Social Movements Call On Benin to Reconsider Membership in UPOV

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On June 1, 2023, a coalition of diverse organizations, including farmers’ organizations, women’s organizations, trade activists, and consumer groups, expressed their deep concern regarding Benin’s potential membership in the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). In a joint statement, the undersigned organizations highlight the potential threats to local seed systems, biodiversity, and food sovereignty if Benin were to join UPOV.

UPOV is an intergovernmental organization that promotes a global system of plant breeders’ rights, granting monopoly rights to breeders over their developed varieties. While UPOV claims that its members benefit from access to quality and productive seeds, the coalition argues that the negative consequences outweigh any potential advantages.

As part of the West African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI), Benin is already indirectly connected to UPOV through its membership. Therefore, the coalition emphasizes the redundancy and risks associated with Benin’s membership in UPOV. The direct membership would expose the country to direct pressure from global seed industry leaders, primarily controlled by four agrochemical giants: Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, and Corteva. The coalition warns that this move could prioritize the interests of these industry giants at the expense of African food sovereignty.

Furthermore, the undersigned organizations stress the adverse impact of UPOV on small farmers and local seed systems. UPOV favors industrial seeds over small farmers’ seeds, leading to a loss of biodiversity and undermining sustainable approaches to food production. The experience in other African countries, such as Kenya, has shown that UPOV incentivizes breeding for export crops while foreign companies benefit more than domestic breeders. Industrial seeds are associated with monoculture farming, requiring extensive irrigation, synthetic inputs, and technology packages that deplete soils and harm the environment.

In light of these concerns, the coalition calls upon all stakeholders in Africa to reevaluate the best strategies for seed systems that prioritize the needs of local communities. Specifically, they urge the government of Benin to withdraw its proposal to join UPOV and engage in a thorough review, in collaboration with peasant organizations and civil society, to determine the best path forward.
Instead, the organizations advocate for the promotion of agroecology and the use of local and indigenous seeds that are well-adapted to local conditions. These seeds contribute to the sustainability of agriculture in Benin and across Africa while safeguarding food sovereignty and peasants’ rights over seeds.

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