being used to subsidise the multinational seed industry.
AFSA noted that solutions to Africa’s agricultural challenges can be found in the collaboration between its small-scale farmers and public researchers, with the former taking the lead in setting the research agendas and objectives calling for a key part of public investments in R&D and extension to include identifying, prioritizing and supporting work around participatory plant breeding, participatory variety selection, farmer-managed seed certification and quality assurance systems, identifying and supporting the development of locally important crops on the basis of decentralized participatory R&D and farmer to farmer exchanges. AFSA concluded by noting that the encroachment of the international seed industry takes countries further away from this agricultural vision and closer to neo-colonialism of Africa’s food systems.
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