Seeds of Freedom Tanzania: A film

11 August 2016

We are told that Tanzania has an abundance of available fertile land, but that production is inefficient, based on many small farms, and needs modernisation through private sector investment in large-scale high-input industrial agriculture. Critics maintain that Africa has been lined up for corporate agribusiness market penetration, with a focus on land and water, food and bio-fuels.

African governments, desperate for some financial relief, are willing to make whatever changes are necessary to bring the proposed capital into their countries. The multinationals are setting the terms, with favourable seed laws, access to land, free trade, and intellectual property rights as the preconditions for investment.

Uhuru wa Mbegu za Wakulima (Seeds of Freedom Tanzania) captures the testimonies of farmers whose customary rights to save, share and exchange seeds are threatened by seed laws designed to replace traditional varieties with commercial hybrids, and hand over control to the global seed companies. The 29-minute film follows local seed producer, Mathias Mtwale, as he meets with farmers, researchers, seed suppliers, regulators, and legislators to clarify the issues, and make the case for a fair deal for farmers.

Small-scale seed producer Mathias explains: “We are losing a culture of sharing and selling seed to each other. For this film we have tried to meet different people, especially farmers, to see what the situation is now, and how policies and laws marginalise them, while empowering large companies and those with economic power to own the system of production and distribution of seed.”

The film exposes the reality of the mainstream farmer-managed seed system in Tanzania. Farmers tell their inspiring stories of traditional seeds passed down through generations. “As for me, to be honest I’ve never bought seed from the shop. My grandfather died when he was 100 years old. That grandfather left me seed. He told me: ‘My grandchild, don’t throw this seed away’.” Ms Chagua Kibwana, Farmer, Morogoro.

Farmers explain the problems of commercial seeds: “The seed they sell in the shop comes from other countries. It’s very expensive and it requires artificial fertiliser. Without it you wont harvest anything. This hybrid seed that they call ‘good seed’, you can’t plant it this year and save seed for the next year. So next year you go to the same shop and buy the same seed, and the same fertiliser. Your job as a farmer is to go around the shops and give them profit. You make no profit. You just accumulate debt.” Issa Msumari, Farmer, Bumbuli.

Researchers explain why the commercial seed system of imported hybrids is not meeting farmers’ needs. Prof Joseph Hella, from Sokoine University of Agriculture, insists: “Any effort to improve farming in Tanzania depends primarily on how we can improve farmers’ own indigenous seeds.”

Dr. Hamisi Myuaenzi, of Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute reveals the government concern:  “QDS (smallholder farmer-produced quality seed) production has low costs. They don’t pay tax and such. So we cannot allow them too big an opportunity to compete with the big registered companies that pay tax.”

Farmers’ organisations have clarified how the new legal framework means disaster for the rich agricultural biodiversity maintained by the nation’s smallholder farmers. “The purpose is not to protect smallholder farmers, but to ensure that big seed producers secure a new market,” explains lawyer Stanslaus Nyembea, of MVIWATA national farmers’ federation. “Farmers who have used their own seed for ages - if a seed company improves that seed in one way or another - that company’s ownership of that seed will be protected by the law. With time the farmers will have lost their traditional seeds.

Matthias concludes: “Instead of investing in them, they should support small groups like ours to produce seed and help us get connected. The goal should be to put seed production back in the hands of the farmers, and let them produce the seeds that they want.”

Watch the film online at:

Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement is the national umbrella organization for the organic sector in the country.



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