Africa: Seed Updates, 03/30/00

Africa: Seed Updates, 03/30/00

Africa: Seed Updates Date distributed (ymd): 000330 Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +economy/development+ Summary Contents: This posting contains (1) a call from Southern Africa for urgent action to ensure sustainable use of local seeds in recovery from the current floods, and (2) an alert from the Rural Advance Foundation International (RAFI) on the dangerous implications for farmers world-wide of new patents issued for "terminator" seeds by the US Department of Agriculture.

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APIC Announcement

APIC's web page on Africa's Debt ( has been updated, including links to the April 9-10 national mobilization in Washington by Jubilee 2000 USA (



Open Letter from the Southern African region addressed to regional and international bodies in disaster relief and developmental assistance

24 March 2000

SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC), Zambia E-mail:

Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), Zimbabwe E-mail:

Open Letter also available at:

The Southern African region is currently reeling under the havoc being inflicted by cyclone Eline and Gloria, and uncounted communities in the flood stricken areas of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe have already lost most of their food, shelter, seed material and livestock. This is a tragedy for the livelihoods of families and communities in affected rural and urban areas, and will undoubtedly have serious economic implications, as most countries will try to come to terms with the reality of these devasting floods.

In this context, we applaud the efforts being made by various local and international organisations as they are battling to bring in assistance in an endeavour to save lives and provide the immediate necessary relief supplies to the flood victims.

However, with regard to the restoration of a sustainable agriculture in future, we are appealing to the regional and international community, and to organizations in disaster relief and developmental assistance to take precautions:

1) to prevent the importation of inappropriate seeds to the Southern African region which can undermine agrobiodiversity and thus food security for years; and

2) to support efforts to reconstitute locally adapted planting material and quality seed material/varieties, like indigenous landraces or famers' varieties appropriate to the various ecosystems.

This will need to be done right now in order to ensure food security and nutrition security for all those affected by the floods in the region.

As pointed out by the FAO's "Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture": "Food aid, combined with the importation of often poorly adapted seed varieties, can lower yields and keep them low for years. While addressing the immediate crisis, such practices can exacerbate hunger conditions, undermine food security and increase costs of donor assistance well into the future."

In our view, the disaster in Southern Africa requires the co-operation of governments, private sector, NGOs and Civil Society in the region and beyond in an effort to put in place a co-ordinated initiative and mechanisms at the national and sub-regional level, which are capable to deal fast and sustainably with this unfortunate situation.

Therefore we propose the following steps to be taken:


1) There is need to initiate country specific seed requirements assessment by crop and quantity. In this context we are appealing to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food Security Co-ordinating Unit to:

a) immediately start specific initiatives in collaboration with other SADC sectors, seed companies and NGOs to put in place a framework which should start right away to work on the seed needs of each country affected by the floods;

b) find out about the capacities of the flood affected Member States to meet the seed demands of farmers and communities, as well as their abilities to contribute to sustainable solutions.

2) From April onwards the wintercrops can be sown to the fields in Southern Africa.

There is an urgent need to compile current seed stocks/reserves held by the public, and private sector, by local breeders, and farmers and NGOs in the region by crop and possible by variety in-order to determine what is locally available. This will enable those who would like to purchase and assist flood victims, to initiate contacts and purchase appropriate relief seed supplies in time. Such information need to be shared within the region and abroad to form the basis of the regional seed strategy requirements.

As a first and fast response to the disaster an immediate review study of seeds stock in the region is actually being initiated by Community Technology Development Trust and SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre and conducted in order to compile a data base of the reserves by country and institution. This study will probably be available at the beginning of April 2000 to those who may want to purchase such local seed for relief purposes.


2) The next step would be the identification of those countries and stakeholders which have the capacity to multiply such seed during this coming winter season, that is May to October 2000. Local, national and regional initiatives and institutions, of the formal as well as informal seed sector, have to be included in this effort as they do possess local knowledge as well as necessary contacts.

Ways to restore agricultural production in the flooded areas:

Commercial agriculture

For most large scale commercial farming, recovery will be based on financial assistance to enable purchase of inputs for the next farming season as well as rehabilitation of the damaged infrastructure.

Small-Scale Farming

For the rural smallholder farming communities, the majority in the region, recovery will be much more complex. The floods have resulted in the complete loss of their ways of life. The types of seed lost are not easily replaceable. This is because each community and household normally maintain their own distinct types of varieties nurtured through generations of selections and maintenance.

Short-term Solution

The immediate solution would be to restore farming which forms a livelihood as quickly as possible. This will entail distribution of even those varieties that are not familiar, but are from similar areas in the region. However, the choice should be for open-pollinated varieties of a wide range of varieties. This way the seed can act as a starting base for the farmers to make future selections and the larger the number of varieties the more future stability is ensured.

Long-term Solution

The types of varieties preferred in these areas may be known and in some cases small representative samples of some of the varieties may be available from local seed companies, research institutions and genebanks. In this case a programme of seed multiplication should be started to increase seed to required amounts for re-introduction in areas where they are lost.

We suggest that this will be the ideal and appropriate route to take as this will avoid seed importation with regard to the sowing/planting season from October 2000 onwards. We urge the regional and international community, and organizations in disaster relief and developmental assistance to consider the suggested route particularly otherwise there is always the risk of bringing in seed materials which are not adapted to the regional eco-zones, farming practices, cultural and food habits of the communities.

Concern related to genetically modified varieties

Moreover, the major concern of the plant genetic resources conservation community, is another current threat associated with seed importation: as there is the possibility of receiving hybrids, unadapted cultivars and genetically modified crop varieties related seeds as relief, without prior approval by the flood-affected countries.

In the case of genetically modified crop varieties, donating countries and other bodies must declare them before providing such assistance. This will protect our region from becoming a testing ground or a dumping ground for such genetically modified seed materials. The same applies to food aid imported from countries growing such varieties.

In addition to local and regional producers/breeders and farmers, institutes related to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), such as the SADC/CIMMYT, SADC/CIAT, SADC/IITA and SADC/ICRISAT programmes for maize, bean, cowpea, sorghum and pearl millet should be involved in the winter seed production of cereals and grain legumes. This will enable the region to be able to cope with the seed requirements of these countries well ahead of time and avoid panic when the 2000/2001 cropping season approaches. Secondly, the aspect of importing seed materials which are not suited to our region and particularly genetically modified crops should be avoided.

We are calling the international and regional community concerned in assisting the flood affected countries and communities to join hands in an effort to restore a sustainable agriculture in the Southern African region after the floods thus to emphasize on establishing a system that will strengthens local farmers' and communities' abilities to restore food security and agriculture.

The Southern African Seed-Initiative is initiated by: SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC), Zambia and Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), Zimbabwe

Undersigned by (individuals and/or organizations):

Batsalano Coyne - Tika-Tikwe BioResources Trust, Botswana; Dr Mkamanga - SPGRC, Lusaka-Zambi;a Dr Mpofu - Seed Services, Zimbabwe; Ms S.Ncube - Hivos, Zimbabwe; Ms J.Chidavaenzi - Centre for Total Transformation, Zimbabwe; Ms Machiri - SADC Food Security Network, Zimbabwe; Mr E.Chiwona - Malawi Plant Genetic Resources Centre, Malawi; Maxwell Mapako - Biomass Users Network, Zimbabwe; Ebbie Dengu - ITDG, Zimbabwe; Godfrey Mwila - Min. of Agric. Food and Fisheries; Ute Sprenger - Africa Committee, Foundation Redistribution, Germany; Mr Mugwagwa - Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe

The review study on reserves of local seed for relief purposes will most probably be available at around the beginning of April 2000. Requests by organisations who may want to access this briefing in order to purchase appropriate seeds should be directed at CTDT (E-mail:


Rural Advance Foundation International (RAFI)

News Release


RAFI International Office, 110 Osborne Street, Suite 202, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3L 1Y5 Canada Tel: 204 453-5259 Fax: 204 925-8034 email:

USDA Betrays Public Trust with Two New Terminator Patents Will USDA's Biotech Advisory Board Demand Accountability?

The Rural Advancement Foaundation International (RAFI), an international civil society organization based in Canada, announced today that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) holds two new patents on the controversial Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to render their seeds sterile. If commercialized, Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to save seeds from their harvest, forcing them to return to the commercial seed market every year.

'The US government is advancing research and squandering taxpayer dollars on a technology that has been universally condemned because it is bad for farmers, food security and biodiversity,' says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI. ' It's an egregious misallocation of public resources for the sole purpose of maximizing seed industry profits,' adds Mooney.

'It's disgraceful,' says Hope Shand, RAFI's Research Director. 'We were shocked to discover USDA's new patents because when we met with US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Richard Rominger on two separate occasions last year, his staff assured us in no uncertain terms that there were no more patents in the works. Why didn't we get the straight story?' asks Shand.

'Despite mounting opposition from national governments, United Nations' agencies, farmers, scientists and civil society organizations around the world, USDA continues to ignore the public outcry at home and abroad,' adds Silvia Ribeiro, RAFI Programme Officer. Last month, for example, the Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared FAO's opposition to Terminator. Earlier this month, the state of Maryland (US) introduced a bill to ban Terminator seeds. (See RAFI Communique, 'Suicide Seeds on the Fast Track,' Feb./March, 2000,

According to RAFI, the new patents on genetic seed sterilization were issued in 1999. (US Patent No. 5,925,808 issued on July 20, 1999 and US Patent No. 5,977,441 issued on November 2, 1999). The patents are jointly owned by USDA and Delta & Pine Land (the world's largest cotton seed company), the owners of the original 1998 patent. The USDA's new patents share the same titles, inventors, and abstracts as the earlier patent, but they describe new innovations and demonstrate that USDA scientists are continuing to refine the technology and advance the research.

On October 28, 1999 representatives from a broad base of civil society organizations (CSOs) met with US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to demand that his agency abandon research and development of genetic seed sterilization. Participants included the American Corn Growers Association, Consumers Union, National Family Farm Coalition, Ralph Nader of Public Citizen, International Center for Technology Assessment, Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, Consumer Federation, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, RAFI, and RAFI-USA. Less than five days later, USDA won a new patent on Terminator.

Duped and Betrayed: 'We feel duped and betrayed,' says Gary Goldberg, CEO of the American Corn Growers Association. 'We demand to know why the USDA continues to invest taxpayer dollars on anti-farmer research that, if commercialized, will hold farmers hostage to giant agribusiness corporations,' said Goldberg.

Destroying National Seed Sovereignty: USDA's growing portfolio of Terminator patents sends an ominous message to the rest of the world, says Rafael Alegria, General Coordinator of Via Campesina, the largest confederation of peasants' and small farmers' organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America. 'It amounts to a declaration of war against the 1.4 billion people who depend on farm-saved seeds mainly poor people and it's an assault on global food security,' explains Alegria.

Neth Dano, Executive Director of SEARICE, the Southeast Asian Regional Institute for Community Education, agrees, 'This technology goes far beyond intellectual property. A patent expires after 20 years, but if Terminator seeds are commercialized it will give a handful of multinational Gene Giants a monopoly with no expiration date. This technology aims to eliminate the right of farmers to save seeds and do local plant breeding, and it will destroy the concept of national seed sovereignty.'

Litmus Test for USDA's Biotech Advisory Board: USDA's newly-appointed Biotech Advisory Board will hold its first meeting on March 29-30. 'It's a litmus test for the USDA advisory board,' explains RAFI's Shand. Will they or won't they demand accountability from USDA? There's no doubt that the biotech advisory board has a full plate and it's loaded with controversial GMO (genetically modified organisms) issues, but Terminator must be the number one priority,' stresses Shand.

Launching Pad for Bioserfdom: Without effective action by civil society and governments to ban Terminator seeds, RAFI concludes that suicide seeds will be commercialized, with potentially disastrous consequences for farmers, food security and the environment.

'Terminator has grabbed the spotlight, but we are equally concerned about the closely related genetic trait control technologies (Traitor Tech) which enables a plant's genetic traits to be turned on or off with the application of an external chemical - the company's proprietary chemical,' adds Ribeiro. 'Although the USDA and Delta & Pine Land are the high-profile crusaders, the goal of genetic trait control is industry-wide,' concludes Ribeiro.

Coming Soon: In May, 2000 RAFI will release a status report on Terminator and Traitor patents, which will examine the current goals of private and public sector institutions that are promoting bioserfdom with genetic trait control technology.

For more information:

Hope Shand, RAFI Tel: 919 960-5223 Email: Silvia Ribeiro, RAFI Email: Julie Delahanty, RAFI Tel: 819 827-9949 Rafael Alegria, General Coordinator, Via Campesina Tegucigalpa, Honduras, C.A. email: Neth Dano, Executive Director, SEARICE, The Philippines Tel: 63-2-922-6710 Email: Gary Goldberg, CEO, American Corn Growers Association, Tel: 918 488-1829

Action Needed

1. USDA should cease negotiations with Delta & Pine Land on the licensing of its jointly held patents, and abandon all research and patents on genetic seed sterilization.

2. USDA should adopt a strict policy prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to support genetic seed sterilization.

3. USDA should terminate all research on Terminator seed technology as well as the closely related genetic trait control technologies. Remote control of a plant's genetic traits, triggered by proprietary chemicals, is grim news for farmers and the environment because, if commercialized, farmers will become more dependent on chemical inputs manufactured by the agrochemical/seed industry.

4. USDA should use public research dollars to re-invigorate public plant breeding for family farmers and sustainable agriculture. Instead of engineering seeds for sterility, USDA should boost breeding programs that will lessen farmers' dependency on chemicals, fertilizers, and other expensive inputs.

Send a Message of Protest to US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman

A sample letter to US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman can be found on RAFI's web site, at this link:

Secretary Dan Glickman USDA 200-A Whitten Bldg. 1400 Independence Ave., SW Washington, DC 20250 email: tel: 202 720-3631 fax: 202 720-2166


Message-Id: <> From: "APIC" <> Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 22:09:25 -0500 Subject: Africa: Seed Updates

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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