This past summer, the global trade regime finalized details for a revolution in African agriculture. Under a pending draft protocol on intellectual property rights, the trade bodies sponsoring the African Continental Free Trade Area seek to lock all 54 African nations into a proprietary and punitive model of food cultivation, one that aims to supplant farmer traditions and practices that have endured on the continent for millennia.
A primary target is the farmers’ recognized human right to save, share, and cultivate seeds and crops according to personal and community needs. By allowing corporate property rights to supersede local seed management, the protocol is the latest front in a global battle over the future of food. Based on draft laws written more than three decades ago in Geneva by Western seed companies, the new generation of agricultural reforms seeks to institute legal and financial penalties throughout the African Union for farmers who fail to adopt foreign-engineered seeds protected by patents, including genetically modified versions of native seeds.