Biowatch is advocating for a regulatory framework that acknowledges the importance of the informal seed system.

Biowatch and rural KZN farmers go to Parliament to contest proposed seed Bills

On Friday, 15 May 2015 Biowatch South Africa, along with representatives of rural northern KwaZulu-Natal farmers, will give oral submissions at the Public Hearings on the recently tabled Plant Breeders' Rights Bill and Plant Improvement Bill. The hearings will take place in Parliament, Cape Town.

Biowatch is working with small-holder farmers in northern KwaZulu-Natal, supporting them to revive, enhance and multiply their own seed, to use agroecology to improve their soil and yields and to build community knowledge and cohesion. As such, Biowatch is advocating for a regulatory framework that acknowledges the importance of the informal seed system and the support that small-holder farmers should get to enhance this system and the associated knowledge and agro-biodiversity that it mutually supports.

"It is the duty of the South African Parliament to approve seed policies that will benefit the majority of its population. Preceding any consideration of a law that gives private ownership to what used to be commonly held for centuries is the recognition that private commercial rights can never override the rights of farmers and humankind to save seed and to grow food which feeds communities," said Rose Williams, Biowatch director.

"In the absence of any policy or legislation that recognises and provides legal space for the vital contribution of the informal seed sector, public breeding and conservation activities, seed regulations and trade laws have become tools aimed at preventing farmers from producing seeds independently. These laws are prescribing uniformity not only in plant varieties but also in farming and cropping systems and have led to the erosion of genetic diversity and in the process narrowed down the options for farmers and food security," she said.

"Seed regulations have evolved to become increasingly restrictive and are now used in tandem with plant breeders' rights to protect the interests of seed companies and private breeders at the expense of agro-biodiversity and the independence of farmers," said Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, co-ordinator of the Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI), a collaboration between Biowatch, the Mupo Foundation and the Bio-economy SARChl Chair at the University of Cape Town.

"It is therefore critically important to consider and determine the impact that seed regulatory systems developed for industrialised, commercial agriculture has had and will have on the informal seed sector, small-holder farmers, conservation and public breeding priorities," she said.

The changes to these Bills must also be seen within the context of South Africa playing a leading role in regional agreements that will impact on farmers in all SADC countries. The SADC Draft Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants as it currently stands restricts the rights of farmers to save and reuse seed and all SADC countries may be forced to change their legislation to comply.

Biowatch's written submissions are available on its website.

For further information and comment, please contact Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss on 082 413 0502 or elfrieda.strauss47@gmail.com