The regional trading bloc Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has managed to quietly approve a controversial set of regulations that could promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The rules were okayed at a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last month.
The ostensible rationale for the “COMESA Seed Trade Harmonization Regulations, 2013” is to increase the diversity, quality and quantity of seed available for farmers in the region and reduce the transaction costs for the seed industry which they currently face, brought about by differing regulatory and trade arrangements across countries in the region. These differing regulatory arrangements are regarded as non-tariff barriers.
The envisaged scenario is the free flow, regionally seamless trade of seed across national boundaries in the COMESA region, which in turn will attract improved private investment through the expanded markets.
The seed regulations provide for standardized and uniform variety testing procedures for release of seed on a regional variety list as well as increased private sector participation in the seed release process itself.
The regulations, and the process of drawing them up over the last few years, have come under heavy criticism from small-scale farmer lobby groups who accuse the US and Europe of influencing COMESA to promote seed trade and industrial agriculture in the region.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a network of farmer organizations and other interest groups from around the continent, said it strongly condemned the approval of the seed regulations.
“The COMESA seed regulations are binding on all COMESA Member States in terms of article 9 of the COMESA Treaty. Yet, there is no evidence to demonstrate the involvement of and consultation with the citizens in COMESA countries, particularly small – scale farmers, despite numerous pleas to COMESA to consult with small farmers. It is our view that a technical group from COMESA countries in collaboration with the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) and Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) and-well funded by USAID and the EU, deliberated on the issues and drafted regulations that have now been signed off by the Council of Ministers, ready for domestication in the COMESA Member States,” AFSA said.
“Submissions made by CSOs and small-scale farmer representatives, to a COMESA workshop organized by the ACTESA during 27 and 28 March 2013 in Lusaka, Zambia containing concerns both about the flawed nature of the process and the implications of the regulations for small farmers and agricultural biodiversity in Africa, have pointedly been ignored.”
The COMESA seed regulations will greatly facilitate agricultural transformation in the COMESA member states towards industrialization of farming systems based on the logic of the highly controversial, failed and hopelessly doomed Green Revolution model of agriculture, AFSA pointed out.
The COMESA Regulations are geared towards creating an enabling environment for massively increased private sector participation in seed trade in the COMESA region as it promotes only one type of seed breeding, namely industrial seed breeding involving the use of advanced breeding technologies.
“The entire orientation of the seed regulations is towards genetically uniform, commercially bred varieties in terms of seed quality control and variety registration. What is very clear is that small farmers in Africa, seeking to develop or maintain varieties, create local seed enterprises or cultivate locally adapted varieties are excluded from the proposed COMESA Seed Certification System and Variety Release System, because these varieties will not fulfill the requirements for distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS).”