Ghana's plant varieties bill adequately addresses concerns of CSOs

Raymond Ablorh.pic.jpeg Raymond Ablorh

Mon, 5 Oct 2020 Source: Raymond Ablorh

Civil Society Organizations in Africa have since the past 20 years been engaged in campaigns aimed at discouraging African countries from establishing effective Plant Variety Protection System on the grounds that it will marginalise Small holder farmers who, according to them, contribute significantly to food crop production on the continent.

Whiles this may be true, it is also a fact that Africa imports between US$47 to 60 billion worth of foodstuff from outside the continent mainly from countries that have put in place effective PVP systems.

The reality facing the continent is that her population is growing at a supersonic speed and that comes with critical food sustainability questions which, require realistic responses.

Are we able to feed our fast growing population with the current system of agriculture?

Probably, this is why in spite of the negative campaigns, more and more countries are realising the need to put in place the UPOV-based PVP system to improve agricultural production.

The most recent country to initiate the process of joining UPOV is the Republic of Zimbabwe.

In 2019, Nigeria, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, St Vincent and the Grenadines, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela among others, all submitted their draft PVP Bills to UPOV for examination to initiate the procedure for acceding to the UPOV Convention.

The Republic of Rwanda has already adopted a national PVP system based on the 1991 UPOV Convention and is yet to join UPOV.

One thing which, has become very clear ovèr the years in the conversations is that the notion of marginalization with the introduction of UPOV-based PVP is unfounded.

Kenya, (just as Ghana intends to do) joined UPOV in 1999, however, the small holder farmers are still growing crops and increasing their acreage taking advantage of new varieties introduced in the country.

Again, we do not seem to be witnessing any mono-cropping systems in Kenya. As a matter of fact, there has rather been foreign direct investment as Kenya has become one of the major exporters of cut-flowers.

All the 17-Member States of OAPI who are members of UPOV have their small scale farmers still benefiting from the introduction of new varieties as a result of having an efficient PVP system which, is considered absolutely necessary.

It is interesting to note that the all the campaigners against the PVP system have their mother organizations based in countries that have efficient PVP system and members UPOV ensuring that their nationals and farmers are beneficiaries of the PVP system.

The question that we must start asking ourselves is whether the campaigners are against countries such as Ghana because they will be potential competitors if allowed to join the effective PVP system?

Ghana has all that it takes; good climate and soil conditions, as well as, in close proximity in terms of flying time to get to Europe to also engage in floriculture business and auction in Amsterdam.

Ghana has the potential to grow crops and breed new varieties that will be comparable to the new varieties grown in our neighbouring countries that are flooding the Ghanaian market.

In recent times, a visitor to any Ghanaian market bears witness to the power of the PVP system. Our market women boldly promote on display tomatoes, onion, beans and carrots from our neighbouring countries as having superior qualities and attributes to those grown in Ghana.

It is disheartening to note that we are patronising products from PVP countries to the detriment of farm produce grown by our gallant farmers who have limited varieties that fails to satisfy consumer taste for improved varieties with better shelf life.

Why are we depriving our farmers access to improved varieties in addition to the traditional land races, by kicking against an efficient system that will promote investment in the breeding of new variety of plants to improve the quality, quantity and cost of food, fiber and raw material for the agriculture industries?

It is rather surprising that the same campaigners provide extension training services on seeds from PVP countries to farmers which, sometimes are infected with virii with low yields.

Section 23 of the Bill has been misunderstood by some CSOs. It says that “a plant breeder’s right shall be independent of any measure taken by the Republic of Ghana to regulate the production, certification and marketing of materials of a variety or the importation or exportation of materials”.

It has nothing to do with national sovereignty. It establishes the fact that once a variety is registered, it does not automatically lead to the marketing of the variety. It requires other regulatory systems such as seed certification, phytosanitary and biosafety permits, and so on.

This is what the independence of the PVP system establishes. It has become a tool for campaign and unfortunately, a large number of people in the country including politicians have bought into the misinformation.

In view of this, the re-introduced bill has amended this provision to bring clarity to the concept of independence in Plant Variety Protection.

It will be important for legislators who are considering the Bill to critically examine how developed countries and developing countries including nearly 40 African countries have established UPOV based PVP system or are in the process of doing same and the impact it is having on their agricultural development and productivity and the contribution to their GDP.

This will reveal the hidden agenda of these campaigners. The experience of ARIPO bears testimony of this fact where over 80 CSOs in Africa came together to campaign against the adoption of the Arusha Protocol on Plant Variety Protection and even went to the extent of making use of the UN Rapporteur Generals and some developed countries who do not want to see Africa maximize its agricultural potential given that 50% of the world’s arable lands is on the continent as well as the fact that 60% of Africa’s population is below the age of 25 years.

As has been said by Mo Ibrahim, one of the Richest African entrepreneurs, the future of Africa’s development and integration of the youth rests with agriculture and therefore, agriculture cannot be developed at the subsistence level but must be seen as a business which, can be commercialised to attract youth employment.

Ghana must therefore take urgent steps to pass the new bill which, has been debated for nearly two decades by past Parliaments and governments.

It is sad to note that as a country we recognise the innovation of the inventor who creates a processor blend vegetables with a patent for twenty years, and we grant the person who provides an a brand name to sell a processor for blending the vegetables ten years protection whilst a musician who makes a song about using the vegetables to prepare delicious dishes protection for his life time and 70 years, however, the gallant breeder who spend between 5 to 15 years to develop a new variety of a vegetable with better yields, resistance to pest and quality for the enjoyment of society is being denied the due recognition for his hard work and effort.

The positive approach taken by the current government must therefore be fully supported by all well-meaning Ghanaians and those who have the interest of the nation at heart.

Columnist: Raymond Ablorh