n December 2017, the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) hosted a National Seed Dialogue and Celebration at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. The event brought together farmers and civil society organisations from eight provinces, as well as from across the region, to celebrate the work that small-scale farmers do as custodians of seeds, and to share the challenges that they face. The event consisted of lively dialogue on various aspects of seed systems in South Africa, as well as seed displays and exchange, sharing of literature on seed and creative performances.
Preparing for the National Seed Dialogue and Celebration, hosted by the African Centre for Biodiversity, smallholder farmers, activists and government officials are crowded into the atrium of the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill and a drum is beating. A performer, Simo Mpapa Majola, dressed in blankets, is praying and singing and imploring the audience. He is telling the story of the women who work on a farm, who have been marginalised over and over, and yet are relentless in their search for “She-sus”, the She-God, and unswerving in their connection to the soil. Around the edges of the atrium are tables adorned with bowls and jars, hand-crafted wooden trays and woven baskets of seeds, resplendent in their diversity of colours, shapes and textures.
The expansion of the corporate seed market, embedded in the green revolution agenda in sub-Saharan Africa is progressing very fast. This expansion is going hand in hand with regional policies and regulations – in a process also known as seed harmonisation – that will enable facilitate trade across national borders. This has been the case in Southern and Eastern Africa in the last two and a half decades within three overlapping regions-SADC, COMESA and the EAC. These harmonised seed regulations focus solely on the formal seed sector, both neglecting and prohibiting the historical and current role played by farmer-managed seed systems, which indisputably provide the majority of seed used in food production across the continent.