The International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty’s (IPC) Working Group on Agrobiodiversity is in Rome this week to participate in the Open-Ended Working Group negotiations. The aim is to enhance the functioning of the Multilateral System, and to fight the private interests that try to get rid of their obligations as set by the FAO Plant Treaty 20 years ago. La Via Campesina members are also part of this group in the Rome meeting, to defend peasants’ rights to seeds and genetic resources, against the biopiracy of the seed industry supported by rich countries.
What is the Multilateral System?
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) was adopted by the Thirty-First Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on 3 November 2001. The Treaty’s Multilateral System, puts 64 of our most important crops – crops that together account for 80 percent of the food we derive from plants – into an easily accessible global pool of genetic resources that is freely available to potential users in the Treaty’s ratifying nations for some uses.
Most of these samples have been collected from the fields of the farmers who selected them and reproduced them from generation to generation. They represent nearly 40% of the samples stored in germplasm banks. Sixty percent of them come from national collections, 5% from private collections and 35% from international seed banks (CGIAR).
Agriculture needs an enabling access and benefit-sharing system. Such a system should recognize interdependence, trigger the exchange of genetic material of plant origin on a multilateral and facilitated basis. But most importantly such a system must instill fairness and recognize that the global pool to which access is facilitated is continuously enriched by the contributions of farmers worldwide.
A practical and fair access and benefit-sharing system must ensure that genetic resources continue to flow worldwide, while those individuals who selected and conserve those resources are adequately rewarded.
How the access to the Multilateral System works?
The mechanism for obtaining specific genetic resources is through a standardized contract referred to as a “Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA). The SMTA is a binding private bilateral contract between the provider and recipient which states the terms and conditions for use of the genetic resource.
According to the IPC, “Governments, when they negotiated the mechanism, limited the application of the Multilateral System to resources that they could manage and control directly, since most of them are held in national germplasm banks. Plant genetic resources in the public domain should be considered as those which are not the subject of intellectual property rights…..Facilitated access through the multilateral system is for the purposes of utilization and conservation for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture… Such purposes do not include chemical, pharmaceutical and/or other non-food/feed industrial uses.”
How the benefit sharing mechanism should work?
The ITPGRFA sets forth the basic structure of monetary benefit sharing under the Multilateral System, but it is the SMTA that defines how much is to be shared.
The beneficiary who markets products (containing PGRFA or genetic parts or components of PGRFA from the Multilateral System) with restrictions has two alternative options for monetary benefit sharing:
- he or she pays 0.77 per cent on the net sales of the commercialized product with restrictions for a period corresponding to the duration of such restriction (for instance, 20 years in the case of intellectual property rights-based restrictions), OR
- he pays 0.5 per cent on the sales of all PGRFA products of the same crop to which the accessed material belongs for 10 years (renewable).
In this second case, the payment is higher and in return, the beneficiary can access all the genetic material of that crop without paying for other SMTAs.
SMTA-generated monetary benefits flow into a multilateral fund – namely the Benefit Sharing Fund. This fund is also open to direct contributions and benefits arising from the use of PGRFA that are shared under the multilateral system would flow primarily to farmers, especially in developing countries, who conserve and use PGRFA in a sustainable manner.
However, these payments are optional when commercialized seeds are available “without restriction for research and breeding”, i.e. when they are free of any intellectual property rights or covered by a plant variety right that only limits farmers’ rights and not breeders’ rights.
But industry’s not paying its share
For 15 years, no payments have been made. Seed companies holding patents restricting facilitated access (for research and breeding), which are the only ones subject to mandatory payments, do not pay by taking advantage of the absence of a traceability requirement for PGRFA trade to avoid reporting their use of PGRFA from the Multilateral System. At the time of the blockchain, however, such traceability is technically possible and exists within each company. But industry hides behind trade secrets to provide no information.
In the absence of contributions from beneficiaries, some States and private individuals made voluntary payments to initiate the Fund. Over the past years, the Fund has only raised around $10 million. In comparison, the Global Crop Diversity Trust Fund for ex situ conservation (in gene banks) mobilized $314 million from contributions from rich countries and industrial foundations. It is therefore not the lack of money that explains the negligence of the Benefit Sharing Fund, but the political choice not to pay for the work of farmers in selecting, retaining and renewing PGRFA.
To get out of the circumvention of benefit sharing by beneficiaries, the IPC Working Group on Agrobiodiversity proposes to make payments mandatory through two mechanisms.
Access to the sole information on a genetic sequence contained in a PGRFA allows today, without the need to access the physical PGRFA itself, to reconstitute this sequence in the laboratory with synthetic biology or to identify it in other plants for integration into new seeds with new biotechnologies, or by crossbreeding if it has been identified in sexually compatible plants. Such information is compiled in huge databases of data that are freely accessible via the Internet. Whatever the conclusions of current international discussions on regulating access to such genetic information for benefit sharing, no State can now control free access to the databases that compile it on the Internet.
So, while the seed industry has benefited enormously from this facilitated access to the Treaty material, they never shared the benefits equitably and the majority of States continue to adopt intellectual property laws, which violate farmers’ rights. In response to this failure, the Treaty began work in 2013 to “improve” its functioning. The Ad Hoc Open-Ended Working Group to Enhance the Functioning of the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing was created.
Over the last five years no agreement has been reached, because differences remains between developing and reach countries. After 20 years since the Treaty entered into force, its survival is threatened by the seed industry’s refusal to pay its debt and respect farmers’ rights.
Digital Sequence Information – DSI
Recent advances in biotechnology and genetic sequencing enormously increase that risk. In fact, they allow industry plant breeders to stop working by observing the physical characteristics of plants, and to analyze on their computer screens the digital representation of their genetic sequences. Access only to the digital information of a genetic sequence (Digital Sequence Information – DSI) contained in a PGRFA now allows, without the need to access the physical PGRFA itself, to reconstitute this sequence in the laboratory with synthetic biology or to identify it in other plants for integration in new seeds with new biotechnologies, or by crosses if it has been identified in sexually compatible plants. Rich countries and industry consider that this DSI is not a genetic resource subject to prior consent and benefit-sharing obligations of the Nagoya Treaty or Protocol.
Industrialized countries make these claims even if the Treaty is very clear when it refers to the access to the physical material and the “associated information”. However, there is no agreement on this and rich countries do not take a step behind this red line.
Another main unsolved (and maybe unsolvable) issue is the payment rates in the subscription system. The industrialized countries, especially Canada, Germany and Switzerland want to set a very low payment rate of 0,011% of the sales of the material covered by the Multilateral System of the Treaty, while the payment requested by developing countries is 0,1%.
Source: La Via Campesina
Almost 2,000 land and environmental defenders were killed between 2012 and 2022 for simply standing up to protect our planet and us all from the accelerating climate crisis.
For the past 11 years, Global Witness has documented and denounced waves of threats, violence and killings of land and environmental defenders across the world, and 2022 marks the beginning of our second decade documenting lethal attacks. The world has changed dramatically since we started documenting these in 2012. But one thing that has not changed is the relentlessness of the killings.
Last year, at least 177 defenders lost their lives for protecting our planet, bringing the total number of killings to 1,910 since 2012. At least 1,390 of these killings took place between the adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015 and 31 December 2022.
On average, a defender was killed every other day in 2022, just as was the case in 2021. Although the overall figure is slightly lower last year than in 2021, when we recorded 200 killings, this does not mean that the situation has significantly improved. The worsening climate crisis and the ever-increasing demand for agricultural commodities, fuel and minerals will only intensify the pressure on the environment – and those who risk their lives to defend it. Increasingly, non-lethal strategies such as criminalisation, harassment and digital attacks are also being used to silence defenders.
The situation in Latin America remains particularly concerning. In 2022, the region accounted for 88% of killings – an ever-growing majority of the world’s cases. A total of 11 of the 18 countries where we documented cases in 2022 were in Latin America.
Colombia tops the global ranking with 60 murders in yet another dire year for the country. This is almost double the number of killings compared to 2021, when 33 defenders lost their lives. Once again, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, small-scale farmers and environmental activists have been viciously targeted. Yet there is hope; when Gustavo Petro, the first leftist president in contemporary Colombia, took office in August 2022, he promised social transformation and enhanced protection for defenders. No government had committed to that before.
In Brazil, 34 defenders lost their lives, compared to 26 in 2021. Defenders in Brazil faced relentless hostility from former president Jair Bolsonaro’s government, whose policies have opened up the Amazon to exploitation and destruction, have undermined environmental institutions and have fuelled illegal invasions of indigenous lands.
Mexico, the country with the highest number of killings in 2021, saw a significant drop from 54 murders in 2021 to 31 in 2022. At least 16 of those killed were Indigenous peoples, and four were lawyers. The overall situation in Mexico remained dire for land and environmental defenders, and non-lethal attacks – including intimidation, threats, forced displacement, harassment and criminalisation – continued to seriously hamper their work.
With 14 murders in 2022, Honduras has the world’s highest per-capita killings. The country’s first-ever female president, Xiomara Castro, has committed to protecting defenders. Yet early trends from 2023 point to ongoing rife violence, with reports of killings and non-lethal attacks across the country.
Read more: globalwitness
Africa Climate Summit 2023 Set to Surrender the Continent to Green Colonialism
—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—
August 30, 2023; 12:00 AM PDT
- Officials from African governments, international institutions, and the private sector will converge at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, September 4 – 6, 2023, to shape the course of Africa’s climate action.
- With carbon offset schemes and tree plantations set to take center stage — despite their devastating impact along with the corruption and fraud that plague voluntary carbon markets — the Oakland Institute denounces the alarming direction taken by the event.
- An examination of the African Forestry Impact Platform (AFIP), bankrolled by European development finance institutions, Japanese oil interests, and an Australian investment firm, lays bare the green colonialism that President Ruto of Kenya is promoting on the continent.
Oakland, CA — With carbon offset schemes and tree plantations set to take center stage at the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) and Africa Climate Week (ACW) — despite their devastating social and environmental impacts and the prevailing corruption and fraud within the voluntary carbon markets — a new report from the Oakland Institute, Green Colonialism 2.0: Tree Plantations and Carbon Offsets in Africa, denounces the alarming direction taken by the Summit. Starting on September 4, 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya, the two events aim to establish a common position for Africa on the climate crisis for the upcoming COP 28 conference in Dubai, slated for December 2023.
The outcome will have significant implications, given the ACS and ACW — both organized by the government of Kenya — are expected to shape the trajectory of climate action for the continent. The focus and intentions of the events, centered on “leveraging” Africa’s abundant “assets” to drive “green growth and climate finance solutions,” raise serious concerns. “This approach only paves the way for further resource extraction while sidelining the rights and interests of local and Indigenous communities,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.
Bankrolled by European development finance institutions, Japanese oil interests, and an Australian investment firm, the African Forestry Impact Platform (AFIP), examined in the report, exemplifies the green colonialism that President Ruto of Kenya is promoting on the continent — opening the door for more extraction of Africa’s resources. Despite AFIP’s claim of promoting “nature-based solutions,” a troubling pattern of exploitation and greenwashing underscores its investments, stakeholders, and financial backers. AFIP’s first acquisition is Green Resources, a Norwegian plantation forestry and carbon credit company notorious for its history of land grabbing, human rights violations, and environmental destruction across Uganda, Mozambique, and Tanzania.
Kenya’s promotion of voluntary carbon markets overlooks their fundamental flaws. Over the span of more than two decades, they have miserably failed to reduce carbon emissions, and instead wreaked social havoc by causing forced evictions, loss of livelihoods, and violence. Conflicts of interest, fraud, and speculation plague these markets while the expansion of carbon offset schemes and tree plantations results in expropriation of community lands to generate profits for investors. Far from benefiting Africa, the expansion of carbon markets sustains the status quo of resource exploitation, greenhouse gas pollution, and North/South power imbalances.
“The ACS and ACW represent a pivotal moment. African leaders have a historic opportunity to reject the false solutions that perpetuate the same exploitative model of colonialism that has fueled this environmental catastrophe. Instead, they must listen to the calls of over 400 African civil society organizations(link is external) and prioritize real solutions that account for historical responsibility, uphold the rights of Indigenous and local communities, and pave the way for an equitable and just transition. African people deserve climate justice, not more extractivism,” concluded Mittal.
African Development Bank’s Push for large scale Agriculture in Africa will spark more concerns over Food Sovereignty and Environmental Impacts.
Panel at the second international summit on food production in Dakar, 10 February 2023, from left to right: Allan Kasujja, BBC (moderator); Admassu Tadesse, Trade and Development Bank; Danladi Verheijen, Verod Capital; M. Malick Ndiaye, Banque Agricole; Dr. Olagunju Ashimolowo, ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development; M. Wagner Albuquerque de Almeida, International Finance Corporation. Source: African Development Bank Group.
“Agriculture must become Africa’s new oil,” said Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), at the inauguration of the “Feed Africa: Food Sovereignty and Resilience” (Dakar 2) summit, held in late January 2023 in Senegal. He spoke to 34 African heads of state and 70 ministers, representatives of the European Commission, the United States and several European countries, as well as multilateral institutions such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
While one of the main objectives of the Bank at the summit was to attract private financing for its projects, the intervention of the director of the Nigerian private equity fund Verod Capital explains the challenge: “I know that we talk about the future of Africa as being that of smallholder farmers, but (…), it is really difficult to experience governance at this level. Smallholder farmers are not the most efficient enterprises. Their bargaining power is limited, they have less money to invest in the infrastructure needed for more efficient agriculture and to get their products to market (…). So, we need bigger businesses where we can deploy capital. I think it will attract more private capital. » Verod is one of the 70 private equity funds in which the AfDB is a shareholder.
In financial terms, the Bank has a certain weight in the continent. It currently has USD 240 billion to invest and a portfolio of USD 56.6 billion already invested. The main sectors covered by this portfolio are: transport (27%), electricity (20%), finance (18%) and agriculture (13%).
Often these investments lead to conflicts with affected local communities. According to the Environmental Justice Atlas, the Bank is involved in at least 14 ongoing social and environmental conflicts. It is in this context that social movements and women’s groups are preparing an African civil society campaign against the AfDB.
So how does the Bank work? Which actors benefit the most? What agricultural model is it promoting? And what role does it play in relation to the struggles for food sovereignty in Africa?
Dakar 2 and the Era of Pacts
Among the “successes” of Dakar 2 claimed by the AfDB is the agreement to implement the “Food and Agricultural Supply Pacts” for 40 countries for the next 5 years. The African Union has declared its strong support for this initiative.
A first reading of the pacts surprises by the lack of care taken in their drafting. For example, the pacts of Burundi and Cape Verde are incomplete, and that of Togo does not make it possible to know whether it concerns this country, Niger or Madagascar. In others, like that of Cameroon, certain parts of the text are copied several times. Despite the supposed importance of these initiatives in attracting funding from the private sector and development banks and agencies, the total cost of the projects is unclear. Our conservative estimate of the total cost is around USD 65 billion.
Far from promoting agro-biodiversity, which is Africa’s wealth, the pacts aim to promote mainly corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and palm oil. The aim is to increase their yields through the industrialisation of “value chains”, which will extend to livestock, dairy and fisheries. To do this, the pacts will promote mechanisation, certified seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, often via tax exemption on imports and other types of subsidies.
Throughout the summit it was repeated that 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa. This is why the expansion of cultivated area is strongly on the agenda in the pacts and covers tens, hundreds of thousands or even millions of hectares, depending on the country. For example, under the Tanzania pact, only 23% of the land available for agriculture would be cultivated. The document proposes prioritising the production of wheat, avocado, market garden produce and sunflower. For this, it refers to the need to expand the agricultural area by more than two million hectares by 2025, in particular through a “transfer” of land currently owned by the village councils. The government is reportedly already identifying and acquiring land for industrial agriculture, installing irrigation infrastructure, an agreement with the “Building Better Tomorrow” initiative.
The provision of open trade policies aimed at attracting investment, especially from the private sector, is also mentioned in the pacts, often in the form of very problematic public-private partnerships. Among other policies aimed at attracting investment, the Kenya pact refers to the absence of restrictions on the repatriation of earnings and capital. It is also worrying that the pacts are based on failed agro-industrial programs. This is the case, for example, of that of Gabon, which specifies that the implementation will be based “on the institutional mechanism already existing and set up by the support project for the GRAINE program”. This program was entrusted to a public-private partnership between the Gabonese government and the multinational Olam in 2015. It has been denounced by the affected communities for having led to the grabbing of thousands of hectares by oil palm plantations.
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