This past summer, there were finalized details for a revolution in African agriculture. The African Continental Free Trade Area, along with trade bodies, aims to impose a new model of food cultivation on all 54 African nations. The new model seeks to replace traditional farmer traditions and practices with a proprietary and punitive approach. It targets farmers’ rights to save, share, and cultivate seeds according to personal and community needs. The protocol would impose penalties on farmers who don’t adopt foreign-engineered seeds protected by patents, including genetically modified versions of native seeds. This would transform African farming into a lucrative industry for global agribusiness and undermine resilience in the face of climate change.
The architects of this new seed economy include major seed and biotech firms, sponsor governments, and numerous nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. These entities have been working to expand and tighten intellectual property restrictions around seeds under the guise of “climate-smart agriculture.” However, this policy initiative serves the interests of biotech and agribusiness, not African farmers or the climate. It represents a victory for global economic forces that have long aimed to undermine farmer-managed seed economies and integrate them into the value chains of agribusiness.
The tightening of intellectual property laws on farms throughout the African Union threatens the livelihoods of small farmers and their collective biogenetic heritage. It puts at risk staple crops that have been developed and safeguarded by African farmers for thousands of years. In Ghana, farmers expressed concern and confusion over the proposed seed regime. Provisions in the country’s seed law criminalize the saving, sharing, and trading of seeds, including patented seeds. The potential imprisonment of farmers for infringing on property claims raises questions about the preservation of their right to economic self-determination.
The crusade to integrate smallholder farming into the industrial food system has faced opposition, particularly when it comes to the control of seeds. Agribusiness, sponsor governments, and mega-philanthropy allies have targeted the resistance of natural seed replication and pushed for the introduction of patent-protected hybrids and GMOs. The main beneficiaries of this plan are the four companies that control the global seed and agrichemicals market. They have marketed chemical and capital-intensive agriculture as a solution to world hunger, using concerns about food security and climate change to justify their actions.
Farmers in Ghana and other African nations reject the introduction of foreign seeds that cannot be replanted and see it as an attack on their survival. They value their traditional seeds that are adapted to the local soil and climate. They see the push for foreign seeds as a form of colonialism and a threat to their autonomy and self-reliance. The new seed regime and the potential criminalization of seed sharing raise concerns about the future of African agriculture and the preservation of farmer-managed seed economies.