Seed politics : an exploration of power narratives in the South African seed industry

Swanepoel, Stefanie Rae (2014-04)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study (Seed politics: An exploration of power narratives in the South African seed industry) attempts to unravel the contradictory power relations shaping South Africa’s seed system and to explore spaces of system intervention that could allow alternate seed systems to emerge. As a base for the agricultural sector, the seed system plays an important role in determining the type, quality and cost of seed supplied to the country’s farmers. By extension then, it also partly determines the type, quality and, to some extent, the cost of food sold to the country’s citizens. Ownership of seed germplasm, protected through plant breeders’ and intellectual property rights, is a contentious, current issue. Debate on international and national levels focuses on possible health issues related to consumption of genetically modified food, ethical considerations around ownership of plant life, monopolisation of seed markets, and the implications of biodiversity loss for food security and climate change adaptation. The first article (Contesting the credibility of consolidation of the South African seed industry) examines how historic and current power relations (on a global and local level) have shaped the ‘modernistic’ direction of South Africa’s seed system, which is now dominated by two US-based multinational companies. The contradictions between this direction and state policy are highlighted, focusing particularly on issues of food security, biodiversity and climate change. Article 2 (Imagining a sustainable South Africa seed system) unpacks the assumptions on which the current system is based, in order to provide space for a new ‘narrative’ around seeds to emerge, motivating for a collaborative ‘imagining’ of a sustainable seed industry, based on a social learning approach. Points of system intervention are suggested and expanded on. In both articles, the complexity of seed systems is outlined providing a framework for understanding the interconnectedness of system elements, intervention points and potential for non-linearity. The study weaves together theory drawn from a diversity of themes to expose how the ‘hidden’ faces of power (entrenched in economic hierarchies and institutions) predetermine the path of the system and whom it benefits and whom it excludes. These themes include economics of consolidation, innovation theories, patenting issues, South African policy documents, international treaties and agreements, systems theory and complexity thinking, social learning, industrial and agro-ecological farming methods, agricultural productivity, and climate change. The study promotes social learning as a tool that could unlock the potential of the seed system to contribute to the urgent issues South Africa faces around biodiversity loss, food insecurity and climate change. Keywords: seed system, genetically modified and hybrid seed, seed patents, seed innovation, social learning, systems theory, complexity thinking, consolidation of seed industry.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie (Saadpolitiek: ʼn ondersoek van magsnarratiewe in die Suid-Afrikaanse saadbedryf) poog om die teenstrydige magsverhoudinge wat vorm aan die Suid-Afrikaanse saadstelsel gee, uit te pluis en ruimtes van stelsel-intervensie wat die opkoms van afwisselende saadstelsels moontlik kan maak, te ondersoek. As grondslag van die landbousektor speel die saadstelsel ʼn belangrike rol in die bepaling van die soort, gehalte en koste van die saad wat aan die land se boere verskaf word. Dus bepaal dit ook deels die soort, gehalte en, in ʼn sekere mate, die koste van die voedsel wat aan die land se burgers verkoop word. Eienaarskap van saadkiemplasma, wat deur planttelersregte en regte op intellektuele eiendom beskerm word, is ʼn omstrede en aktuele kwessie. Debatvoering op sowel internasionale as nasionale vlak fokus op moontlike gesondheidskwessies wat verband hou met die inname van geneties gemodifiseerde voedsel, etiese oorwegings ten opsigte van eienaarskap van plantlewe, monopolisering van saadmarkte, en die implikasies van die verlies aan biodiversiteit op voedselsekerheid en aanpassing by klimaatsverandering. Die eerste artikel (Betwisting van die geloofwaardigheid van die konsolidering van die Suid-Afrikaanse saadbedryf) ondersoek hoe historiese en huidige magsverhoudinge (op sowel globale as plaaslike vlak) die ‘modernistiese’ rigting van die Suid-Afrikaanse saadstelsel, wat nou deur twee multinasionale maatskappye in VSA-besit oorheers word, gevorm het. Die teenstrydighede tussen hierdie rigting en regeringsbeleid word uitgelig, en daar word in die besonder gefokus op die potensiële invloed op voedselsekerheid, biodiversiteit en die kapasiteit om by klimaatsverandering aan te pas. Artikel 2 (‘n Veronderstelling van ʼn volhoubare Suid-Afrikaanse saadstelsel) ondersoek die aannames waarop die huidige stelsel gegrond is, ten einde plek te maak vir ʼn nuwe ‘narratief’ oor saad, motivering vir ʼn medewerkende ‘veronderstelling’ van ʼn volhoubare saadbedryf, gegrond op ʼn benadering van sosiale leer. Punte van stelsel-intervensie word voorgestel en op uitgebrei. In albei artikels word die kompleksiteit van saadstelsels uitgestippel ten einde ʼn raamwerk te bied waarvolgens die onderlinge verband van stelselelemente, intervensiepunte en die potensiaal vir nie-lineariteit begryp kan word. Die studie verweef teorie vanuit diverse temas ten einde bloot te lê hoe die roete van die stelsel, asook wie daaruit voordeel trek en wie daardeur uitgesluit word, vooraf deur die ‘versteekte’ aangesigte van mag (verskans in ‘stelselgeheue’ en bekragtig deur instansies) bepaal word. Hierdie temas sluit in die ekonomie van konsolidasie, innoveringsteorieë, patentkwessies, Suid-Afrikaanse beleidsdokumente, internasionale verdragte en ooreenkomste, stelselteorie en kompleksiteitsdenke, sosiale leer, industriële en agro-ekologiese boerderymetodes, landbouproduktiwiteit en klimaatsverandering. Die studie bevorder sosiale leer as ʼn hulpmiddel wat die potensiaal vir die saadstelsel om tot die dringende uitdagings vir Suid-Afrika ten opsigte van die verlies aan biodiversiteit, voedselonsekerheid en klimaatsverandering by te dra, kan ontsluit. Sleutelwoorde: saadstelsel, geneties gemodifiseerde saad, hibriede saad, saadpatente, saad-innovering, sosiale leer, stelselteorie, kompleksiteitsdenke, konsolidasie van saadbedryf.

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