Africa's land and seed laws under attack

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Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) | GRAIN

Media release
21 January 2015

For immediate release

Africa's land and seed laws under attack

The lobby to industrialise food production in Africa is not only pouring money into plantation projects on the ground, it is changing African laws to serve foreign agribusiness as well. This is the main finding of a new report from the civil society organisations Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and GRAIN.

This land outside Maputo, Mozambique provides a snapshot of Africa’s agricultural choices: Will its food be produced on small farms or on giant plantations like Bananalandia? (Photo: National Geographic)

The report, "Land and seed laws under attack", documents who is pushing what changes in these two battlegrounds across Africa. Washington DC, home to the World Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the US Agency for International Development, stands out the biggest source of pressure to privatise African farm resources right now. But Europe, through the European Union and various donor mechanisms, is also deeply involved, providing funds and legal frameworks like the plant patenting scheme known as UPOV.

Privatising land and seeds is essential for the corporate model to flourish in Africa. With regard to agricultural land, this means pushing for the official demarcation, registration and titling of farms. It also means making it possible for foreign investors to lease or own land on a long-term basis. With regard to seeds, it means having governments require that seeds be registered in an official catalogue in order to circulate. It also means introducing intellectual property rights over plant varieties and criminalising farmers who disregard them. In all cases, the end goal is to turn what has long been a commons in Africa into a marketable commodity that the private sector can control and profit from at the expense of small farmers and rural communities.

"More than 80% of all seed in Africa is produced and disseminated through informal seed systems, that is, on-farm seed saving and exchange between farmers," points out Bridget Mugambe of AFSA. "Marginalising and criminalising farmers' seeds through UPOV and by introducing strict marketing regimes will be great for multinational seed companies but a disaster for our small family farmers," she says.

The land privatisation agenda is also quite threatening. "In the name of land securitisation, which may sound great to vulnerable rural communities, donors and African governments are actually pushing to create Western-type land markets based on formal instruments like titles and leases that can be traded in one way or another," explains Ange David Baïmey of GRAIN. "In fact, the explicit aim of many initiatives, such as the G8 New Alliance, is to secure investors' rights to land."

The thinking is to make Africa more attractive to business. But this will only erode the rights of rural communities prevent them from continuing to serve as the backbone of the region's food and farming systems.

The report, "Land and seed laws under attack: Who is pushing changes in Africa?" is available at grain.org/e/5121

For more information, please contact:

Bridget Mugambe, AFSA, Kampala (EN)
[email protected]

Ange-David Baïmey, GRAIN, Accra (FR)
[email protected]

AFSA, the Alliance For Food Sovereignty in Africa, is a Pan African platform comprising networks and farmer organisations working in Africa. AFSA members represent small holder farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, citizens and environmentalists from Africa who possess a strong voice that shapes policy on the continent in the area of community rights, family farming, promotion of traditional knowledge and the environment.

GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. 

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