Food Sovereignty Ghana appreciates the efforts of Hon. Alban Bagbin, Member of Parliament for Nadowli West, and chairperson of the Parliamentary sub-committee on Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs, to clarify issues surrounding the Plant Breeders Bill. Unfortunately, it is Mr. Bagbin who is misinforming the Ghanaian public about the contents and true nature of the Bill.
What will happen to Ghanaian agriculture as a result of the Plant Breeders’ Bill:
*Exploitation and marginalization of smallholder farmers which represent about 80% of the total agricultural production of Ghana. The Bill is unbalanced and inequitable as it fails to include the contribution and interests of Ghanaian smallholder farmers which have been breeding and are the backbone of the Ghanaian agriculture;
* Smallholder farmers will not be allowed to sell (even small amounts) or exchange farm-saved seed. Using farm-saved seeds on their own holding may also be subject to payment of royalties. Farmers’ rights to use, save, sell and exchange seeds is critical to ensure accessibility to seeds in terms of availability and affordability and for improving livelihoods;
*Will promote reliance on commercial varieties that are of much higher prices, thereby increasing the cost of production for farmers;
*Commercial varieties that are stable and uniform tend to heavily rely on use of inputs such as fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides, which leads to an increase in the cost of production;
*Impact on the Right to Food as high costs of production (due to high costs of seed and inputs) affects the stability of household incomes;
*Adverse effects on air, water, soil, biodiversity due to increased use of inputs;
*Increased litigation within the value chain as PBR holders seek to maximize royalty revenues,
*Biopiracy of local genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. The bill does not require disclosure of origin of the genetic resource, and does not provide for prior informed consent and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from use of Ghanaian genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge;
* Loss of vibrant rural communities as economic activity decreases because wealth is transferred from local farmers to distant, often foreign, holders of PBRs.
*Erosion of biodiversity as the Bill only incentivizes development of “uniform” varieties, leading to progressive marginalization of local varieties. FAO estimates that about 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost and the primary reason is that commercial, uniform varieties are replacing native land races. Genetic erosion increases vulnerability to climate change, new pests and diseases.
The Bill is about granting intellectual property to breeders that develop new varieties that are stable and uniform. The specific language of the Bill includes GMOs that are new varieties.
The current Bill lacks a clear explicit provision that plant variety protection will not be granted for varieties that contain technology that is injurious to health, human and environment. The use of GMOs is a highly contentious issue in Ghana and so it is just and proper that the Bill should contain provisions that safeguards public interests. Several other countries have similar provisions in their PBR legislation (for example India and Malaysia) and there is no reason why Ghana cannot incorporate such provision in the Bill. So far Parliament has refused to include this safeguard.
The Bill disregards the contributions of smallholder farmers who are the backbone of Ghana’s agriculture system. The Bill should treat smallholder farmers on an equal footing and recognise their contribution to breeding efforts in Ghana. Special provisions should be incorporated into the legislation to safeguard the interests of smallholder farmers. Ghana cannot ignore the contributions of smallholder farmers who have been breeding plant varieties for millennia, by enacting a Bill that is only about protecting the rights of a small handful of Ghanaian scientists and foreign plant breeders. Additionally, the results of taxpayer funded research by Ghanaian scientists must belong to the taxpayers and should be in the public domain. The current Bill is unbalanced and inequitable as it ignores the needs and interests of smallholder farmers.
Although Mr. Bagbin claims stakeholders were consulted in writing the Bill, farmers are the largest stakeholders in Ghana, and they have not been consulted. It is the land, lives, and livelihoods of farmers that are at stake, and the Plant Breeders Bill puts these at severe risk. Farmers were neither consulted nor even informed about the Plant Breeders Bill until Food Sovereignty Ghana began to bring information to public attention. The Bill lacks both credibility and legitimacy in terms of process and substance by its exclusion of smallholder farmers.
In fact the current Bill is inconsistent with Ghana’s obligations under the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) to protect and preserve smallholder farmers and farming. Article 9 of the ITPGRFA (of which Ghana is a member) recognises “the enormous contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world, particularly those in the centres of origin and crop diversity, have made and will continue to make for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources which constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world”. The Treaty places an obligation on Ghana to realise farmers’ rights to save, sell, use and exchange farm-saved seeds and farmers’ right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to use of plant genetic resources.
It is doubtful that IP protection will increase plant breeders’ contributions to agriculture in Ghana. The pattern of IP protection across industries shows IP protection narrows reduces transparency, reduces technology transfer, and inhibits innovation. That has been Ghana’s experience with Intellectual Property Rights to date.
Mr. Bagbin gave the example of patents. It is worth noting that most patent holders are foreigners based in the US, EU and Japan. So Ghana is not a beneficiary of this system. In fact the patent system had such an adverse impact on access to medicines that in 2005, the Ghana government had to issue a compulsory license to override the patent barrier (without the permission of the patent holder) and to facilitate access to medicines in Ghana.
As the Bill is written, any entity, from almost any country in the world, including the agribusiness transnational corporations (TNCs) that are greedy to plunder Ghana, can claim rights to plant variety protection under the Bill. The TNCs have the financial and technological resources to leave Ghanaian farmers and scientists in the dust when registering, or developing and registering new varieties.
IP protection should not be absolute. There must be sufficient safeguards to protect vulnerable communities and public interest against abuse by right holders. A law also has to be balanced and equitable for it to work in practice.
Under the Bill’s Clause 9 any foreign breeder, including TNCs, will be able to register plant varieties in Ghana and operate from outside Ghana. They can collect fees and royalties and transfer all of that wealth away from Ghana’s farmers and outside the borders of Ghana, leaving Ghana financially poorer, with greatly reduced seed and plant diversity. Ghana does not need more foreigners taking money out of farming communities, out of the agricultural sector, out of the country. The Bill provides a powerful mechanism for foreign corporations to extract wealth from Ghana’s countryside and farming communities, providing nothing in return. Under the Bill, foreign breeders could take seeds developed by Ghanaian farmers and scientists, make minor alterations, and register those varieties as their own. They can use Ghana’s law to steal Ghanaian DNA and the work of centuries of farming, shutting out Ghanaian farmers and breeders from the fruits of their own labor, their own agricultural heritage.
Farmers will have to “buy” the new varieties from registered breeders. Farmers do not have the resources to compete with the TNCs for the protection of varieties including all the varieties those farmers have developed over years and decades and millennia. Buying new seed each season will increase costs and drive many farmers out of business and off the land. Ghana will lose thousands of agricultural jobs and those thousands of unemployed people will move to expanding slums around the cities.
Traditional farmers cannot compete with TNCs for the protection of varieties. Farmer varieties are constantly evolving and thus will not be able to meet the criteria of uniformity and stability that are required to obtain protection under the bill. Farmers also don’t have the financial resources to apply and maintain such protection. Thus the bill is tilted heavily in favour of commercial breeders and their varieties to the detriment of small-scale farmers.
Ghana needs to move away from adopting the draconian measures set out in the Bill which are based on UPOV 1991. Major developing countries and agricultural producers have refused to put in place such a draconian regime and have instead put in place plant variety protection laws that are more balanced, equitable and recognise the contributions of smallholder farmers.Ghana can do the same and still be in compliance with WTO TRIPS. The African Union Model law also advises against such UPOV 1991 measures. Ghana can do far better for our farmers and our citizens. We urge Parliament to defeat or to extensively amend the current Plant Breeders Bill.
For Life, the Environment, and Social Justice!
Nana Ama Amamoo
Director, Research and Information, FSG