Food Sovereignty demands parliament’s report on Plant Breeders Bill consultations

GM CowpeaFood Sovereignty Ghana (FSG), has called on the Speaker of Parliament to order the publication of a report on the consultations that the Select-Committee on Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs undertook on the Plant Breeders Bill (PBB).

This follows the request of Mr Edward Doe Adjaho for “further consultations” with stakeholders on the PBB, when it came before the House on November 11, 2014.

A statement issued by Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour, Communications Directorate, FSG, said the call is in reaction to a media report by the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Select-Committee on Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr George Loh, Member of Parliament (MP) for North Dayi.

The MP was a quoted as saying: “We have done extensive consultations. We even did two consultations carried live on television with all stakeholders. So, nobody can pretend that we haven’t spoken to people. If after consultations, you do stand where you are, fine! We have consulted!

“The consultations that we have been expecting from Parliament since November11, 2014, have already taken place without our knowledge!” FSG said

According to Food Sovereignty, Mr Loh said that a meeting with FSG on December 4, 2013, prior to the Speaker’s call, was part of the “further consultations” called for by the Speaker on November 11, 2014, almost a year later.

The statement said: “We are not claiming that we are the only group that petitioned Parliament that needed to be consulted. However, we see that almost all the groups that petitioned Parliament are still waiting to be consulted. We wonder, which groups actually were consulted? Why were most or all of the petitioners excluded?

“What was the basis of the petitions of any groups that may have been consulted, and on what grounds were they rejected by the Committee?”

FSG said On Tuesday, November 11, 2014, the last time the Bill came up on the floor of the House at the Consideration Stage, the Speaker ruled: “I will urge for further consultation,” he said to Mr Alban Bagbin, Majority Leader and then Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.

“It therefore behoves the Committee to produce an official report detailing the consultations they claim to have done for all to know why Parliament still refuses to heed the demands of Ghanaian civil society groups and faith-based organisations, who have formally petitioned them.”

The document said Ghana could protect plant breeder rights without necessarily opting for UPOV 91, the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1991. The Bill is modelled on the UPOV 1991, which is a rigid and an inflexible regime for plant variety protection (PVP).

It said of the 71 UPOV members, only a fraction – about 22 developing countries are members of UPOV.

Most of these developing countries such as Brazil, China, Argentina, South Africa and even some developed countries such as Norway are not members of UPOV 1991 but rather UPOV 1978, which is a far more flexible regime.

“Ghana has full flexibility under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to develop an effective ‘generis’ system for plant variety protection.”

The statement said: “Ghana is a member of the WTO 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 is what many developing countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and India have done.

“The African Union Ministers have also recommended a unique Model Law for Plant Variety Protection.

“As a member of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA) we expect Ghana to take steps to realise 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.”

“It is thus extremely disappointing to see that the Bill is heavily tilted in favour of commercial breeders and undermines farmers’ rights.”

“The Bill does not allow farmers to sell and exchange seeds. A farmer’s use of farm-saved seeds on his or her own holdings is limited to personal use and regulation and may be subject to payment of royalties.”

The statement said the Bill also contains a presumption whereby a plant breeder is considered to be entitled to intellectual property protection in the absence of proof to the contrary.

“Usually the onus is on the applicant to prove that he or she has complied with the necessary requirements and is thus entitled to protection. But in this case there is a presumption in favour of the plant breeder.”

“This presumption provision and the lack of an explicit provision that calls for the disclosure of origin of the genetic material used in the development of the variety including information of any contribution made by any Ghanaian farmer or community in the development of the variety, creates opportunities for breeders to misappropriate genetic resources using the PVP system and to exploit smallholder farmers.”

It said Ghanaian farmers must not be criminalised by laws for practising traditional farming.

Food Sovereignty said it is important to note that Ghana is a member of the ITPGRFA and the Convention on Biological Diversity and both these instruments champion fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.

These include a disclosure of origin provision in the Bill is critical as it is widely recognised as an important tool to safeguard against bio piracy.

The statement said several countries have included such a provision in their PVP legislation and there is no reason why Ghana should not do the same.

It said the Bill lacks provisions that would ensure that intellectual property protection would not be granted to varieties that adversely affect public interests.

FSG says it is important for the Bill to be coherent with Ghana’s sovereignty plus other legislation and national interests such as the protection of the environment, health and prevention of misappropriation of genetic resources.

It said: “Any PVP law in Ghana must protect Ghana from biopiracy.  We recommend language such that: any entity or individual, who provides germplasm resources to any foreign entity, organisation or individual in cooperation to conduct research, shall make an application and submit a national benefit-sharing plan.

“Why do our elected representatives ignore these points. Why do our MPs reject these suggestions that will truly protect Ghana’s agriculture and make our lives more sustainable and our agriculture more profitable for all Ghanaians?”

Source: GNA

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