Peschard, K., Golay, C., and Araya, L. (2023). The right to seeds in Africa. The United Nations Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas and the right to seeds in Africa. (PDF, 957KB)

Download the pdf here (PDF, 957KB).

Key messages

For over 10,000 years, peasants have freely saved, selected, exchanged and sold seeds, as well as used and reused them to produce food. Today, these customary practices remain essential to peasants’ right to food, as well as to global food secu - rity and biodiversity. However, since the mid-1990s, the promotion of commercial seed systems and the strengthening of intellectual property (IP) over plant variet - ies and plant biotechnology at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Inter - national Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) have seriously undermined these customary practices and, consequently, peasant seed systems and agrobiodiversity.

To respond to these challenges, among others, the United Nations (UN) adopted in 2018 the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). The UN Declaration enshrines peasants’ right to seeds in international human rights law. According to UNDROP, states shall, inter alia, “elaborate, interpret and apply relevant international agreements and standards to which they are party, in a manner consistent with their human rights obligations as they apply to peasants” (Article 2.4). States shall also “support peasant seed sys - tems, and promote the use of peasant seeds and agrobiodiversity” (Article 19.6). And they shall “ensure that seed policies, plant variety protection and other IP laws, certification schemes and seed marketing laws respect and take into account the rights, needs and realities of peasants” (Article 19.8).

The implementation of UNDROP represents a unique opportunity to redress the imbalance between, on the one hand, the lack of support for peasant seed systems worldwide, including in Africa, and, on the other, the massive support for indus - trial seed systems. This is essential for the protection of the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of peasants. It is also in the interest of all, to ensure the rights to food and food sovereignty, preserve crop biodiversity, and fight climate change.

In 2018, the great majority of African countries voted in favour of adopting UN - DROP. Following these votes, and in accordance with the need to apply interna - tional instruments adopted by the UN General Assembly in good faith, and to give priority to human rights norms in international and national laws, reflected in UNDROP Articles 2.4, 15.5 and 19.8, the African Union (AU) and African states shall ensure that their regional and national laws and policies, as well as the inter - national agreements to which they are party, do not lead to the violation but, on the contrary, to a better protection of the rights of peasants, including their right to seeds.