According to recent articles published by “The Ecologist” (April 2014) and “The Guardian” (February 2014), the Ethiopian seed banks are at risk from a G8 plan to open Africa to corporate agriculture.
Founded in 1976, Ethiopia's national seed bank is the oldest and largest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the result (and a pioneering experiment) of a joint efforts between scientists and local communities. In the 1970s, Melaku Worede, the former head of the seed bank, and his colleagues, during a severe drought, left the capital for rural areas where they found farmers eating the seeds they would have normally planted or saved. Alarmed, they gave out raw grain in exchange for the farmers' seeds, to be returned after the drought. Soon the scientists were launching rescue missions and expeditions to collect and conserve seeds.
After each harvest, local farmers deposit samples, and in exchange get access to the bank's stores. Regassa Feyissa, who worked with Melaku for several years, says community seed banks offer the chance to conserve genetic diversity at the level of local farmers - where seeds are dynamically and frequently exposed to changing environmental conditions rather than held in suspension at sub-zero temperatures, while serving as a grain reserve in times of crisis. It is also an interesting approach for scientists. Unlike formal research, which looks for seed varieties that can work across different climates and soil types, farmers are constantly selecting for diversity, conserving a range of varieties and choosing them not just for their yields but also for their taste or because they are particularly resistant to disease or drought.
However, a new push to commercialise agriculture in Africa could put the future of the continent's diverse, indigenous seeds at risk. In September 2013, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) ministers approved regulations that would require all seeds to be registered and deemed "uniform, stable and genetically distinct" before being traded and sold. Critics say this could, in effect, criminalise farmers' traditional practices of saving and exchanging their seeds, while allowing corporations and those who can afford the registration process to capture the market.
Private investment in seeds is one of the stated indicators of success for the G8's landmark agriculture and poverty plan in Ethiopia. Under the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, Ethiopia is to change its seed law and policies to increase and incentivise private investment in the development, multiplication and distribution of seeds. This could spell disaster for small farmers.
LTEconomy, April 29th, 2014
This article is a reformulation of the original articles published on “The Guardian” and on “The Ecologist”
You can find the entire articles as follow:
From The Ecologist, 25th April 2014
Here the Original Article by Claire Provost on the Guardian's Global development website - 19th February 2014