In order to get developmental assistance, Tanzania amended its legislation, which should give commercial investors faster and better access to agricultural land as well as a very strong protection of intellectual property rights.
‘If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa’, says Michael Farrelly.
Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300, or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified.
‘That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day’, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT).
Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Companies that invest in the NAFSN are expected to pay attention to small-scale farmers and women in their projects, but sometimes little of that is noticed. As a result, the NAFSN receives a lot of criticism from NGOs and civil-society movements. Even the European Parliament issued a very critical report in May this year to urge the European Commission to take action.
‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind the G8.’
With the changes in the legislation, Tanzania became the first least-developed country to join the UPOV 91-convention. All countries that are members of the World Trade Organization must include intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, but the least-developed countries are exempt from recognizing any form of intellectual property rights until 2021. After that, the issues would be reviewed.
‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape from poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind de G8,” says Michael Farrelly.
‘As a result, the farmers’ seed system will collapse, because they can’t sell their own seeds”, according to Janet Maro. ‘Multinationals will provide our country with seeds and all the farmers will have to buy them from them. That means that we will lose biodiversity, because it is impossible for them to investigate and patent all the seeds we need. We’re going to end up with fewer types of seeds.’
‘I have seeds of my family, because my great-grandmother used them. She gave them to my grandmother, who gave them to my mother and my mother then gave them to me. I’ve planted them here in the demonstration garden in Morogoro and that’s why very rare plants now grow here’, says Janet Maro. ‘Local farmers find it hard to understand the idea that you can patent and own a seed. Seed should simply be something that is easily available”, says Janet Maro.
‘Intellectual property rights ensure that farmers have better access to technology’, claims Kinyua M’Mbijjewe, head of Corporate Affairs in Africa for Syngenta. Syngenta is a Swiss company that produces seeds and agrochemicals alongside Yara, one of the two largest players in the private sector in the NAFSN.
‘A company that wants to invest wants to be sure that its technology is protected. African farmers have been sharing, bartering and trading their seeds as a form of tradition. For farmers who want to continue to do so, it is important that they have that choice.’ Kinyua M’Mbijjewe claims not to be aware that the Tanzanian legislation no longer allows that freedom of choice. This is strange, since Syngenta is one of the companies that is part of the leadership council of the NAFSN, meaning that they negotiate directly with the partners about the changes in legislation which must be met in exchange for aid.
Nevertheless, according to the Tanzanian Government, the legislation never intended to penalize small-scale farmers, only to protect their property rights – that is, if they patent their own seeds. More