Seeds & Farmers

The seeds are the basis of many food crops. The access to quality seeds, well adapted to local conditions, at affordable price and the protection of biodiversity are two crucial points for farmers. But free access is threatened by conventions on  ressources and by payment of royalties for intellectual property rights at the global level, at the request of developed countries and for the benefit of companies from these countries. The southern countries have denounced the abuses of the seed industry. They claim the conservation of biological diversity and the recognition and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.


The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) signed in 2005 recognized the rights of farmers to save, sow, exchange and sell seeds, but subject to national laws. However these rights under the responsibility of States are not yet implemented.


SEEDS, GMO crops and family farming  

In Africa and elsewhere, farmers do not need high technology as much as access to seeds that are adapted to varying local conditions.

1.   Seeds: What is at stake ?

Most African smallholders have a very rich and practical know-how based on agricultural biodiversity.  This knowledge, associated with certain agro-ecological techniques[1], allows them to obtain very satisfactory results.  Organic fertiliser and anti-erosion measures mean they can double or even quadruple the yield of local seeds. An integrated approach to predators without using pesticides has seen a further yield increase of more than 30% - and there are no pesticides to pay for.  For example, in Mali the rice producer who won the prize for the best yield with more than 8 tons per hectare only used organic manure and local seeds.
Source : "Politiques agricoles africaines et développement des exploitations agricoles familiales"

 The real problem of African smallholders is that the access to quality seeds is limited by price and availability. The number of varieties adapted to local conditions diminishes with the loss of biodiversity (and its causes) and with the monopoly of ownership held by ten powerful multi-nationals.  At least 75% of all known food crops have disappeared in the course of the last century. Most food comes from 12 crops and 14 kinds of animals.  Industry will never be able to produce plants capable of adapting themselves to the whole range of local conditions.  It will come up with a few, but these will only grow with the addition of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

2. GMOs

GMOs were not developed with food security in mind.  They deprive people of control of their food resources and of income.  Moreover, their characteristics are threatened by the environment: crops and insects develop resistance to genetic modification.  

In July 2010, the European Commission proposed a law for the EU that opens the door to the crops of GMOs and endangers refractory countries such as Italy, Ireland ... This proposal will take two years to be put into place. As EC intends to give more flexibility to each State, that issue is almost certain to be aired in the EU court of Justice, which has been assiduous in protecting the single market. See

Note : Monocultures rely on the uniformity provided by GMOs and industrial seeds. They reduce jobs, access to land and water and the fertility of the soil and in so doing encouragement migration from the country into urban areas without assuring food security. (IAASTD Report)

3. A civil campaign and the right to exchange seeds (ITPGR)

There is a treaty that protects the right to conserve, generate, exchange or sell seeds and ‘phytogenetic resources’.  It is the ITPGR, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, and was signed by countries wishing to preserve pre-GMO seeds. However, the political will, finance and other means to put it into practice are in short supply. Gene banks have been privatised and farmers’ access to these resources is steadily decreasing.

In the EU, a civil campaign is taking shape to put pressure on the EC to examine this question and to recognise this right.  In Africa there are already many civil society initiatives that aim to have these gene banks and exchanges, whatever the cost. The seed companies are fighting against initiatives, for example: private funding of gene banks (Canada, AGRA), regional consultations on draft guidelines on biosecurity relating to plantations, marketing and GM food aid.

To read more on seeds, see

4. Equitable benefit-sharing in Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

A legally binding protocol on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing is to be adopted by the 193 governments that are party to the Conventional Biological Diversity in Japan 18-29 October 2010. The negotiators should commit to a protocol that aims to ensure that the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources are shared fairly and equitably with biodiversity-rich but financially poor countries. They also should recognise the rights of indigenous and local communities to decide over access to genetic resources on their land, which they customarily use (prior informed consent required). But if biodiversity interests are not put above industrial and economic interests, these negotiations will miss an opportunity to tackle poverty and loss of biodiversity and genetic resources in Africa and in developing countries. More news later on

[1] Agroecology combines different crops and livestock to take advantage from their interactions and from the balance between them to reduce the risk of outbreaks or infestations and to increase yields

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