While the African model law recognises plant breeders’ rights, these rights are limited and patents on seeds, such as are allowed on GM seeds under UPOV and WIPO regimes, are excluded. This approach is recognised and permitted under WTO exceptions under the sui generis rule. This principle has been adopted into Indian seed laws, where similar concerns exist.
A substantial number of broad indigenous farmers networks throughout Africa have condemned the draft protocol to accept the ratification of UPOV. Most SADC nations have already agreed in principle to accept the provisions of International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources on Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), which enables far more flexibility and participation in seed transactions than the restrictive proposals of UPOV, yet this agreement too is threatened.
This matter appears to be coming to a head. Several quasi-‘indigenous’ seed organisations such as the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) and Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), funded by USAID, have, without due consultation with representative farmers groups in these areas, pushed for the ratification of UPOV 1991. On the other hand properly mandated farmers’ networks demand that national consultations be held to discuss and analyse these proposals.
What is at play here is a direct conflict between peasant farmers networks and the neo-colonial attempt to subvert African agriculture by restrictive, first world regulation. The Southern African model is being repeated in East and West Africa, through similar comprador networks.
What will happen should UPOV be broadly adopted? As soon as indigenous seed becomes contaminated by patent protected seed varieties, all rights to share and trade that seed will be lost, forever.
The irony of this is profound, as the very germplasm, which Monsanto and Pioneer rely on is the result of thousands of years of peasant breeding that remains categorically unrecognised. What is good for the goose is clearly not good for the gander. The end result will only see one winner, which will certainly not be indigenous African farmers.
If there was ever a time for the vocal proponents for African unity and values to step forward, it is now. Should they fail, African leadership will be harshly judged for enabling the next phase of neo-colonialism to unfold unopposed.
By: Glenn Ashton