Published in the Ecologist, December 2010. To view the article in its original format, click here.

Proposed merger between Dupont-owned Pioneer Hi-Bred and Pannar Seeds could spell disaster for local farmers and food security, watchdog claims

Activists claim attempts to consolidate South Africa's seed market could further expand monoculture farming

Activists claim attempts to consolidate South Africa’s seed market could further expand monoculture farming

A proposed merger between two giant seed companies in South Africa has raised concerns among campaign groups that farmers could be forced to become dependent on just two foreign seed market giants, DuPont and Monsanto, for local seed supplies.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, owned by biotech corporation DuPont, is attempting to buy a majority stake in the largest remaining South African seed company Pannar Seeds. If successful, the merger would mean the South African seed market would be effectively duopolised by DuPont and Monsanto, which acquired two other major South African seed companies several years ago.

Biowatch South Africa has raised its concerns with the Competition Commission of South Africa. The pressure group claims further seed-market consolidation would make local farmers reliant on large corporations that are primarily interested in maximising profits, would reduce seed diversity and increase local seed prices, a scenario already witnessed inother regions where the large seed companies operate.

‘From a civil society and market transparency point of view, as well as from the perspective of food security and sovereignty, Biowatch and other players are deeply concerned about yet further concentration, this time by offshore-held transnational corporations that do not have the interests of either our farmers or our national food security at heart, but that are only interested in maximising profit,’ Glenn Ashton, a spokesperson for Biowatch South Africa, told the Ecologist.

DuPont and Monsanto have a pattern of patenting genetically modified (GM) seed varieties they sell to local farmers, giving them exclusive rights to the genes, seeds and plants, which then effectively forces farmers to buy new seeds from company stocks each year rather than saving seeds for the following season.

Practices such as this have been criticised for reducing local seed diversity by promoting monocultures, allowing large companies to control the sector and increase prices, in turn leaving farmers with few alternatives.

However, those involved in the takeover bid maintain the South African move will prove beneficial. Brian Corbishley, chairman of Pannar Seeds, said: ‘This is good news for our customers, for our employees and for South Africa… Pioneer is the ideal partner for the long-term growth of our business. They’ll help us meet our customers’ increasing needs for better and higher-yielding products and services.’

Paul E. Schickler, president of Pioneer Hi-Bred, said: ‘Our respect for Pannar, their people and their products, runs deep. Together we can increase investments in innovative products and services for farmers across Africa. This will enhance productivity, improve food security and grow our businesses.’

In the last 20 year, five biotech giants – Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow and DuPont – have collectively purchased more than 200 seed companies and now completely dominate the seed market, which scientists and campaign groups say threatens world food security