ACB was established in 2003 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and registered in 2004. Previously named the African Centre for Biosafety, the name change was effected in April 2015, to reflect the expanded scope of the ACB's work over the past few years beyond biosafety. ACB has a long and respected track record of research and advocacy. Our current geographical focus is Southern and East Africa, with extensive continental and global networks. We do research and analysis, advocacy and skills sharing and seek to inform and amplify the voices of social movements fighting for food sovereignty in Africa.

ACB's three programme areas are Biosafety, genetic modification and second generation GM technologies; Seed sovereignty; and Opposing corporate expansion in African agriculture.

Biosafety, genetic modification and second generation GM technologies

ACB's original mission was to strengthen biosafety laws and policies to prevent the spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in South Africa and beyond. The organisation was formed in response to the South African government's approval of GMOs in agriculture in 1998 and the subsequent first approvals of commercial GM crops in maize and later cotton and soya. ACB works in civil society networks in Africa and globally to resist the pressures being placed on Africa to adopt commercial GM crops, and more recently second generation GM technologies. ACB provides legal, scientific and policy support to network partners on the continent, to build public awareness and the capacity to respond to and stave off, the uptake and/or further expansion of GM technologies on the continent including the second generation GM technologies.

Key recent activities:

  • Appeal in High Court against approval of Monsanto's bogus GM drought tolerant maize;
  • Spearheading Civil society scrutiny the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project, funded by the Gates Foundation;
  • Written and oral submissions to the Human Rights Commission investigating GMOs in South Africa and associated agro chemicals;
  • Spearheading resistance to the second generation GM technologies on the continent.

Seed sovereignty

ACB does research, policy analysis and advocacy to transform seed policies, laws, regulations and programmes to protect, support and strengthen farmer-managed seed systems in Africa. This requires inhibiting the encroachment of corporate laws and policies into African seed systems, while identifying and working to realise transitions to agro-ecological farming, with farmer seed systems being at the centre. We do this through multi stakeholder partnerships with farmer associations, civil society support organisations, and public sector wherever possible. ACB views current laws governing seed and plant variety protection (PVP) and intellectual property (IP) laws as a threat to the livelihoods of farmer households, and to biodiversity and ecological sustainability. ACB has played a key role in mobilising resistance by African civil society in national, regional, continental and global policy spaces to harmonised seed and PVP laws, which favour corporate interests and pose a direct threat to farmers' rights to save, reuse, enhance, exchange and sell seed.

At the same time, ACB conducts research and advocacy to protect, support, and strengthen the agro-ecological practices inherent in farmer seed systems. These systems present an existing, viable and coherent alternative to the corporate-industrial capture of African seed systems. Farmer seed systems are, by definition, diverse and context specific. We work with partners to deepen a shared understanding of this alternative in its diverse contexts, considering, amongst other things, the revival and use of indigenous/farmer varieties; the use of public sector germplasm and farmer varieties for seed enhancement/improvement; participatory methodologies including plant breeding and quality controls; in situ selection, enhancement and production of seed by farmers; appropriate local storage technologies including seed banks with diverse and locally appropriate seed; local exchange/markets for seed produced by farmers; farmer-to-farmer learning and sharing; extension methodologies and links to formal sector research and development.

Key recent activities:

  • Civil society mobilisation on African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Protocol;
  • Civil society mobilisation on South African Plant Breeders' Rights Bill and Plant Improvement Bill;
  • Research on regional seed harmonisation processes;
  • Research on participatory plant breeding.

Opposing corporate expansion in African agriculture

Over the years ACB has monitored and contested corporate expansion in African agriculture, by conducting research and analysis, sharing information and working with networks to build popular resistance to this expansion. We have made submissions and otherwise engaged with competition authorities on mergers and acquisitions in agricultural input supply, looking at biotechnology, seed, pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. ACB has also conducted studies on concentration in corporate value chains in South Africa and regionally.

ACB recently started work on farm input subsidy programmes (FISPs) in Africa. Across the region, public resources are being used to subsidise the cost of various packages of Green Revolution inputs, which consist, mostly, of synthetic fertiliser, hybrid seed and pesticides. The FISPs are based on standardised inputs delivered on a large scale, creating subsidised markets for multinational corporations. There is growing recognition amongst civil society in Africa, donors, technicians and government officials of the limits of FISPs as the core of farmer support. There is widespread recognition that these programmes are politically entrenched and will be difficult to dislodge. Accordingly, innovative approaches to transition out of the programmes in their current form will be required. ACB conducts research and is building coalitions across civil society, donors and the public sector to advocate for the reorientation of public spending towards more diversified, contextually appropriate forms of farmer support that embraces local production and distribution.

Key recent activities:

  • Research and submissions on Bayer-Monsanto merger in South Africa;
  • Research and advocacy on farm input subsidy programmes.