Ghana: Women farmers resist plan to grab Africa’s seeds (The Ecologist)

| June 1, 2015

Download this story

 Sharing and saving seed is a crucial part of traditional farming all over Africa. But these practices are under threat from a proposed law in Ghana, known locally as the “Monsanto Law.”

Seeds are crucial for Ghanaian farmers. Sitting in the heat of the sun, Esther Boakye Yiadom explains the importance of seeds in her family, and how knowledge is transferred between different generations of women. She explains: “My mother gave me some seeds to plant. And I’m also giving those seeds to my children … And that is how all the women are doing it. We don’t buy; we produce it ourselves.”

The whole community cooperates to share and preserve seeds. Mrs. Yiadom continues: “I am having tomatoes and I don’t have okra. And another woman has okra. I’ll go to her … if another person also needs tomatoes from me and I have it, I’ll have to give to the person … so next season we can get to plant. That’s why we exchange them.”

The proposed legislation is Ghana is one of the commitments that the Ghanaian government made under the G7 group of countries’ New Alliance scheme. The “Monsanto law” would make it easier for large seed companies to gain a foothold in Ghana at the expense of small farmers. It could reduce food security because it restricts farmers’ ability to save and preserve seeds.

The proposed legislation would also allow genetically modified crops to be introduced in Ghana. This is a hotly contested issue: campaigners are challenging the potential authorization of genetically modified rice and cowpeas in the Ghanaian courts.

Today, just ten corporations control more than 75 per cent of the world’s commercial seed market. In Africa, an estimated 80 per cent of seeds still come from farmers who save, select and swap their own traditional varieties. Farmers understand what kinds of seed are required for particular conditions. When they do not have a particular kind of seed, they ask other farmers in their community.

In this system, farmers keep a wide variety of seeds, which helps protect agricultural biodiversity. Farmers select seeds for high yields and many other qualities, including taste, appearance, storability, and the capacity to adapt to different climatic conditions.

Paying for seeds represents an additional expense and financial burden for farmers who have always developed seeds by their own efforts and the plant-breeding efforts of their community. In contrast, seed developers typically design commercial seeds to produce high yields when chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used. But these inputs can be expensive for small-scale farmers.

There are environmental and health impacts as well. Victoria Adongo is with the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana. Her members have complained about health issues. Ms. Adongo says: “First of all, farmers have complained about breathing problems; some have complained about blisters on their arms, and even from eating the food that they’ve used fertilizer on.”

The freedom to keep seeds goes beyond issues of growing food and providing nutrition. Seeds also have cultural and spiritual significance for many communities. Patricia Dianon is president of the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana, in the Upper West Region of the country. She says, “We use … [seeds] when we have funerals; we put the seeds around the funeral sites. That is the last respect for the dead.”Mourners say farewell to their loved ones with seeds to help the deceased in the afterlife. The seeds are a source of sustenance, even for those who have passed away.

Heidi Chow works with Global Justice Now. The organization says that its agribusiness campaign challenges the corporate takeover of Africa’s food systems, and supports the global movement for food sovereignty. Ms. Chow says, “The new law aims to treat farmers as mere passive consumers of shop-bought seed. No longer would they be bearers of indispensable knowledge and protectors of seed diversity.”

In Ghana, civil society groups, rural women’s networks, unions, faith groups and farmer organizations are fighting to protect their seed rights. Their petitions and their relentless organizing and protesting have caused parliament to put the legislation on hold. But the bill could return any day.

To read the full article on which this story was based, Ghana’s women farmers resist the G7 plan to grab Africa’s seeds, go to:

Photo: Women from RUWFAG, the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana, frequently gather to exchange seeds and farming tips. Credit: Global Justice Now