Seeds of Hope, Seeds of Despair: Towards a Political Economy of the Seed Industry in Southern Africa. Third World Quarterly. Vol. 22, No. 4 (Fall, 2001), pp. 657-673.


The seed industry in Southern Africa has been radically transformed by a policy of liberalization and privatization started under structural adjustment. Traditionally under the domain of parastatals, seed research, production and distribution has been criticized for failing to provide modern variety seed to smallholder farmers. However, the private companies which have stepped in to replace seed parastatals in Southern Africa have proven no more effective in meeting the demands of smallholders. The Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement, concluded in 1994 as part of the Uruguay Rounds of GATT negotiations, as well as certain technological innovations such as Terminator or Traitor technologies, threaten to further undermine local seed production and consumption by destroying the informal seed sector so central to agricultural production in the region. What alternatives exist? The success of Zimbabwe’s maize seed networks offers some insight. Resting on a unique relationship between government and nationally-based producer co-operatives, Zimbabwe’s maize program was able to provide nearly every farmer in the country with hybrid maize suited for local growing conditions.

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