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Business News of Sunday, 23 November 2014

Source: Starrfmonline.com

Farmers: Plant Breeders Bill inimical to Ghana’s food sovereignty

Two farmer groups – Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana and the Small Scale Women and Men Farmers in Ghana – have said the Plant Breeders Bill (PBB), which is currently before Parliament, if passed, could compromise Ghana’s food sovereignty as well as the livelihood of smallholder farmers.

The groups believe mega transnational seed and fertiliser companies will take advantage of the bill to kill smallholder farms in Ghana. They have also argued that the Bill is discriminatory to smallholder farmers.

At a press conference addressed by Abdul-Rahaman Mohammed, president of the peasant farmers association of Ghana on Friday, the farmers said: “We are worried by the desperate attempts by some interest group within and outside of our Parliament, to push for the passage of the Plant Breeders’ Bill with some clauses we believe are detrimental to the interest of smallholder farmers and stand to compromise our agriculture sector in favour of Transnational Seed and Fertilizer Companies.”

“We feel saddened and dismayed at the attitude of the Majority Leader and Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Alban Bagbin in his blatant attempt to distort and misrepresent our objections to some clauses in the Plant Breeders' Bill on the floor of the House, on Tuesday, 11th November 2014. We are at a loss as to what could be his reason or motivation. Whatever it may be, we should all be guided by our legacy for posterity,” Mohammed said.

The Bills aims to improve the seed industry by providing a legal framework for the protection of the rights of breeders of new plant varieties and to enable Ghana to be in full compliance with obligations under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) of the WTO while promoting and encouraging investment in the seed industry.

The farmer groups, however, said: “A careful consideration of the bill reveals otherwise.”

“In the first place the bill does not recognise smallholder farmers with a rich history in plant breeding as plant breeders. For a crop variety to qualify for protection under the bill as stated in sections 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the bill, it must be NEW, which means that that variety must not have been sold or disposed of to any person by or with the consent of the breeder for the purpose of exploitation of the variety.”

“By this criteria all existing indigenous plants and seeds do not qualify. Moreover, smallholder farmers have a long history of saving and sharing seeds. This clause is discriminatory to our practice of saving and sharing seeds even across our borders.

Again the seed must be DISTINCT to qualify for registration, which means that it must be different from any other variety. Seeds of smallholder farmers does not possess this characteristic. It is only seeds produced through laboratory engineering, which can be made to possess that quality.”

“Thirdly the seed or plant must be UNIFORM, which means that upon maturity of the crop, it must be of the same height, size and colour. The seeds of smallholder farmers come in various sizes, shapes and colour. This requirement is discriminatory to indigenous seeds.”

The farmers continued: “Worse of all, in section 9 of the bill, any foreign citizen or a resident in the territory of a party to a treaty to which our country is a party or foreign company that has registered in Ghana can register a seed in our country. This clause in the Plant Breeders Bill automatically enables foreigners to easily register their seeds here in Ghana because of the huge resources they can command. In section 9 of the Plant Breeders Bill, anybody including companies from the whole world.”

According to the farmers, a combined effort was made to intervene in fostering some legal frameworks. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a Protocol to the Convention on Bio-Diversity has been ratified by Ghana by the Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831). The Act provides safety checks for the introduction of genetically modified organisms into Ghana which has not been done yet.

“The PBB in its current form does not respect Ghana's obligation under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) of the World Trade Organisation, the objective of which is spelt out in TRIPS Act in Article 7 as follows: ‘The protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights should contribute to the promotion of technological innovation and to the transfer and dissemination of technology, to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge and in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare, and to a balance of rights and obligations.’ The PBB does not consider the right of farmers and indigenous people, it only protects the rights of the breeder (MOSANTOS).”

The farmers said: “The plant Breeders' Bill in its current form does not factor in political, economic, socio-cultural and health implications of the bill to citizens. There is a risk of loss or disappearance of local/indigenous seed and the complete takeover of the seed industry by commercial plant breeders.”

They fear the agriculture sector, which is key to the overall economic growth and development of Ghana, will suffer if the bill is passed as it is.

Agriculture provides employment to about 50.6% i.e. 4.2 million people of the labour force in the country and still has the potential of addressing the problem of graduate unemployment if conscious efforts are made to tackle the bottlenecks in the sector and link it up to industry, the farmers observed, adding: “The sector also provides livelihoods to about 80 per cent of the rural people.”

Below are their itemised concerns:

Peasant Farmers are in full support of science and technology; however we are against technology that will take away our sovereignty and enslave us to foreign multinationals like (MOSANTO) whose primary motivation is profit. Our experienced and intelligent scientists at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), are paid by the Ghanaian tax payer to research into how to improve local agricultural production. We strongly appeal to government to provide financial resources to enable them make available what they have been doing for farmers.

There are numerous problems in the agriculture sector making it impossible for farmers to maximise their potentials: poor feeder roads, lack of storage facilities, postharvest loss problems, inadequate irrigation facilities, difficulty in accessing credit, lack of mechanisation services, depleting soil fertility and many others.

When these problems are addressed; Ghanaian farmers will be in position to produce enough for domestic consumption and for export. We further want to state that GMOs cannot grow in a dry land, GMO products cannot fly from farm gate to marketing centres, GMO seeds cannot grow without fertiliser, GMO seeds cannot grow without extension services and infertile land.

Passing a law that disempowers Ghanaians, impoverishes already poor rural farmers and creates unlimited opportunities for profit-oriented multinationals to make business with the livelihoods of our people is unacceptable. On whose side are our Parliamentarians? Are they on the side of the poor farmer or the multinationals with deep pockets who are lobbying them to pass the bill? They must choose a side. Our MPs cannot convince the poor farmers of Ghana that they are on their side with their current position.

The Majority Leader, Alban Sumana Bagbin rightly said on the floor of the House recently that public office is a trust which must be kept with integrity. The poor farmers of Ghana are opposed to the Plant Breeders’ Bill in its current form and we hope that it shall not be said that a Plant Breeders’ Law was passed under his leadership. We have trust in their office and would not like to be disappointed.

I would conclude by urging the majority Leader, who is actively promoting a Code of Conduct requiring “Propriety, correctness, transparency and honesty on the part of Members of Parliament,” not to be seen pushing a bill that is inimical to the local economy in the long-term.

Speaker of Parliament Doe Adjaho recently asked the Parliamentary Select Committee on constitutional, Parliamentary and Legal affairs to allow for wider stakeholder consultation on the Plant Breeders Bill before it is considered further by Parliament.

Similarly, towards the end of last year, following numerous petitions to Parliament, the Speaker suspended the legislative processes that would have led to the passage of the Plant Breeders' Bill into Law and directed that the leadership of the House consider thoroughly, petitions from various labour unions, faith-based organisations and farmer associations on the Bill and the Biosafety Act, and invite them to hold adequate consultations with members of the Committee who are in charge of the bill. The farmer groups, however claim the Speaker’s directive was flouted by the committee.

The farmers expressed appreciation to President John Mahama for directing the Minister of Food and Agriculture to consider the recommendations made in an earlier petition and take appropriate action.