The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)[1]?strongly condemns the move by the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) to join UPOV 1991, which will effectively outlaw the?centuries-old African farmers? practice of freely using, exchanging and selling seeds/propagating material. These practices underpin 90% of the agricultural system within the ARIPO region.[2]

AFSA has learnt that the Secretary General of ARIPO, on 6 March 2014, requested the UPOV Council to consider the?Draft ARIPO Protocol for the Protection of Plant Varieties??(?Draft Protocol?) for its conformity with the UPOV 1991 Convention[3]. If at the UPOV meeting?to be held in Geneva on?11 April 2014, the UPOV Council decides that the Draft Protocol is indeed in conformity with UPOV 1991, and that ARIPO member states that ratify the Draft Protocol can join UPOV 1991, the implications will be far reaching.

According to?Duke Tagoe?from Food Sovereignty Ghana, a grassroots movement aggressively and successfully opposing Ghana?s Plant Variety Protection Bill, ?this will mean that our government in Ghana, who has been struggling to pass our Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Bill because of local resistance that it is based on UPOV 1991, can simply dump our national processes and disregard farmer? rights, ratify the ARIPO Protocol and become a UPOV 1991 member, all in one foul swoop. This is wholly unconstitutional, violates the rule of law and is totally outrageous.?

 

According to?Mariam Mayet?of the African Centre for Biosafety, an AFSA member, ?ARIPO is acting way beyond its legal mandate. Furthermore, we are of the firm view that this move by ARIPO is inviolation of several African regional instruments, including and especially the fundamental rights and freedoms protected by the African Charter on Human and People?s Rights. We will seek the necessary redress in this regard.?

AFSA has made several submissions to ARIPO detailing its many concerns with the content of the Draft Protocol, which is based onUPOV 1991, and the bias and lack of transparency in the accompanying processes[4]. These concerns have fallen on deaf ears. In this regard, AFSA has warned ARIPO and its member states that UPOV 1991 is a wholly inappropriate, inflexible and restrictive regime designed for?developed countries (particularly European nations) and the development of large-scale commercial farming and breeding focused on producing uniform plant varieties. Such a ?one-size-fits-all? regime is unsuitable for African conditions, particularly for the ?Least Developed Countries?, which make up the majority of ARIPO members.

 

According to?Dr Million Belay, AFSA Coordinator, ?We are appalled by the provisions of ARIPO?s draft protocol based on UPOV 1991, thatforbid farmers from?freely exchanging or selling farm-saved seed/propagating material even in circumstances wherebreeders? interests are not affected (e.g. small amounts or local rural trade). Use of farm-saved seeds on a farmer?s own holdings is allowed only for certain crops and this too may be subject to the payment of royalties to the breeder. Further, farmers will be required to provide information to breeders on the use of farm-saved seed.??This is totally unacceptable.?

The informal seed system prevailing in ARIPO member states is the primary source of subsistence, employment and income for the majority of the population in the ARIPO region, which consists mainly of the rural poor. About 80-90% of all seed used in the ARIPO region originates from the informal seed system (i.e. from farm-savedseed, exchanges, barter and local markets) independent of whether farmers cultivate local or modern varieties. According to?Dr Belay, ?The proposed draft protocol dismisses the millions of smallholders in ARIPO member states who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, with the vast majority using farm-saved seed to ensure their food security. ARIPO appears to be intent on handing over our food and seedsovereignty to foreign corporations, reducing the availability of local plant varieties, weakening our rich biodiversity, and denying millions of farmers the right to breed, share and sell farm saved seed needed to feed their families and sustain livelihoods.?

AFSA demands that UPOV member states not allow ARIPO to join UPOV 1991 and that the Draft Protocol be sent back to the drawing board; that ARIPO consult with smallholders;?and, especially, that it discuss appropriate seed laws for Africa, with the obligation of protecting biodiversity, farmers? rights and overall ecological productivity entrenched as a primary objective.

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