The fight for seed sovereignty in Ghana


06 November 2014

This week, WDM called on the UK Government to stop the backing the corporate takeover of seeds in Africa and beyond, and to protect the seed sovereignty for farmers instead. In just a few days, we’ve got cross-party support from MPs who have signed a ‘Seed Sovereignty’ early day motion in Parliament.

This week, WDM called on the UK Government to stop the backing the corporate takeover of seeds in Africa and beyond, and to protect the seed sovereignty for farmers instead. In just a few days, we’ve got cross-party support from MPs who have signed a ‘Seed Sovereignty’ early day motion in Parliament.

“The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed controls the entire food chain.” – So says Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah of Food Sovereignty Ghana, summing up what is at stake when the Plant Breeders Bill, aka ‘The Monsanto Law’ is considered by the Ghanaian parliament next week. The Plant Breeders Bill will allow big businesses to have legal ownership and control over seed varieties they claim to have developed. This will increase the power of large seed corporations to push expensive seeds that farmers will then become dependent on. This law, if passed, will see the systematic substitution of traditional varieties of seed, widely saved and traded by farmers, with uniform commercial varieties; seeds controlled by big business.

The millions-strong National Association of Farmers and Fisherfolk in Ghana warns that this new system “aims to compel farmers to purchase seeds for every planting season or pay royalties to the breeder in the case of reusing farm-saved seeds.” They caution that this could cause farmer debt to spiral as they are pushed away from their own seeds that are historically free, diverse and can grow with few inputs. These commercial varieties will inevitably include hybrid and GM seeds which also encourage further use of agrichemicals. The farmer’s hard work then gets creamed off as multinational corporations profit from the growing cost of inputs.

It is not surprising then that this law has met huge controversy since its conception in 2013. Throughout the last year there have been huge mobilisations involving farmers and labour unions, religious organisations and political parties. They are all pushing for the government to recognise the role that the millions of Ghanaian farmers have in the country’s agricultural future.

The battle for control of resources like seeds is of critical importance as multinational agribusinesses have turned their eyes towards the African continent as a new source of profits. But this isn’t just a business project. This phenomenon, dubbed a “new wave of colonialism” by groups across the continent, is being assisted by countries such as the UK and the rest of the G8 nations.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, founded in 2012, brings together an unequal partnership of donor rich governments such as the UK and US, huge multinationals like Monsanto and 10 African countries including Ghana. On the surface, this initiative aims to lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2020. But in reality it pushes African governments to make business-friendly reforms in return for aid and investment.

The Plant Breeders Bill going through Ghana is one of these reforms. A key part of Ghana’s commitments in the New Alliance are regulations that develop a new seed law to establish seed classification and certification (in other words intellectual property rights). To this effect, the British government is channelling aid money as a carrot to pressure the Ghanaian government to make laws which will see the control of seeds handed over from farmers to multinational corporations.

Social movements in Ghana continue to resist these pro-corporate seed laws. If you want to take action, the best way to send them our solidarity is to get the UK government to pull out of the New Alliance.

As a start you can email your MP to sign the ‘Seed Sovereignty’ early day motion calling on the government to shift their support from Monsanto to small scale farmers and their seed sovereignty.

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