Tanzania Farmers Forced To Use Patented Seeds

Corporations, World News

Agribusiness companies are screwing over Tanzania’s farmers by taking advantage of the country’s desperate need for aid to push a development plan that will allow them to take over the country’s agriculture sector while keeping the farmers in endless debt. The plan is eerily similar to what caused the recent suicide epidemic among Indian farmers.

A “development assistance” initiative launched five years ago by the G8, an inter-governmental political forum of the world’s most industrialized nations that consider themselves democracies, is holding Tanzania hostage to the benefit of agribusiness and the detriment of small-scale Tanzanian farmers, reported Whitney Webb of Mint Press News.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN), founded by the G8 in 2012 to ostensibly end hunger and poverty for 50 million people, has forced the Tanzanian government to amend its laws to drastically favor agribusiness and seed companies if it wishes to continue receiving developmental assistance aid. Monsanto, one of the NAFSN’s partners in Tanzania, is set to benefit from these changes to Tanzania’s laws, reported Webb. The NAFSN is funded by the EU, the U.S., the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The alliance had secured approximately $3.7 billion in private sector investment in signatory countries in Africa as of June 2012.

Webb points out the lack of consistency between what the organization claims it does and what it is actually doing.

While the NAFSN was supposed to benefit small farmers, local farming organizations were not allowed in negotiations, while agribusiness lobbyists had unprecedented access to those drafting the requirements of signatory countries seeking developmental assistance. Tanzania’s government, which administers one of the world’s least developed countries, was desperate for the aid. Due to this economic pressure, the Tanzanian legislature obliged.

Per the new legislation, foreign commercial investors would be given faster and easier access to agricultural land in the African nation, as well as strong protections for “intellectual property rights,” e.g., seed patenting. Patented seeds, largely the products of behemoth seed companies like Monsanto and Syngenta, often pop up in neighboring farms that use traditional seeds via cross-pollination, a phenomenon that has been used by Monsanto and similar companies to sue small-scale farmers for “stealing” their intellectual property.

Farmers are no longer allowed to sell, trade, or give away non patented seeds, threatening the tradition of seed exchanges that have kept costs down for farmers.

Michael Farrelly of the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM)  told Mondiaal Nieuws that “Eighty percent of the seeds are being shared and sold in an informal system between neighbors, friends and family. The new law criminalizes the practice in Tanzania.”

There are also ridiculous consequences for keeping with the traditional way of farming. If Tanzanian farmers break the new law forbidding seed exchange, then they face a minimum prison sentence of 12 years, a $230,000 fine, or both. With an average wage of $2 a day, that could take a long time to pay off.

Although the could still be enforced, Webb says the new laws themselves are likely illegal under international law, as Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), also known as the “Seed Treaty,” states that no law should “limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material.” But affected Tanzanian farmers will likely be unable to make a viable court case against the new legislation due to their limited economic resources.

Farrelly argued that these recent actions show that the NAFSN’s lofty promises to help end poverty come with a catch. “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 the G8.”

This corporate scheme is a lot like the tragedies continuing with India’s farmers.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the NAFSN’s funding partners, is particularly well-known for pushing the interests of big agribusiness on small-scale farmers in developing countries, as evidenced by one of the Gates Foundation’s “most successful” initiatives – the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton to India. Despite the promise that GM cotton would increase yields, this turned out not to be the case and Indian farmers who adopted the GM crops became trapped by debt, as their disappointing yields left them unable to pay for the expensive seeds and chemicals needed to cultivate GM plants.

Due to the massive amounts of debt, over 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last 20 years. Monsanto and other companies, such as Cargill and Dow Chemical, have made massive profits from India’s tragedy, seeing the value of their stocks skyrocket. The Gates Foundation itself has financially benefited as well due to its multi-million dollar investments in all three companies.

With the new Tanzania laws being put in place to help agribusiness while plunging small farmers into debt, we may see the same situation of poor, starving farmers committing suicide.

(Article By Jeremiah Jones)

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