Privat Tiburce Massanga | April 27, 2009
On a farm in Senegal, Lamine Biaye sows Violet de Galmi. In just two weeks, it will be time to harvest the onions. With a flat, thick bulb and a pale purple colour, the variety will be obvious. Violet de Galmi are a distinctive variety that originates in the Nigerien village of Galmi. For centuries, Nigerien farmers shared their traditional seeds with other farmers in West Africa, until the variety eventually made its way to Mr.Biaye’s farm.Violet de Galmi is a cash crop of great importance to West Africa’s small scale farmers. Trade in the onion totaled almost 15 billion CFA francs (about 30 million American dollars or 23 million Euros) last year.
At an agricultural fair held in Djimini, Senegal, last month, West African farmers were shocked to learn that a Senegalese seed company is trying to patent this traditional seed.
Three years ago, a Senegalese company called Tropicasem applied for a patent from the African Intellectual Property Oganization. If their application is accepted, farmers could lose their right to save and use Violet de Galmi seeds. They may risk paying the company a penalty if they do continue to use them.
In addition to being a farmer, Mr. Biaye is president of the Senegalese Association For Farmers of Peasant Seeds. He finds it outrageous that Tropicasem made the patent application without first consulting farmers.
Jeanne Zoundjihékpon is a member of the Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage, or COPAGEN. She says that COPAGEN Niger is calling on the Nigerien government to prepare a response to Tropicasem’s patent application before the deadline this August. COPAGEN will meet with the secretariat of the African Intellectual Property Association next month in Cameroon,speaking on behalf of Africa’s communities and small scale farmers.
Mr. Biaye promises that farmers and civil society organizations will do everything they can to fight Tropicasem’s patent application. But even if the company is granted a patent, Mr. Biaye insists that farmers won’t stop growing Violet de Galmi seeds.