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Battling the ‘Monsanto law’ in Ghana

Farmer in Ghana [Related Image]
OneVillage Initiative under a Creative Commons Licence

This week, farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament is due to return from its summer break and first thing on the agenda is the government’s Plant Breeders Bill. The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on. Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.

According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable. Yet in recent months, farmers, campaigners, trade unions and faith groups have taken to the streets in the cities of Accra, Tamale and beyond. They warn that the bill would hand control of the country’s seeds to giant corporations like Monsanto. They fear the laws would allow corporations to exploit farmers, capture profit and push GM seeds in to the country’s food system. It’s why campaigners have dubbed the bill ‘the Monsanto Law’.

‘The Plant Breeders Bill aims to replace traditional varieties of seeds with uniform commercial varieties and increase the dependency of smallholders on commercial varieties,’ says the Ghana National Association of Farmers and Fishermen. ‘This system aims to compel farmers to purchase seeds for every planting season.’ Across the world, farmers have got in to dangerous levels of debt at the hands of companies which have come to control their seed supply. ‘The economic impact on the lives of farmers will be disastrous,’ says Duke Tagoe of Food Sovereignty Ghana. ‘The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed control the entire food chain.’

Ghana’s proposed seed laws are the latest manifestation of a worldwide push by corporations to takeover food systems. Currently, 70 per cent of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farmers. But in recent decades they have lost land, markets and livelihoods to corporate investors. In 2013, the World Bank announced that ‘Africa represents the “last frontier” in global food and agricultural markets’. Now governments, including the British and US, are using aid and the promise of corporate investment through benevolent-sounding programmes like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to leverage pro-corporate policy reforms in Africa. Giant agribusinesses including Unilever, Coca-Cola, Monsanto and Syngenta are already lining up for the spoils.  

As part of this, Ghana, along with other African states, signed up to ‘plant variety protection’ (PVP) laws promoted under the highly-criticized International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991. Backing from corporate investors, aid donors, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has ensured that PVP has been on the agenda of governments worldwide. Yet farmers are fighting back. The resistance to Ghana’s seed laws follows mobilizations in Europe, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere in Africa against the international UPOV regime. Earlier this year, small-scale farmers across Europe successfully halted EU-wide plant variety protection laws. In September, Guatemalan farmers, indigenous groups, and women’s organizations won a victory when their congress repealed the country’s own Monsanto law after 10 days of widespread street protests.  

The battle over control of seeds is key to the worldwide movement for food sovereignty: a vision for sustainable food grown for and by the communities that rely on it, not corporations. The onset of industrial agriculture has led to a 70-per-cent decrease in agricultural biodiversity worldwide. That’s bad news for small-scale farmers needing to adapt to environmental and market changes. Yet farmers the world over are reclaiming their seeds and standing up for resilient, productive livelihoods in the face of corporate control.

If you’re in Britain you can email your MP to contact International Development Secretary Justine Greening about the ‘Monsanto law’ in Ghana.

Chris Walker is a researcher on WDM’s Food Sovereignty campaign.

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  1. #1 Brett Wilcox 08 Nov 14

    My son and I ran across the USA in 2014 to promote awareness of the chemical cartels' plans to take over the world's food supply. Thanks for the important work you're doing and thanks for writing about it!

  2. #2 David Reece 20 Jan 15

    You don't explain the new law so it is very difficult to respond sensibly. However...

    Firstly, this has nothing to do with Monsanto, nor GM crops. Under international agreements, GMOs are 'protected' by patent law rather than laws governing the use of seeds. The GM industry has decided not to enforce its patents in Africa: they claim that this is for humanitarian reasons while others see it as a cynical marketing ploy. In any event, payment to re-use seeds of GM crops is not an issue in Africa, and this law will make no difference;

    Secondly, there is a serious problem in much of Africa that farmers do not have access to high-quality seeds. I have been involved in projects that help 'local experts' (often groups of female farmers with skills in seed production and storage) to form cooperative seed businesses, but usually farmers buy seeds once, save them for a couple of years, and by the time they need a fresh supply of good seed the cooperative has gone under for lack of repeat business. The new law is at least a response to a real problem, although I doubt whether it will do any good;

    Thirdly, the new law could only apply to crop varieties that are in some sense the property of the seed company. Where farmers are already growing, saving and sharing the seed of a variety it is obviously not corporate property and so again the law would not have any effect.

    The issue is serious and rather complicated, and a half-baked call for a campaign, such as this, does no service at all to the farmers whose livelihoods depend upon a functioning seed system.

  3. #3 ikane 20 Jan 15

    I would like to see a copy of this law. I have seen many articles denouncing it but not actually seen the policy. If you can forward a link that would be wonderful.

  4. #4 ciderpunx 20 Jan 15

    ikane: I googled it for you :-)

  5. #5 Michele Atkins 13 Jun 15

    When will Africa ever get a break? Other countries have interfered with African natives so long. I would not use GMO seeds, why are Africans not as valuable?

  6. #6 Sue Chard 14 Jun 15

    Monsanto is losing ground all over the world, so what's their solution? Buy African Governments and sell our deadly products to them. Are most of the African Governments so corrupt that every bad industry in the world can go there and drop their crap on them? Gun companies have been doing it for years, spurring on war after war.
    How do we get this to stop? How do we get any message to the people in power in these countries? How do we get them to be honest? How do we get them to care only for what's good for their people? How?

  7. #7 Uchennna Ugwu 11 Apr 17

    Thanks for the wake up call contained in this article. I wish to ask, now two years later, did your warning yield any positive results? Particularly, what is the current state of these laws in Ghana? Have they been ratified?

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