The Plant Breeders Bill is designed to impose genetically modified organisms into Ghana’s food chain, a move that could change our entire agricultural system. Parliament has brought this bill to the Consideration Stage without any public participation or awareness. Far from simply dealing with the rights of the plant breeder, the Bill is designed to pre-empt the laws of Ghana and prevent farmers from freely saving, using, and sharing seed from season to season as they have always done. The ultimate result of the bill will be to put Ghana’s food supply into the hands of foreign corporations.
The entire Plant Breeders’ Bill is about protecting the breeder’s intellectual property and patent rights to plant varieties. GMOs are plant varieties protected by patents and intellectual property rights. The Plant Breeders’ Bill therefore protects GMOs by definition.
GMOs are a bullet aimed at the heart of Ghana and the Plant Breeders’ Bill serves as the crosshairs enabling foreign corporations to directly target Ghana. The objective is to disable the ability of Ghanaians to legally challenge anything relating to GMO imposition.
There are three sections of the bill with particular relevance to GMOs. Clause 3 describes the characteristics of protected plant varieties. Clause 20 specifically names genetically engineered plants as protected varieties and describes the breeders’ rights that are protected above the rights of Ghana’s farmers. And Clause 23 puts plant breeders’ rights above the laws of Ghana so that Ghana will not be able to regulate them.
“Measures regulating commerce.
A plant breeder right shall be independent of any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material.”
GMOs, the product of genetic engineering, are specifically named in Clause 20 as varieties of plants whose breeder’s rights are protected by the Plant Breeders’ Bill:
Clause 20 Section (6) (c)
“(6) An essentially derived variety may be obtained for example by the selection of a …
(c) variant individual from a plant of the initial variety, back crossing or transformation by genetic engineering.”
Clause 20 also defines those activities, applied to the varieties of plants protected by the bill, which require authorization from the breeder. These include all the ways in which farmers traditionally freely use, save, and share seeds. Breeders make their profits by charging fees and royalties for all of these uses, including saving and replanting seeds. The law even covers those plants owned by the farmer but contaminated by pollination from a protected variety. The legal language is opaque and difficult to understand, but it covers all the traditional ways in which farmers freely use, save, and exchange seeds, and awards the rights over these activities to the plant breeders.
At the very beginning of the Plant Breeders’ Bill, Clause 3, A variety shall not be deemed suitable for the purpose of the protection of a plant breeder’s right unless it is:
(a) new, [novelty]
(b) distinct; [distinctness]
(c) uniform; and [uniformity]
(d) stable; [stability]
Breeding seeds that hold true to these legally defined characteristics of novelty, distinctness, uniformity and stability over multiple plant generations is prohibitively expensive. GMO varieties meet these definitions. The cost of developing and producing them is measured in millions of dollars. As the ETC Group points out: “The more costly the process, the more likely only the biggest companies will be able and willing to pay the price, since the costs also create barriers to entry for others.”
The way this has worked in other countries is that small and medium-sized plant breeders are forced out of business and only the big multinational corporations are left holding a monopoly over protected seeds and a monopoly over a country’s food and plant products. The bill will allow multinational corporations to drive Ghana’s plant breeders out of business. Those who believe the bill will protect Ghanaian plant breeders are not paying attention and will be sadly disillusioned. Ghanaian plant breeders will be protected only when Ghanaian farmers are protected.
Ghana does not need this bill. In order to comply with the WTO TRIPS protocol (World Trade Organization Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). Ghana can write a “sui generis” bill, a bill that is suited to the specific needs of Ghana’s farmers, consumers and plant breeders, acknowledging that farmers are the first breeders and their rights come first. Ghana needs a bill that protects the rights of farmers and does not put the rights of breeders above the laws of Ghana.
The Plant Breeders’ Bill should be defeated! If it is passed, it needs at least two critically important amendments. It needs language protecting farmers’ rights and language protecting Ghana’s sovereignty.
The two critical amendments are:
1. Farmers are the first breeders and their rights come first.
2. Delete Clause 23. No plant breeder, no foreign corporation, should be above the laws of Ghana.
Nana Ama Amamoo
Director, Research and Information, FSG