New Publication Explores the Right to Seeds in Africa

6 March 2023

Our new Briefing The Right to Seeds in Africa – authored by Dr Karine Peschard, Dr Christophe Golay and Lulbahri Araya – explores the implications of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) for the right to seeds in Africa.

‘For too long, peasant seed systems in Africa have been neglected and marginalized by laws, regulations and public policies geared toward the needs and interests of the corporate sector. The implementation of UNDROP represents a unique opportunity to redress this imbalance and is essential for the protection of the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of African peasants’ explains Dr Golay, Senior Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘It is also in the interest of all, to ensure the rights to food and food sovereignty, preserve crop biodiversity, and fight climate change’ he adds.

Identifying Challenges and Positive Developments

The publication – the first of its kind – explores the implications of UNDROP for the right to seeds for African countries.

After providing an overview of the right to seeds in international law and the main provisions of UNDROP related to the right to seeds and corresponding states’ obligations, it identifies the main challenges to the protection of the right to seeds in Africa, as well as positive legal mobilizations and policy and legislative reforms.

‘Mali provides an example of what can be achieved when peasants and their organizations have the opportunity to meaningfully engage in participatory processes. Since 2016, peasants’ organizations and allied NGOs have framed the right to seeds as a collective right grounded in the already recognized customary rights to land and natural resources, and are pushing for legal reform, including the official recognition of peasant seed systems’ underlines Dr Peschard, Associate Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘Ethiopia is another example of a country that recognizes the collective rights of local communities over their genetic resources and community knowledge, and that protects the right of smallholder farmers and pastoral communities to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds of any variety on the non-commercial market’, explains Lulbahri Araya, former LLM student at the Geneva Academy.

But, cautions Dr Peschard, ‘Despite these positive developments, there is a strong push in Africa to adopt intellectual property norms of plant variety protection modelled on UPOV 1991 and to pass commercially-oriented seed laws, both of which are detrimental to peasant seed systems and represent a direct violation of peasants’ right to seeds as enshrined in UNDROP’.

A Timely Publication

The briefing aims to provide input for the revision of seed laws, regulations and policies at the national, regional and continental levels in Africa.

It is especially timely given that many African countries are in the process of revising their seed legislation, and that the African Union has launched an initiative aimed at harmonizing seed laws through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

‘Our recommendations will therefore be of interest to public officials from ministries and government agencies responsible for developing and implementing seed laws, regulations and policies, as well as to civil society actors, including peasants’ organizations, in their advocacy work in defence of peasants’ right to seeds’ explains Dr Golay.

This publication forms part of our research on the rights of peasants.

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