The impact of national seed laws on the functioning of small-scale seed systems
This case study (PDF) by Oxfam Novib assesses national seed laws in eight countries to inform recommendations to ensure laws better support the functioning of farmers’ seed systems. Most seed is produced by farmers and circulates within farmers’ seed systems, though both farmer’s and formal seed systems are important. Well-functioning seed laws should protect both buyers and sellers. Sellers by establishing legal obligations to guarantee the quality of seed, and developers and producers by protecting them from unfair competition. However, seed laws typically pay little attention to farmers’ seed systems, but it can impact on the functioning of those systems in various ways. International agreements on plant variety provide some flexibility. No binding international agreements regarding seed policy and legislation exist, and many seed laws in developing countries have been modeled to developed countries. Several regional efforts are underway to harmonize national seed laws. Seed laws may hinder farmers in acquiring seeds. When only registered/certified seeds may be marketed by registered sellers, it may become effectively prohibited to barter or exchange seeds not only of protected commercial varieties but also of farmers’ varieties. Farmers are generally allowed to save and reuse seeds, and possible exchange and sell them in local markets. Countries with plant variety protection laws in place effectively fully exempt small-scale farmers when it comes to saving and re-using seeds on their own farm. It is difficult for farmers to register new farmers’ varieties. Legal requirements make it unrealistic for small-scale farmers to register new farmers’ varieties. Likewise, requirements in areas such as education and access to seed processing and storage facilities make it difficult for them to registers as seed sellers. So, concluded is that seed laws and policies should do more to promote farmers’ seed systems, for example by creating specific facilitating conditions to support farmer seed enterprises.