The move to impose the UPOV-compliant Plant Breeders’ Bill on Ghanaians suffered a major set-back on Tuesday, November 11, 2014. This is a significant victory given the level of push back our campaign received from the MPs and the entire apparatus of state of the Mahama Administration. This does not mean the end of the story. The real struggle for a sensible law now begins.
We would like to see in any future bill, a clear statement of farmers rights and the absence of any form of criminalization of farmers such as what we saw in Clause 58 of the rejected bill. In the Report of the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs On The Plant Breeders’ Bill, November, 2013, we witness the conspicuous absence of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) among the documents referenced. This is an unconscionable omission. Ghana is a signatory to this treaty. It is the treaty that protects and supports farmers rights. As a member of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA) we expect Ghana to take steps to realize farmers’ rights to use, sell, save and exchange farm-saved seeds, to protect their traditional knowledge and to allow their participation in national decision-making. The bill must preserve Ghana’s sovereign independence and must protect the DNA of Ghana’s traditional seeds from biopiracy.
The Majority Leader and Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Mr. Bagbin executed an “organized retreat”, of the type associated with an army in the face of superior fire-power, when the Bill came up as Item No. 7 on the Order Paper of the day. After reminding the Speaker that the Bill was at the Consideration Stage, and that “there was no way we could move it back to Second Reading”, He was quickly interrupted by the Speaker:
“Mr Speaker: Hon Majority Leader, if it is not a procedure provided for by the Constitution –– we are masters of our own procedure. Given the level of public comments on this matter, I would wish you let us see how we can do it so that those issues that are in the Report –– I understand you perfectly, that at the Consideration Stage, we cannot go back to Second Consideration Stage. If it is not a procedure that would breach the Constitution, but is only a provision which would be consistent with our –– Or if you can find a way of dealing with our own Standing Orders, so that those issues can be discussed to pave way comfortably for the Consideration Stage, I would urge for further consultation, so that maybe, tomorrow, we can take it. I do not know what you feel about it, Hon Majority Leader. Unless the procedure is outlined by the Constitution –– That one, we cannot do anything about it. This is because it is important to inform the people of Ghana.
Mr Bagbin: Mr Speaker, I take a cue from the Chair, and would try to go by the wise counsel that you have given, and reconsider the position. We discussed it extensively. Some were for what you are proposing, but the majority were against that. So, I agree that during the Consideration Stage, I would present it. But once you have counselled, we would go back to consult and see how best we can iron out a procedure that would not be in conflict with any of the laws including the Constitution. This is because with Parliament, we are masters of our own procedure. So, we can defer this item till we finish with the consultation”. (See: The Hansard | Official Report for 11th November 2014 | Publications | Parliament of Ghana http://www.parliament.gh/publi
The meaning of this is that the Plant Breeders’ Bill now goes back for a Second Reading. The main difference between a Consideration Stage and a Second Reading is that, at the Consideration Stage a Bill is examined in detail, and amendments may be proposed to it. The House does not discuss the principle of the Bill at that stage. The scope for fundamental changes is thus very narrow. Second Reading of Bills, however, is intended to give the public an opportunity to participate in the discussion of Bills; individuals may be requested to appear before the Committee to assist it. Bills are closely scrutinised in the relevant Committee of the House. Without a doubt, Second Reading is the most important stage in the passage of a Bill. Thus this is the time for the Ghanaian public to make their concerns known to Parliament, as the pressures from the multinational corporations and their local and international allies are also bound to mount.
Food Sovereignty Ghana is most grateful to our local partners in this campaign: the Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana, PFAG, Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Development, CIKOD, General Agricultural Workers’ Union, GAWU, National Catholic Secretariat of Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (NCS/GCBC), Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC), Marshallan Relief and Development Services (MAREDES), Federation of Muslim Women of Ghana (FOMWAG), Ghana Muslim Mission (GMM), Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission of Ghana (AMM-G), Religious Bodies Network for Climate Change (RELBONET) Ahlussuna Wal Jama’a (ASWAJ), Office of the National Chief Imam (ONCI), The Rastarian Council, Vegetarian Association of Ghana, Socialist Forum of Ghana, SFG, Accra Freedom Centre, The Economic Justice Network, EJN, The Brong Ahafo House of Chiefs, the Small Scale Women and Men Farmers in Ghana, among others.
We wish to mention in particular, the Convention People’s Party, CPP, for the gallant support. We take notice of the fact that the CPP has been hailed as the only political party in Africa that has clearly identified with this cause against the imposition of GM foods and the monopolization of seeds on the continent. We are equally grateful to our international partners for their solidarity. We mention in particular, the World Development Movement WDM, of the UK for the enormous pressure they put on the UK Parliament to pull out of the G8NA, and to support our campaign. Our gratitude also goes to the African Centre for Biosafety, ACB, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, AFSA, Bread for the World, Germany, for sponsoring a workshop on GMOs, Third World Network, TWN, Groundswell International, GRAIN, GMWatch, Pan-Africanist International, Dr. Vandana Shiva and the Navdanya Trust and many many more, not forgetting the 51 international NGOs that signed a petition to the Parliament.
There is no doubt, that despite the determination on the part of the powers that be, to push the UPOV-compliant Plant Breeders’ Bill and GMOs down the throats of Ghanaians, they have been compelled by the mounting local and international pressure to beat a retreat! There is no doubt that victory is in sight! This is a time to intensify the campaign and to set the agenda. We with the take advantage of this opportunity to re-iterate our call for an indefinite moratorium on the production, importation, offer sale, exportation, transit, field trials of genetically modified foods in Ghana. We also wish to call into question, issues of conflicts of interest within the National Biosafety Committee.
Apart from Clause 23, which is designed to surrender Ghana’s sovereignty to foreign multinational corporations, we want to see the disclosure of origin of all genetic materials in the applications for patents, in order to protect Ghana from biopiracy. Biopiracy is a situation where indigenous knowledge of nature, originating with indigenous peoples, is used by others for profit, without permission from and with little or no compensation or recognition to the indigenous people themselves. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of genetic resources is one of the three objectives of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD recognises the sovereign right of states over their natural resources in areas within their jurisdiction. See: The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing.pdf http://www.cbd.int/undb/media/
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. Sui generis means “unique” system of protection. This provision allows Ghana maximum flexibility in the design of plant variety protection (PVP). This means that Ghana has the option of using this flexibility to innovatively design a PVP system that reflects the conditions prevailing in Ghana. This is what many advanced developing countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, India have done. The African Union Ministers have also recommended a unique Model Law for Plant Variety Protection.
We have a lot of work ahead to get a bill that really meets the needs of Ghana and Ghanaians. And we call on every Ghanaian who eats food to join us in this struggle!