Legislation on plant breeders’ rights – the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 1976 (Act No. 15 of 1976) – currently
is being reviewed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. This legislation provides for
farmers’ privilege, which is one of the exceptions to plant breeders’ rights. It allows farmers to save seed of
protected varieties for their own use. Farmers’ privilege, and particularly its impact on smallholder farmers in
developing countries, is a widely debated issue. During the public consultation process, several comments
proposing amendments to the farmers’ privilege provision were received from various stakeholders.
However, no comments were received from the smallholder farmers who may be directly impacted by this
provision. This pilot study was undertaken to assess the understanding of the farmers’ privilege concept
by smallholder farmers from the historically disadvantaged communities and their current practices with
regard to seed saving. The results showed that the majority of the smallholder farmers were not aware of the
existence of the legislation on plant breeders’ rights and therefore do not understand the farmers’ privilege
concept and its implications. They also did not know whether the varieties they were using were protected
by plant breeders’ rights or not. Little information has been published on the impact of plant breeders’ rights
in South Africa in general. We hope that this study might inform policy decisions on matters related to plant
breeders’ rights and the farmers’ privilege.