Theme : Transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers, Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System.
Paper : GS - 2, GS - 3
TABLE OF CONTENT
- African Union (AU)
- Importance of Agriculture to African Continent
- Informal Seed Systems in Africa
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Formal Seed System
- Global Treaties on Rights of Farmers and Seeds
- Road Ahead
Context : Civil Society has flagged the increasing influence of Multinational Seed companies in the African Nations. There is a possibility of existing informal systems, consisting of poor farmers, being pushed to the side-lines, due to the onslaught of deep-pocketed Seed companies.
African Union (AU) :
It is a union of African nations, consisting of the 55 nations of the African continent.
- It was launched in July 2002, in Durban, South Africa. The Headquarter of AU is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
- The Organization of African Unity (OAU) is its predecessor organization.
Importance of Agriculture to African Continent :
- Demography of Africa: Africa is the second largest continent in the world and also the second most populous continent. It accounts for 20% of the world area and about 16% of the global population. Majority of the African population is engaged in primary sectors such as agriculture and agriculture allied activities. Agriculture sector accounts for 60% of the labor force and contributes 32% to the GDP.
- Hunger in Africa: According to a UN estimate, Africa will have the world’s highest number of people (433 million) living in hunger by 2030. Due to low agricultural productivity, Africa is a net food importer. It spends $35 billion on importing food, which is estimated to increase to $100 billion by 2030. The high population growth rate and interruption in global supplies may create havoc for the food security in African Nations.
- High Yielding Varieties: In order to increase productivity and secure food security in Africa, the governments of different countries are adopting the policy of promoting High-yielding Varieties (HYVs) of seeds, along with fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs. This has led to a debate between the proponents of traditional seed systems and those of the modern Formal Seed systems.
Informal Seed Systems in Africa :
In the informal seed system, farmers obtain, develop, produce, maintain and distribute seeds from one growing season to the next, without any external help. The farmers save seeds post-harvest for next sowing season and share them with each other, through barter or at an affordable cost.
Benefits of Informal Seed Systems are :
- Preserve diversity of seeds: Informal systems have a built-in element of choice. Different farmers save different varieties of seeds post-harvest for the next sowing season. These seeds are also shared with each other at the time of sowing. Such seeds are less prone to pest attack due to their genetic diversity.
- Climate change and local weather conditions: Through genetic evolution and survival of the fittest, informal seeds are well adapted to the local weather conditions. They are resistant to climate change and variations at the local level.
- Low cost and easy availability: The farmers share seeds through barter or at very low cost among local communities. These seeds are cheap and affordable as they do not require expensive inputs viz. fertilizers and pesticides. At the same time, they do not come under cumbersome regulations as this system does not come under the quality regulation systems of the government and are not controlled by national seed certification agencies.
- Familiarity of seeds: These seeds are also preferred as the farmers are familiar with the variety since generations. They know the requirements of inputs and the timing of crop. In fact, around 80 to 90% of all the seeds planted in Africa come from informal systems.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Formal Seed System :
Benefits of Formal Seed System are:
- Increased yield per unit area: These seeds are known as high yielding varieties (HYVs). They are developed after extensive biotechnological and genetic research to increase yield as compared to traditional seeds.
- Early maturation: At the same time, the maturation period of the crops is much less than traditional seeds, letting the farmers obtain multiple crops in a year. Thus, the farmers benefit from an increased output.
- Resistance to Specific Diseases: Modern technology allows for the development of seeds as per the requirements. The seeds can be genetically modified to resist certain diseases through scientific intervention.
Formal Seed System has the following disadvantages:
- High cost: The high yielding varieties (HYVs) of seeds are developed after extensive research, thus the cost of these seeds is much higher than traditional seed, as it has to factor in the cost of research and equipment as well as the compensation due to the scientists.
- Loss of genetic diversity: It is an offshoot of the process. As HYVs are more profitable, the farmers gradually stop growing local varieties. Over time, local varieties and the traditional seeds become extinct. This is a cause of concern as a particular disease of the crop has the potential to wipe out entire output in the region.
- Increased requirement for fertilizers and pesticides: These seeds require much higher amounts of pesticides and fertilizers for producing the high yield. The seeds are also water intensive and require irrigation facilities round the growing season. At the same time, they consume much more water than the traditional seed crops. This is especially relevant in the African Nations which are vulnerable to water-scarcity.
- No replantation: The HYV seeds are designed to be planted only once. The farmers are required to buy new seeds for every growing season. Even if the farmers save these seeds, they are designed to not produce the same yield in the following years. The supply of these commercial seeds are controlled by multinational companies, thus they are not readily available and make the farmers dependent on such MNCs for their supply.
- Issue for African Nations: Some countries have criminalized the use of uncertified seeds, leading to traditional farmers being forced to buy costly certified seeds. At the same time, the domestic seeds sector is unable to compete with Multinational Seed companies, which are equipped with capital and technology. Also, the monopoly of multinational companies over the supply of HYVs of seeds poses serious risk to the food security of the country.
- Burden on Farmers: In the long term, local varieties may become extinct as HYV seeds are subsidized by the government and farmers do not want to take risks with local varieties. At the same time, high input cost by farmers and high subsidy burden on the governments may lead to economic destabilization of the economy, especially in the case of a widespread plant pandemic and wipeout of the crop. This is complicated by the over-leveraged farmers.
Global Treaties on Rights of Farmers and Seeds :
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People working in Rural Areas (2018): This resolution consists of an extensive list of farmers rights, which includes the right to land, water, seeds and the right to biodiversity.
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007): The declaration protects indigenous peoples’ rights to their collective bio-cultural heritage as a whole, including traditional knowledge and resources, territories, cultural and spiritual values, and customary laws. These instruments protect farmers’ right to freely save, reuse and exchange seeds.
- International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV): It is an intergovernmental organization with headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland). UPOV was established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and it was revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991. UPOV promotes an effective system of plant variety protection, encouraging the development of new varieties of plants for the benefit of society.
- International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (also known as International Seed Treaty or Plant Treaty): It was signed in 2001 in Madrid, and entered into force on 29 June 2004. The agreement aims at guaranteeing food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from its use, as well as the recognition of farmers’ rights.
Road Ahead :
- Redesign the seed law: In accordance with the above mentioned treaties, the African nations passed various domestic laws to regulate seed variety, certification, quality, quarantine and phytosanitary measures. Due to these regulations, various private companies such as Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, SeedCo and Vilmorin have witnessed an increase in their sales.
- However, the seed treaties are not particularly beneficial to the farmers as the traditional seed systems are unable to compete with the corporates. Therefore, there is a need to decriminalize the use of traditional seeds. Traditional seeds should be automatically certified and provision should be made to protect the genetic diversity of seeds and the national laws should be coherent to Rights of farmers as recognized in various global conventions.
- Breaking the Monopoly: The National government should break monopolies of multinational companies in supply and distribution of seeds. The farmers should have the right to replant the seed and conserve the purchased seeds. At the same time, technological and economic help should be provided to traditional seed growers to make them compete with the MNCs.
1. What is the African Union (AU) ?
Answer : It is a union of African nations, consisting of the 55 nations of the African continent.
It was launched in July 2002, in Durban, South Africa. The Headquarter of AU is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU) is its predecessor organization.
2. What is the Issue of African Nations?
Answer : Some countries have criminalized the use of uncertified seeds, leading to traditional farmers being forced to buy costly certified seeds. At the same time, the domestic seeds sector is unable to compete with Multinational Seed companies, which are equipped with capital and technology. Also, the monopoly of multinational companies over the supply of HYVs of seeds poses serious risk to the food security of the country.