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Sowing the seeds of dissent

Global Justice Now food sovereignty campaigner heidi Chow talks to Ghanaian activist Samia Nkrumah about the privatisation threat to the country’s vital small farms

Ghana’s parliament is currently considering a Bill which will effectively privatise seeds.

This Bill is one of the commitments that Ghana has signed up to for receiving aid money from the New Alliance for Food Security — a controversial initiative backed by Britain’s Department for International Development.

If the law is passed, multinational seed companies like Monsanto will benefit from a legal framework which will protect their profits at the expense of Ghana’s small-scale farmers, who would face restrictions on traditional practices of saving and exchanging seeds.

There have been widespread protests over the transfer of control over seeds away from farmers and into the hands of multinational companies.

Samia Nkrumah is the chair of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in Ghana and daughter of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah.

She is also an anti-GM activist and a prominent figure within Ghana for Agroecology, which is resisting the privatisation of seeds in Ghana. She visited Britain in February to speak at the Take Back Our World conference organised by Global Justice Now and I was able to ask her a few questions about the threat these changes pose.

 

 

What are the problems with the legislation that is being considered by the Ghanaian parliament

 

In 2011 our parliament passed the Biosafety Act, which has allowed trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, in particular GM cowpeas which is one of our staple food — the basis of many of the dishes we eat daily.

We are now faced with the commercialisation of GM seeds through the Plant Breeders Bill.

This Bill will have very serious implications if it is passed. The legislation includes clauses which will essentially elevate the rights of breeders — normally multinational seed companies – above the law of the land. No sovereign country should allow any person or corporation to be above the law. It will also put in place the framework which will allow the proliferation of GM seeds.

 

 

What will be the impact on Ghana’s farmers?

 

If GM seeds are being widely used in Ghana, farmers who are not using these seeds would be at serious risk of contamination. Under the provisions of this law, these farmers would face criminalisation and penalties.

In Ghana most farmers are small farmers, with small plots of lands.

Most agriculture workers and farmers are female and agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. The proposed law would have huge ramifications on many people. It would facilitate the monopolisation of the seed market by big seed companies and threaten the reliable and effective seed-breeding systems that farmers have developed over generations which maintain biodiversity and are climate-resilient.

 

 

Some would say that seed technology is needed to feed Africa’s growing population into the future. What’s your response to this?

 

Our problem is not that we can’t produce enough. There are other more pressing problems that we face when it comes to feeding our population and these should be tackled first. For example, we need to improve access to local markets for small farmers and improve storage facilities.

These need to be addressed first, rather than resorting to such an extreme proposal which puts health at risk, creates uncertainty and will greatly damage the ability of our farmers to grow diverse and nutritious food. This begs the question of who will benefit from GM in a country like Ghana?

The biggest beneficiaries of this agenda are the huge foreign corporations and what pains us so greatly is that our farmers will be the ones who will suffer.

 

 

How are Ghana’s farmers responding to this Act?

 

This law would have disastrous economic implications for our farmers. It’s a very dangerous agenda. Yet there has not been any consultation process. Many farmers — who are the ones who would be greatly impacted — don’t know about it and so how can you impose laws without thorough consultation.

There needs to be genuine democracy and participation and people need to be sensitised to the issues at stake. It’s an imposition on farmers.

In 2013, a wide coalition of civil society groups including unions, peasant organisations, tribal chiefs and churches emerged to challenge this Bill.

We have organised petitions and protests. So far our parliament has received 51 petitions from different organisations. This is an unprecedented number for just one single Bill. Because of the number of protests, the Bill has been severely delayed.

The Bill is now back on the agenda of the current session of parliament and we continue to do everything we can to prevent this Bill from becoming law.

 

 

Find out more about Global Justice Now’s food campaign at www.globaljustice.org.uk/campaigns/food

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