Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Acquisition of African Seed Company by Monsanto and Limagrain

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is deeply concerned about the recent acquisitions by multi-national seed companies of large parts of SeedCo, one of Africa's largest home-grown seed companies. Attracting foreign investment from the world's largest seed companies, most of who got to their current dominant positions by devouring national seed companies and their competitors through mergers and acquisitions, is an inevitable consequence of the fierce drive to commercialize agriculture in Africa.

The deals in question involve French seed giant Groupe Limagrain, the largest seed and plant breeding company in the European Union, who has invested up to US$60 million for a 28% stake in SeedCo. In another transaction, SeedCo has agreed to sell 49% of its shares in Africa's only cottonseed company, Quton, to Mahyco of India. Mahyco is 26% owned by Monsanto and has 50:50 joint venture with the gene-giant to sub-license its genetically modified (GM) bt cotton traits throughout India. Interestingly, Mahyco also specializes in hybrid cotton varieties, unlike Quton, who also produces open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) of cottonseed.

These acquisitions follow close on the heels of Swiss biotech giant Syngenta's take-over in 2013 of Zambian seed company MRI Seed, whose maize germplasm collection was said at the time to be amongst Africa's most comprehensive and diverse. Taken together, this means that three of the world's largest biotechnology companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, all now have a significant foothold on the continent in markets for two of the three major global GM crop varieties: maize and cotton.

SeedCo, like so many other seed companies around the world, began life as a farmer-led and owned organisation to improve the availability of quality maize seed in 1940. Today it describes itself as Africa's largest seed company, operating in 15 countries across the continent and has significant market shares in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. SeedCo also has access to government and donor-funded input subsidy programmes in Zambia and Malawi and has set its sights on potentially lucrative markets in Nigeria and Ghana. In July 2014, SeedCo and Limagrain began discussions with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) for a collaborative research project on maize lethal necrosis in Africa.

The creation of an predominantly privately owned seed industry in Africa is a vital component of the Green Revolution push, which equates agrarian transformation in Africa with the adoption of commercial (corporate) certified seed and other expensive inputs such as fertilizer. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), for example, claims to collaborate with 80 small and medium sized seed companies across Africa and has also organized public-private-partnerships between seed companies and public research institutions. How many of these newly established entities will remain independent of global seed industry players remains to be seen.