SMALL scale farmers are asking governments in Eastern and Southern Africa to desist from ratifying international agreements without their participation.
This comes as the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) meets to examine the Zanzibar Plant Breeders Bill in Geneva since Friday. In various interviews, members of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF) asked the organisation to protect interests of small scale farmers.
UPOV is examining whether the Zanzibar Bill is in conformity with 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention, before being adopted by the House of Representatives of Zanzibar. The Vice-chairperson of ESAFF, Elizabeth Mpofuthe, warned yesterday against putting small scale farmers in the trap of big agrochemical companies.
"They should ensure that big private sector agrochemical companies like MONSANTO, Du Pont, Syngenta and others, do not colonise the seeds industry and stop farmers from saving and sharing because by doing so we will be infringing their patents on seeds," she said.
She added, "By using patented seeds of sorghum, orange maize plundered from our small farms and our ill funded research institutes, the agrochemical companies will be able to sue farmers for using their seeds. Where will African farmers be if we cannot save and share seeds?"
She called upon small scale farmers and governments in the region, to critically examine the plant and seeds related bills as well as the biosafety Bill promoted by "big brothers", so that small scale farmers do not lose their rights to save and share seed.
The ESAFF official made a fresh call to African governments to ensure that genetically modified seed and genetically modified food do not enter the region until they are proven, beyond no doubt, that they are safe for health, environment and that they will not deprive farmers their rights and sovereignty to save and share seeds.
In a letter dated February 18, this year , seen by 'Daily News' addressed to the Secretary- General of UPOV, the Acting Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture Food Security and Cooperatives, Eng Mbogo Futakamba , requested the examination of the Plant Breeders' Rights Bill for Zanzibar for conformity with the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention.
The 1991 Act provides that "Any State which is not a member of the Union and any intergovernmental organization shall, before depositing its instrument of accession, ask the Council to advise it in respect of the conformity of its laws with the provisions of this Convention.
Since 2007, UPOV has, on various occasions, provided comments on proposed amendments to the "Protection of New Plant Varieties (Plant Breeders' Rights) Act 2002" for Mainland Tanzania (Act of 2002) in relation to the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention.
In Tanzania mainland, the Plant Variety Protection' Bill proposing the establishment of 'The Plant Breeders' Rights Act, 2012' was passed in November last year with heated debate. The move is explained as a milestone for researchers that ensures adequate availability of seeds in the country.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Eng Christopher Chiza, the Bill, would deal with protection of new varieties of plants in order to promote plant-breeding activities. "Researchers are expected to look for increased food and nutritional security.
They should modify seeds without losing the nutrient value," he said. "Having this law in place will boost morale among our researchers and make them work hard than ever before as they are sure of getting royalties from their work and copyrights for their innovations," he said.
In November last year, the National Assembly passed the Bill proposing the establishment of 'The Plant Breeders' Rights Act, 2012' despite the heated debate. The European Commission recently granted 1.4 million Euros to support small scale farmers in East Africa. The funds will help policy dialogue and monitoring for improved food security in the region.
Speaking at the launch in Dar es Salaam, the Deputy Permanent Secretary in Ministry of East African Cooperation, Mr Uledi Mussa, said the funds would strengthen the capacity of small scale farmers and foster agriculture commodity trade within the East African Community (EAC). He said the support that runs for three and half years, would be jointly managed by ESAFF, a network of small scale farmer Groups in Tanzania (MVIWATA) and GRE T Professional Association of France.
He said the implementation will involve the participation of the other ESAFF members in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. It aims at strengthening the capacities of ESAFF and its members in the five countries of the East African Community (EAC).
He said it would contribute to the formulation and monitoring of the policies with impact on food security at local, national and regional levels and foster agricultural commodities' trade within the region, building on MVIWATA - managed district - based on bulk markets as pilot experience.
The Executive Director of MVIWATA, Mr Stephen Ruvuga, says that his organisation had managed a multimillion EU funded project on markets that have stimulated local economies and improved lives of small scale farmers through improved prices and quality of produces sold to those markets.
"Through this project we would like to share our experience to the other East African countries. On his part, the chairman of ESAFF, Mr Moses Shaha, said the project will help smallholder farmers enhance their organizational technical and managerial capacity.
"We will recruit more members and build their capacity to be able to influence national and regional policies in Agriculture," said Shaha. Some smalls cale farmers attributed regular food shortages in the region to ineffective governments' policies that fail to address pertinent issues in the sector.