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New DeSIRA-LIFT publication: Current developments in seed laws harmonisation in Africa

Global warming, biodiversity loss, food insecurity… A growing chorus of actors agrees on the need for a profound shift towards more sustainable and inclusive agri-food systems by improving its resilience and diversity. But where does change start? Many argue that understanding and improving the seed sector is not just a key starting point – it is a springboard towards a model of agriculture that works for people and the planet.


In the African continent, the seed sector is under increasing public scrutiny. Several critical policy and trade shifts affecting seed laws are taking place across the continent, including the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).


The effort to harmonize seed laws across the continent should strive to protect and uphold the rights of all concerned actors in the value chain, balancing the rights of plant breeders and the rights of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds.


Breeders’ rights are considered essential for the development of new plant varieties. Society in general, and farmers specifically, benefit from breeders’ rights by making use of a wide range of new and improved varieties. Farmers’ rights, on the other hand, are understood as the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed through informal seed systems. Farmer-managed seed systems are the source of 90% of seed on the continent. 


Are breeders’ rights and farmers’ rights to seed in conflict or complementary in African countries? In its new publication Current developments in seed laws harmonisation in Africa, DeSIRA-LIFT provides key elements to answer this question. The report, written by Peter Munyi, reviews the international treaties and policy instruments that determine the plant breeders’ rights and farmers’ rights to seed.


The findings show that current seed policies need to (and can) be made more coherent and operational to support farmer-managed seed systems in Africa. More in particular, harmonisation efforts should be predominantly geared towards protecting local biodiversity, thus indigenous seed varieties and landraces, which are maintained and reproduced within farmer-managed seed systems.


The publication is the first of a series of research outputs intended for the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA). It was produced in the framework of DeSIRA-LIFT, a service facility of the DeSIRA Initiative, that aims to underpin policy dialogue between the African Union and the European Commission with evidence and actionable knowledge on trends related to food systems transformation.


Overview of signatories to international treaties and instruments

African parties of the Plant treaty (ITPGRFA)

African members of UPOV 1991

Countries that have adopted the SADC Harmonised Seed Regulatory System (2013) ​

Countries that have adopted the COMESA Seed Trade Harmonisation Regulations (2014)

Countries signatories of the Arusha Protocol

Countries that are members of the Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO)


Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation 

P.O. Box 88, 6700 AB Wageningen
the Netherlands


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© DeSIRA-LIFT 2022