The 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. Through research and analysis, advocacy and capacity building, we seek to inform and amplify the voices of social movements fighting for food sovereignty in Africa.
Our 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
The organisation was formed to respond to the South African government's approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture in 1998, and the subsequent first approvals of commercial GM crops in maize and later cotton and soya. Thus, the original mission was to strengthen biosafety laws and policies to prevent the spread of GMOs in South Africa and beyond.
The 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 in South Africa;
- Spearheading civil society scrutiny of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA, now rebranded as Tela) project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF);
- Written and oral submissions to the Human Rights Commission investigating GMOs in South Africa and associated agro chemicals;
- Spearheading resistance to second generation GM technologies on the continent.
Through multi stakeholder partnerships, we resist the encroachment of corporate laws and policies into African seed systems and work towards transforming seed policies and laws to protect, support and strengthen farmer managed seed systems and realise transitions to agroecological farming, in Africa.
The ACB has played a key role in mobilising resistance by African civil society in national, regional, continental and global policy spaces to harmonised seed, plant variety protection (PVP) and intellectual property (IP) laws, which favour corporate interests and pose a direct threat to farmers' rights to save, reuse, enhance, exchange and sell seed, threatening the livelihoods of farmer households and biodiversity and ecological sustainability.
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. the 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 engaged with competition authorities on mergers and acquisitions in agricultural input supply, looking at biotechnology, seed, pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. The ACB has also conducted studies on concentration in corporate value chains in South Africa and regionally.
More recently, we started work on farm input subsidy programmes (FISPs). In many countries in Africa, public resources are 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 even government officials of the limits of FISPs as the core of farmer support, yet these programmes are politically entrenched and difficult to dislodge. Thus, innovative approaches for transitioning out of the current form of these programmes is needed. The ACB conducts research and builds 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 the Bayer-Monsanto merger in South Africa;
- Research and advocacy on FISPs.
The ACB was established in 2003 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and registered in 2004. Previously named the African Centre for Biosafety, the name was changed in 2015, to reflect the expanded scope of work beyond biosafety.