Planned amendments to SA seed laws “to make criminals of small farmers”

The lobby group African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) warns that amendments to the Plant Improvement Act 53 of 1976 and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 15 of 1976 could, among other issues, restrict the exchange of seed.

According to Linzi Lewis, researcher at ACB, small farmers will be held to the same standards as large, multinational corporations in the proposed amendments. This could have dire consequences for small farmers.

The aim of the legislative changes is to ensure South Africa’s seed supply is reliable and more regulated and that farmers receive good quality seed.

“The word “exchange” is now included in the definition of trade, which means farmers can’t exchange seed amongst each other. The law is becoming more draconian and limiting, to the disadvantage of farmers. This limit on farmers, especially small farmers, would limit the diversity of our seed and would also destroy seed that was bred over generations to adapt to the local climate.

“There is important value in good quality control and regulation. It is needed, but not at the expense of farmers and the diversity of seed at their disposal. The only ones who will benefit are the big, commercial corporations who get the exclusive right to disperse the seed,” Lewis said.

ACB plans to target this limitation as well.

“The two above named acts that came into force in 1976 mean that South African seed systems favour and protect a few big corporations.

“ACB wants to protect the natural heritage of South Africa’s rich seed diversity that is available for food production. We also want to ensure small farmers can continue to farm and exchange seed without the law regarding them as criminals. It is unreasonable to take away the independence of farmers for regulatory purposes.”

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