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What future for seeds under the African Free Trade Area?



The African Union is putting the finishing touches to the draft protocol on intellectual property rights to the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Once ratified, this text will form an integral part of the AfCFTA and will be applied across all 54-member countries. The protocol will apply to all categories of intellectual property, including plant varieties, genetic resources and traditional knowledge. Specifically, it will aim to promote “coherent” intellectual property rights policy and a harmonised system of intellectual property protection throughout the continent (article 2.2.).
Given that intellectual property rights privatise agricultural biodiversity – our collective heritage and the cornerstone of food sovereignty – the implications of this protocol on seeds and the rights of peasants and rural communities in Africa must be carefully analysed.
Around the world, free trade agreements are forcing the privatisation of seeds, whether through patents or plant breeders’ rights. These rights enable seed companies to demand royalty payments from farmers for each generation of seeds they use, over a period of 20 to 25 years. According to seed companies such as Syngenta and Bayer, without these payments they will be unable to invest in research.
This same system is now rapidly gaining ground in Africa, potentially upsetting relationships between citizens within members states, and even between the member states themselves.
Article 8 of the draft protocol addresses this issue. It stipulates that state parties shall provide protection for new plant varieties through a legal system that includes farmers’ rights, plant breeders’ rights, and rules on access and benefit sharing “as appropriate”.
Furthermore, it adds that states shall comply with “additional obligations” set out in an annex to be developed once the protocol is adopted. Upon adoption, this annex, along with the annexes on traditional knowledge and genetic resources, will have the same legal value as the protocol (article 41 of the protocol).
Our analysis of these provisions seeks to address the following questions: What does this protocol mean for African countries? How will they implement it? What impact will it have on farmers and food sovereignty in Africa?
The meaning of the protocol
Spurred on by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and under pressure from other bodies, half of all African countries have already introduced an intellectual property rights system on seeds. The vast majority follow the model of the 1991 convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). (See graph.)
This system is highly criticised for promoting genetic uniformity of crops and preventing peasants from reusing seeds. The question now is whether the AfCFTA protocol will challenge this dominant system. The final draft text suggests that the answer is ‘no’.
Despite progressive-sounding references to farmers’ rights and benefit sharing, the protocol sets out the same requirements as the WTO, i.e., states must set up a plant variety protection system. Given that half the African countries already adhere to the UPOV model, it is highly likely that the AfCFTA protocol will simply reinforce, or even accelerate, this trend.
The protocol’s approach, consisting of requiring both the protection of breeders’ rights and farmers’ rights, as well as rules on access to genetic resources, is a ploy in the sense that the use of “as appropriate” strips it of all relevance. Presented in this way, the provision becomes more of a guideline, with member states left to apply this article in their own territories as they see fit.
Naturally, it will be implemented in line with their existing obligations, whether these stem from the WTO, the African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI) or the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO). This “fait accompli”, with half the states already bound to UPOV to varying degrees, makes it difficult, or even impossible, to deviate from the status quo.
UPOV in conflict with all other agreements
As UPOV does not recognise farmers’ rights, whether derived from the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture or the UN Declaration, it enters into direct conflict with these agreements. UPOV refuses to include rules on access to resources and benefit sharing, as set out in the Convention on Biological Diversity or, once again, the FAO Treaty. Since they are not “suitable” for UPOV, these additional elements will not materialise.
The conflict goes further still. In articles 18 and 20, the AfCFTA protocol requires states to oblige breeders to respect three conditions before they are granted a right to a new variety. These three conditions are: (i) to state the source of traditional knowledge or resources utilised in developing the new variety, (ii) to provide proof of free, prior and informed consent from the competent authorities under the relevant national regime, and (iii) to demonstrate proof of fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from the use of such resources or knowledge under the relevant national regime.[1] Yet these conditions do not correspond to UPOV rules, so what is the likely outcome?
It is highly likely that the African countries that conform with UPOV will continue to do so, even if they hardly benefit from it. It may be the case that those who wish to go further will do so, by applying additional conditions. However, we cannot see how governments will change the conditions for granting plant variety rights in UPOV member countries. In these countries, there is a risk that the protocol’s provisions will go unheeded.
It is hard to see how the draft protocol could achieve its objective of promoting coherence and harmonising intellectual property rules and principles in Africa if all AfCFTA member countries are given free rein to implement the protocol’s requirements as they see fit. Perhaps the annexes, which are still being negotiated, will shed light on this.
Conflicting farming models
The draft protocol to the AfCFTA agreement comes at a crucial time for Africa. The continent is divided in two on how it views the future of agriculture in Africa and the role of farmers. Some advocate and adhere to the idea of agribusiness taking a lead, with or without the involvement of small farmers. Others are seeking to strengthen family, peasant and autonomous farming and agroecology. These two rather opposing approaches are based on completely different seed systems and discussions about rights.
Across a number of countries, the industrial system promoted by UPOV is coming under fire. This can be seen in Benin, where farmers’ organisations are taking a stand against the government’s proposal to join UPOV. This is also evident in Kenya and Ghana, where legal proceedings are underway to amend or declare unconstitutional UPOV-based plant variety laws. Furthermore, in Southern Africa, a campaign to block alignment with UPOV, precisely because of the threats it poses to family farming in the sub-region, is slowing down progress on the ARIPO project. It can be seen in Tunisia and Mali, where civil society organisations are promoting a completely different approach to seed laws, based on the demands and criteria of the farming communities themselves. Lastly, it is apparent from the many initiatives and caravans run by local communities in alliance with others, lobbying local authorities and raising public awareness to call for an end to UPOV in favour of fundamental respect for farmers’ rights.
This conflict between production models and rights systems is reflected in the field of animal farming. The government of Burkina Faso was recently granted an exclusive right to the term “poulet bicyclette” (“bicycle chicken”, a common term for native chicken). It is a registered trademark and applies to live chickens, chicken meat and veterinary products for chickens. This exclusive right is effective in all 17-member countries of OAPI for a period of 10 years. However, the term “bicycle chicken” has been used across Western and Central Africa for a very long time to refer to local breeds, peasant breeds. It represents a collective heritage and is central to many agroecology projects. Benin has now banned the sale of frozen chickens, known as “morgue chickens”, across its territory in order to promote the farming of native chicken breeds, i.e., “their” bicycle chickens. Will the government of Burkina Faso exercise its veto or monopoly rights against this policy? Even the AfCFTA protocol supports this approach.
Original Source: Grain

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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.

An illegal mining operation in the Yanomami Indigenous territory, Brazil, 2023. Alan Chaves/AFP via Getty Images

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

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Africa Climate Summit 2023 Set to Surrender the Continent to Green Colonialism




August 30, 2023; 12:00 AM PDT

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  • 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.


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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).[1]

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. »[2] Verod is one of the 70 private equity funds in which the AfDB is a shareholder.[3]

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.[4] The main sectors covered by this portfolio are: transport (27%), electricity (20%), finance (18%) and agriculture (13%).[5]

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.[6] It is in this context that social movements and women’s groups are preparing an African civil society campaign against the AfDB.[7]

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.[8] The African Union has declared its strong support for this initiative.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

Source: Grain

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