For a Safer Earth, Healthier Climate


By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja

 The 7th annual West Africa Peasants’ Seed Fair, hosted by the West African Committee for Farmers’ Seeds (Comité Ouest Africain de Semences Paysannes ­– COASP), was held in Zoungbonou, Benin, from 9-11 March 2023, bringing together 75 exhibitors from 25 countries, predominantly from the West African community but also including farmers from East Africa, government officials and academics.

The theme of the fair was, Food Sovereignty: People’s Rights in the Face of the Rise of Genetically Modified Organisms in Africa, with the objective of strengthening movement building for the promotion of farmer-managed seed systems (FMSS) and mobilisation against the entry of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into food systems on the continent.

Specific objectives of the Fair included: Engaging CSOs, researchers and policy makers on issues related to the protection of peasant seed systems and peasants’ rights to seeds as a guarantee of food sovereignty, Raising awareness of the legal instruments that can be used to contain the spread of GMOs, to avoid privatisation and loss of crop biodiversity and Gaining a collective understanding of GMOs and new developments and changes in the field.

With support from the ACB, two farmers from Zimbabwe attended the Seed Fair. They are Simbisai Machava, trained by Mwenezi Development Training Centre (MDTC) and part of the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), and Ngoni B. Chikowe, a member of the Zimbabwe Small Holder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF). In this blog, they reflect on their experiences.

Farmers were given stands to exhibit the range of seeds grown in their communities and to facilitate and enable exchanges, thereby promoting the retaining especially of lost farmers’ varieties. The Zimbabwean booth was a hive of activity, where more than 80 diverse seeds were on display. Machave explains that overall, the fair gave government officials and other professionals a glimpse into the treasure trove of diverse seeds in farmers’ seed systems, and the extensive knowledge that farmers possess in regard to the conservation and sustainable management of local seeds and farmers’ food and seed systems.

In addition to the seed exhibits, the fair was comprised of demonstration workshops centred on: diverse and delicious cuisine using indigenous crops, agroecological biodiversity, and organic fertilisers and pesticides, among other topics. Further to this, rich and vibrant plenary workshops included discussions on:

The status of GMOs in Benin, West Africa and globally;

Farmers’ Rights, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITGRFA) and other legal tools and instruments; and How peasant agroecology can ensure food security and sovereignty for people.

Chikowe comments: “African seed and food systems are at a crossroads, as traditional seed systems are fast vanishing and being eroded because of the expansion and intrusion of industrial agriculture, which is foisting false solutions to the seed and food systems crises in Africa, such as corporate-owned hybrid and GM seeds and food, which has resulted in deepening inequalities, resource extraction and food insecurity.

“Africa is rich in seed diversity but starvation is the order of the day, where agribusiness from the North, dump hybrid and GM seeds on Africa and convince African countries to grow cash crops for export, at the expense of producing food to feed Africans. Food aid will be the result of growing what we don’t eat and eating what we don’t grow.

“The agroecology movement is emerging fast to correct this corporate controlled agrarian regime, hence the importance of such a fair that provides safe spaces for farmers from different African regions to come together and share the struggles of their regions. It also provided an opportunity for us to discuss how we respectively work to create spaces and influence our governments to recognise and support FMSS and agroecology as an alternative to industrial agriculture, to achieve African food sovereignty. The Fair also demonstrated how national governments can be brought into these important conversations.”

As with many other countries, smallholder agriculture seed systems in Zimbabwe have become dominated by the commercial seed sector, which distributes standardised and certified seed on an annual basis. Machave further explains: “The government entices farmers into using corporate seed, through farm input subsidy programmes, yet these provide limited quantities of seed and range of crop varieties. Thus, peasant farmers resort to the use of seed from their own seed systems, which are retained from the previous harvest or acquired through local exchanges.”

“This visit was productive and is a positive step for us as peasant farmers, towards building a strong and sustainable seed system for farmers in our local districts. We are wholly committed to strengthening peasant farmers’ access to diverse, locally adapted seed and continue to work towards achieving the remarkable ideal of sustainable food production systems, through informal, community-based seed production.”

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