African CSOs kick against Arusha Protocol

16 August, Public Agenda: The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) has vented its spleen on African governments for ignoring the protest of farmers and proceeded to adopt the Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plant (Arusha PVP Protocol).

AFSA believes that the adoption of the Arusha PVP protocol is an oppressive move meant to open up African countries to commercial seed monopolists while limiting farmers’ right to save, use, exchange, replant, as well as distribute and sell the seeds they have developed over the countless number of years.

AFSA argues that the Arusha Protocol is a revised version of a previous Draft ARIPO Protocol which had come under severe attack by Civil Society groups across the continent because it was based on the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) which was a restrictive and inflexible international legal guideline totally unsuitable for Africa.

The ARIPO PVP Protocol, according to AFSA, proposed extremely strong intellectual property rights to breeders while restricting the age-old practices of African farmers to save, use, and share propagating materials.

“These practices are the backbone of Agricultural system in Sub- Saharan Africa. They have ensured the production and maintenance of a diverse pool of genetic resources by farmers themselves and have safeguarded food and nutrition of tens of millions of Africans in the ARIPO region,”AFSA observes.

At a news conference in Accra over the weekend after a Pan African advocacy workshop, the Chairman of AFSA, Mr Bernard Guri, claimed the Arusha Protocol was part of the broader push in Africa to ensure regionally seamless and expedited trade in commercially bred varieties for the benefit, mainly of the foreign seed industry.

Mr Guri noted that multinational seed companies intended to lay claim to seed varieties as their private possession and to prevent others from using these varieties without the payment of royalties.

He said despite its well-established track record of constructive engagement with ARIPO on the Draft ARIPO PVP Protocol as well as it being a body of Pan-African regional farmers NGOs, AFSA was purposely excluded from the Arusha deliberations.

He stressed, “Arusha PVP Protocol has major implication for the national decision-making. AFSA’s exclusion is a violation of the right of farmers to participate in decision-making on matters related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.”

To that effect, he said, AFSA was vehemently opposed to the Arusha PVP protocol. He indicated that that Protocol’s underlying imperatives were to increase co-operate seed imports, reduce breeding activity at the national level and facilitate the monopoly by foreign companies of local seeds systems and the disruption of traditional farming systems.

Mr Guri stressed, “AFSA remained committed to ensuring that farmers as breeders and users remain at centre of localized seed production system and continue to exercise their rights freely save, use exchange, replant improve, distribute and sell all the seed in their seed systems.”

The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) had thrown its support behind AFSA, saying, any move to disrupt the African seed system would be fiercely resisted. The PFAG said the whole process of developing the Arusha Protocol was fundamentally flawed, as it was extremely non-transparent, and thus lacked credibility and legitimacy.

That, according to the Association, was because farmers and civil society groups in the sub- region had been cut out, and denied participation at the point where a decision was taken.