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Africa: Privatizing Land and Seeds

AfricaFocus Bulletin
February 18, 2015 (150218)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in 2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into the programme, African governments are required to make important changes to their land and seed policies. ... [for example] Despite the fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced and disseminated through 'informal' seed systems (on-farm seed saving and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling seeds." - Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and GRAIN, January 2015

Countless reports by global and African agencies highlight the critical role for agriculture in African development. Almost all agree that small farmers are key to addressing poverty and food insecurity. But many policies, such as those described in this new report from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and GRAIN, lead in practice to empowerment of agribusiness giants rather than small farmers. By imposing legal frameworks based on Western industrial agriculture, powerful interests make a mockery of international pledges to help small farmers.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the report "Land and Seed Laws under Attack: Who is pushing changes in Africa?" (full report available at

For summary talking points and previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on food and agriculture issues, visit

There are a host of reports on specific cases of land grabs and sometimes on successful challenges to them. The sources cited below are only a sampling.

For a report by Nigerian and international groups on a recent contested case of land grabbing in Taraba state in eastern Nigeria (a rice plantation under the control of U.S.-based agribusiness firm Dominion Farms), see

For a recent case in Senegal, researched by ActionAid, visit For more information on ActionAid work on land rights, visit

For a case in Ghana, where Herakles Farms abandoned its investments after community protests, see the report by the Africa Faith and Justice Network (; direct URL:

In addition to the organizations cited in this report, and the cases just cited, AfricaFocus particularly recommends, for case studies and current information on the status of land grabbing in Africa, the website of the Oakland Institute at The Oakland Institute and other groups are active in a campaign to have the World Bank stop promoting land grabs through its "doing business" ratings. Visit for more details.

For extensive research on seeds and food sovereignty in Africa, see also the website of the African Centre for Biosafely (


Ebola Perspectives

[AfricaFocus is regularly monitoring and posting links on Ebola on social media. For additional links, see]

New and of particular interest:

Jina Moore, Buzzfeed, February 12
map showing Liberia "very close" to end of Ebola. Total number of days since last case over 21 in all counties except Montserrado (Monrovia)

WHO, Situation Report, February 11
Not quite as optimistic. "Total weekly case incidence increased for the second consecutive week, with 144 new confirmed cases reported in the week to 8 February." Cases up in Guinea and Sierra Leone, although still low in Liberia.

Shawn Radcliffe, Healthline, "Ebola Crisis Eases in Africa. Now What?" February 12
Need for vigilance, plus long-term planning for recovery of economies & building sustainable health systems

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Land and Seed Laws under Attack: Who is pushing changes in Africa?


Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA; and GRAIN (

[Full text of report at and ]

January 2015

Who is pushing changes in Africa?


A battle is raging for control of resources in Africa -- land, water, seeds, minerals, ores, forests, oil, renewable energy sources. Agriculture is one of the most important theatres of this battle. Governments, corporations, foundations and development agencies are pushing hard to commercialise and industrialise African farming.

Many of the key players are well known. They are committed to helping agribusiness become the continent's primary food commodity producer. To do this, they are not only pouring money into projects to transform farming operations on the ground -- they are also changing African laws to accommodate the agribusiness agenda.

Privatising both 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 farmland 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 be traded. It also means introducing intellectual property rights over plant varieties and criminalising farmers who ignore them. In all cases, the goal is to turn what has long been a commons into something that corporates can control and profit from.

This survey aims to provide an overview of just who is pushing for which specific changes in these areas -- looking not at the plans and projects, but at the actual texts that will define the new rules. It was not easy to get information about this ... We did learn a few things, though:

  • While there is a lot of civil society attention focused on the G8's New Alliance for Food and Nutrition, there are many more actors doing many similar things across Africa. Our limited review makes it clear that the greatest pressure to change land and seed laws comes from Washington DC -- home to the World Bank, USAID and the MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation].

  • Land certificates -- which should be seen as a stepping stone to formal land titles -- are being promoted as an appropriate way to "securitise" poor peoples' rights to land. But how do we define the term "land securitisation"? As the objective claimed by most of the initiatives dealt with in this report, it could be understood as strengthening land rights. Many small food producers might conclude that their historic cultural rights to land -- however they may be expressed -- will be better recognised, thus protecting them from expropriation. But for many governments and corporations, it means the creation of Western-type land markets based on formal instruments like titles and leases that can be traded. ... So in a world of grossly unequal players, "security" is shorthand for market, private property and the power of the highest bidder.

  • Most of today's initiatives to address land laws, including those emanating from Africa, are overtly designed to accommodate, support and strengthen investments in land and large-scale land deals, rather than achieve equity or to recognise longstanding or historical community rights over land at a time of rising conflicts over land and land resources.

  • Most of the initiatives to change current land laws come from outside Africa. Yes, African structures like the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament are deeply engaged in facilitating changes to legislation in African states, but many people question how "indigenous" these processes really are. It is clear that strings are being pulled, by Washington and Europe in particular, to alter land governance in Africa.

  • When it comes to seed laws, the picture is reversed. Subregional African bodies -- SADC, COMESA, OAPI and the like -- are working to create new rules for the exchange and trade of seeds. But the recipes they are applying -- seed marketing restrictions and plant variety protection schemes -- are borrowed directly from the US and Europe.

  • The changes to seed policy being promoted by the G8 New Alliance, the World Bank and others refer to neither farmer-based seed systems nor farmers' rights. They make no effort to strengthen farming systems that are already functioning. Rather, the proposed solutions are simplified, but unworkable solutions to complex situations that will not work -- though an elite category of farmers may enjoy some small short term benefits.


With seeds, which represent a rich cultural heritage of Africa's local communities, the push to transform them into income-generating private property, and marginalise traditional varieties, is still making more headway on paper than in practice. This is due to many complexities, one of which is the growing awareness of and popular resistance to the seed industry agenda. But the resolve of those who intend to turn Africa into a new market for global agroinput suppliers is not to be underestimated. The path chosen will have profound implications for the capacity of African farmers to adapt to climate change.

This report was drawn up jointly by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and GRAIN. AFSA is a pan-African platform comprising networks and farmer organisations championing small African family farming based on agro-ecological and indigenous approaches that sustain food sovereignty and the livelihoods of communities. GRAIN is a small international organisation that aims to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.

The report was researched and initially drafted by Mohamed Coulibaly, an independent legal expert in Mali, with support from AFSA members and GRAIN staff. ...

Initiatives targeting both land and seed laws

G8 New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition - Initiated by the G8 countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and US

  • Timeframe: 2012-2022
  • Implemented in 10 African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania

The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in 2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into the programme, African governments are required to make important changes to their land and seed policies. The New Alliance prioritises granting national and transnational corporations (TNCs) new forms of access and control to the participating countries' resources, and gives them a seat at the same table as aid donors and recipient governments. As of July 2014, ten African countries had signed Cooperative Framework Agreements (CFAs) to implement the New Alliance programme. Under these agreements, these governments committed to 213 policy changes. Some 43 of these changes target land laws, with the overall stated objective of establishing "clear, secure and negotiable rights to land" -- tradeable property titles.

The New Alliance also aims to implement both the Voluntary Guidelines (VGs) on Responsible Land Tenure adopted by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012, and the Principles for Responsible Agriculture Investment drawn up by the World Bank, FAO, IFAD and UN Conference on Trade and Development. This is considered especially important since the New Alliance directly facilitates access to farmland in Africa for investors. To achieve this, the New Alliance Leadership Council, a self-appointed body composed of public and private sector representatives, in September 2014 decided to come up with a single set of guidelines to ensure that the land investments made through the Alliance are "responsible" and not land grabs. As to seeds, all of the participating states, with the exception of Benin, agreed to adopt plant variety protection laws and rules for marketing seeds that better support the private sector. Despite the fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced and disseminated through 'informal' seed systems (on-farm seed saving and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling seeds.

African governments are being co-opted into reviewing their seed trade laws and supporting the implementation of Plant Variety Protection (PVP) laws. The strategy is to first harmonise seed trade laws such as border control measures, phytosanitary control, variety release systems and certification standards at the regional level, and then move on to harmonising PVP laws. The effect is to create larger unified seed markets, in which the types of seeds on offer are restricted to commercially protected varieties. The age old rights of farmers to replant saved seed is curtailed and the marketing of traditional varieties of seed is strictly prohibited.

Concerns have been raised about how this agenda privatises seeds and the potential impacts this could have on small-scale farmers. Farmers will lose control of seeds regulated by a commercial system. There are also serious concerns about the loss of biodiversity resulting from a focus on commercial varieties.


The World Bank

The World Bank is a significant player in catalysing the growth and expansion of agribusiness in Africa. It does this by financing policy changes and projects on the ground. In both cases, the Bank targets land and seed laws as key tools for advancing and protecting the interests of the corporate sector.

The Bank's work on policy aims at increasing agricultural production and productivity through programmes called "Agriculture Development Policy Operations" (AgDPOs).

Besides financing AgDPOs, the World Bank directly supports agriculture development projects. Some major World Bank projects with land tenure components are presented in Annex 2, with a focus on the legal arrangements developed to make land available for corporate investors. These projects are much more visible than the AgDPOs and their names are well known in each country: PDIDAS in Senegal, GCAP in Ghana, Bagrépole in Burkina. ...

Initiatives targeting land laws

African Union Land Policy Initiative


The African Union (AU), together with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), has been spearheading a Land Policy Initiative (LPI) since 2006. Mainly a response to land grabbing on the continent, the LPI is meant to strengthen and change national policies and laws on land. It is funded by the EU, IFAD, UN Habitat, World Bank, France and Switzerland. LPI is expected to become an African Centre on Land Policies after 2016.

The LPI is designed to implement the African Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges, adopted by the AU Summit of Heads of State in July 2009. ...

One important undertaking of the LPI is the development of a set of Guiding Principles on Large-Scale Land-Based Investments (LSLBI) meant to ensure that land acquisitions in Africa "promote inclusive and sustainable development". The Guiding Principles were adopted by the Council of agriculture ministers in June 2014, and are awaiting endorsement by the AU Summit of Heads of States and government.

The Guiding Principles have several objectives, including guiding decision making on land deals (recognising that large scale land acquisitions may not be the most appropriate form of investment); providing a basis for a monitoring and evaluation framework to track land deals in Africa; and providing a basis for reviewing existing large scale land contracts. The Guiding Principles draw lessons from global instruments and initiatives to regulate land deals including the Voluntary Guidelines and the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition. They also take into account relevant human rights instruments. But because the Guiding Principles are not a binding instrument and lack an enforcement mechanism, it is far from certain that they will prove any more effective than other voluntary frameworks on land. They are, however, widely accepted and supported on the continent as the first "African response" to the issue of land grabbing.

[For more on other similar initiatives see full report]

Initiatives introducing seed laws

Under the rubric "seeds laws" there are various types of legal and policy initiatives that directly affect what kind of seeds small scale farmers can use. We focus on two: intellectual property laws, which grant state-sanctioned monopolies to plant breeders (at the expense of farmers' rights), and seed marketing laws, which regulate trade in seeds (often making it illegal to exchange or market farmers' seeds).

Plant Variety Protection

Plant variety protection (PVP) laws are specialised intellectual property rules designed to establish and protect monopoly rights for plant breeders over the plants types (varieties) they have developed. PVP is an offshoot of the patent system. All members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are obliged to adopt some form of PVP law, according to the WTO's Agreement on Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). But how they do so is up to national governments.

African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) draft PVP Protocol

  • Draft PVP Protocol to be implemented in the 19 ARIPO member states: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

ARIPO is the regional counterpart of the UN's World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) for Anglophone Africa. It was established under the Lusaka Agreement signed in 1976. In November 2009, ARIPO's Council of Ministers approved a proposal for ARIPO to develop a policy and legal framework which would form the basis for the development of the ARIPO Protocol on the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (the PVP Protocol). Adopted in November 2013, the legal framework was formulated into a Draft PVP Protocol in 2014 during a diplomatic conference.

The Draft PVP Protocol establishes unified procedures and obligations for the protection of plant breeder's rights in all ARIPO member states. These rights will be granted by a single authority established by ARIPO to administer the whole system on behalf of its member states.

The Protocol is based on the rules contained in the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention. It therefore establishes legal monopolies ("protection") on new plant varieties for 20-25 years, depending on the crop. Farmers will not be able to save and re-use seed from these varieties on their own farms except for specifically designated crops, within reasonable limits, and upon annual payment of royalties. Under no circumstances will they be able to exchange or sell seeds harvested from such varieties. ...

The Protocol is hotly contested by civil society. AFSA, for instance, is on record for vehemently opposing the ARIPO PV Protocol on the grounds that it, inter alia, severely erodes farmers' rights and the right to food. On the other hand, industry associations have been consulted extensively in the process of drafting the ARIPO PVP Protocol. ...

[For more on other similar initiatives, see full report.]

Seed marketing rules

The second category of seed laws consists of rules governing seeds marketing in and among countries. A number of current initiatives aim to harmonise these rules among African states belonging to the same Regional Economic Community. But through harmonisation, states are actually being encouraged to "liberalise" the seed market. This means limiting the role of the public sector in seed production and marketing, and creating new space and new rights for the private sector instead. In this process, farmers lose their freedom to exchange and/or sell their own seeds. This legal shift is deliberately meant to lead to the displacement and loss of peasant seeds, because they are considered inferior and unproductive compared to corporate seeds.

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was established in 2006 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. It is currently funded by several development ministries, foundations and programmes, including DFID, IFAD and the Government of Kenya. AGRA's objective is to "catalyse a uniquely African Green Revolution based on small-holder farmers so that Africa would be food self-sufficient and food secure." AGRA focuses on five areas: seeds, soil health, market access, policy and advocacy and support to farmers' organisations.

On seeds, AGRA's activities are implemented through the Programme for Africa's Seed Systems (PASS). PASS focuses on the breeding, production and distribution of so-called "improved" seeds. AGRA's action on seeds policies and laws, however, is carried out through its Policy Programme, whose goal is to establish an "enabling environment", including seed and land policy reforms, to boost private investment in agriculture and encourage farmers to change practices. This specifically includes getting the public sector out of seed production and distribution.

AGRA's seed policy work aims to strengthen internal seed laws and regulations, reduce delays in the release of new varieties, facilitate easy access to public germplasm, support the implementation of regionally harmonised seed laws and regulations, eliminate trade restrictions and establish an African Seed Investment Fund to support seed businesses.

In Ghana, for example, AGRA helped the government review its seed policies with the goal of identifying barriers to the private sector getting more involved. With technical and financial support from AGRA, the country's seed legislation was revised and a new probusiness seed law was passed in mid-2010. Among other things it established a register of varieties that can be marketed. In Tanzania, discussions between AGRA and government representatives facilitated a major policy change to privatise seed production. In Malawi, AGRA supported the government in revising its maize pricing and trade policies. AGRA is also funding a $300,000 seeds project for the East African Community that started in July 2014 and will be implemented over the next two years. Its objective is to get EAC farmers to switch to so-called improved seeds and to harmonise the seed and fertilizer policies of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

[For more on other similar initiatives, see full report]

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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