Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) is meeting with the government this Friday, 29th May 2020, on the Plant Breeders’ Bill. This follows an invitation by the Registrar-General for meeting “as a follow-up to the workshop on Ghana’s Plant Breeders’ Bill which was held on 26th and 27th February, 2020 in Accra, where your organisation raised some issues”.
The issues we raised then were calls on the government to be inclusive in their ongoing consultations on the reintroduction of the Plant Breeders’ Bill. We condemned the fact that even though several organisations and institutions wrote petitions to the Speaker of Parliament, the government appeared to have decided to ignore these petitions and so far, no conscious attempts have even been made to get their side of the story. FSG found it regrettable that, of the numerous groups that petitioned the Speaker on the bill, only three were invited to the workshop organised by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Registrar-General’s Department.
Indeed, the attention of FSG was drawn in the evening of Wednesday, 26th February, 2020, to an ongoing two-day “National Workshop on the Plant Breeders’ Bill”, in Accra organized by the Registrar General’s Department where the reviewed Plant Breeders’ Bill was expected to be presented. FSG only heard of this at the end of the first day. No formal invitation was ever extended, but were informed by a participant that “the organisers said FSG was welcome”. FSG thus sent observers, Messrs Evans Tawiah, FSG Secretary, and Peterson Agrain Hutrapo Attipoe FSG Director of Operations, who informed the organisers that:
“1. We wish to register our protest against the informal and last minute invitation to such an event of grave national importance. 2. In view of the lack of prior information on the proposed review of the Plant Breeders’ Bill, we shall restrict our participation solely to information gathering. And, 3. We reserve our comments until we have satisfied ourselves as regards the contents of the reviewed bill vis-a-vis the demands in our petition forwarded to the Speaker of Parliament.”
It emerged however, at the workshop that it was not about a “review” of the Plant Breeders’ Bill, but what they called, a sensitisation programme. The message was that that none of the objections raised against the original bill had been taken into consideration, since these objections were sent to the NDC Administration of former President Mahama, and we now have the NPP Administration of President Akufo Addo.
Prof. Hans Adu Daapah, the moderator, actually said, “Food Sovereignty Ghana must resubmit your memo to Parliament… The Constitution of this country is such that when the term of the Parliament ends, everything ends. You have presented something to the previous Parliament, and you will have to reintroduce yourselves.” Apparently, the new Cabinet has therefore taken the decision to re-introduce the original bill without any changes, hence the need for “sensitisation”.
Since no one had apparently bothered to take a look at the Petitions against the Plant Breeders’ Bill from various stakeholder groups in Ghana, the organisers clearly had no idea what aggrieved groups, CSOs, FBOs, let alone, to invite. In all there were around 30 participants from “selected from key institutions”, but apart from one or two, hardly anyone invited had sent a petition to the previous government on the same bill.
Hence, as one would expect, most of the “invitees” from institutions and organisations such as the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Alliance for Science Ghana, Ghana Chamber of Agribusiness, University of Ghana, Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute, National Seed Traders Association of Ghana, University of Cape Coast, and the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), were singing from the same hymn sheet.
After FSG reading portions of our objections and suggestions to some of the clauses of the Plant Breeders’ Bill, we are asked to “give in” because we are a “minority” who are trying “to hold the whole country down.” Whilst FSG was stopped from reading the extracts form our previous petition to highlight our concerns on biopiracy, benefit sharing of Ghana’s genetic resources, and the criminalisation of farmers, with a request to us to send our petition by email, we also heard contradictory remarks such as all the objections to the Plant Breeders’ Bill had been already addressed by the previous government.
The workshop itself was long on the need to protect the intellectual property rights of the plant breeder, and short on the plant variety protection models fit for purpose. The discussions covered everything from intellectual property, patents, copyright law, trade marks, industrial design, etc, but nothing on the various models of plant variety protection and why the government is insisting on UPOV 91 Convention. As it turned out, the sensitisation workshop ended with the FSG very much underwhelmed and unsensitised.
“We have already pointed out that Ghana is a member of the World Trade Organization and the rights and obligations concerning intellectual property are governed by the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). According to Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement, Ghana has to provide protection of plant varieties by an “effective sui generis” system. Ghana has full flexibility under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to develop an effective “sui generis” system for plant variety protection, i.e. to develop a unique system that suits its needs.
This provision allows Ghana maximum flexibility in the design of plant variety protection (PVP). This is what many developing countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, India have done. The African Union Ministers have also recommended a unique Model Law for Plant Variety Protection.
FSG has never said that plant breeders must not be protected. What we want is a system of protection that guarantees the rights of the plant breeder as well as the farmer. So far, neither government nor Parliament has accounted for the basis for the opting for UPOV 91. In the Memorandum to the Bill, we are only informed about the decision without any justifications.
It is a well-established position of FSG that, “Ghana can protect plant breeder rights without necessarily opting for UPOV 91. The Bill is modelled on the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants of 1991 (UPOV 1991) which is a rigid and an inflexible regime for plant variety protection (PVP). It is worth noting that today out of the 71 UPOV members, only a fraction – about 22 developing countries are members of UPOV. Most of these developing countries (e.g. Brazil, China, Argentina, South Africa) and even some developed countries (e.g. Norway) are not members of UPOV 1991 but rather UPOV 1978, which is a far more flexible regime.” See: Replace Plant Breeders’ Bill With A “Sui Generis” PVP System.
FSG shall facilitate a live coverage of the entire encounter, in order to promote public awareness and participation in such an important debate. The meeting organisers understandably restricted the number of participants to only “a maximum of fifteen (15) members of your organisation”. In the era of Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing, this has become the norm. However, thankfully, more and more activities are also going online, where even more people can now participate.
This is also important because such recordings serve as public records for future references in case of misrepresentations afterwards. Previous experience of distortions of our meeting with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, in 2013, which even surfaced during the last workshop. We never get official transcripts of our meetings with government officials, but some politicians keep misrepresenting us to suit their own agenda. Hence, it is our hope that a live coverage is what we need to ensure transparency, probity, and accountability.
We shall be going live Facebook on Friday, 29th May, 2020, at 10:00 GMT.
For Life, the Environment, and Social Justice!
Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour
Communications Directorate, FSG