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Opinions of Monday, 25 November 2013

Columnist: Mensah, Nana Akyea

Stop Parliament Before It Is Too Late!


Feature Article by Nana Akyea Mensah, The Odikro.

There is currently a very bad Bill at the Consideration Stage before our Parliament. It is called the Plant Breeders' Bill. Parliament is sitting tomorrow, Tuesday, 26 November, 2013. to vote for amendments to propose and vote on amendments to the Bill. There is very little time left. This Bill, once passed, can never be revoked. According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, even if a Least Developed Country, LDC , introduces a TRIPS-compliant obligation on IP-protection, it would no longer be able to reduce that scope of protection, regardless of the fact that the LDC is not required to implement the TRIPS Agreement. The Bill contains provisions that are highly disturbing.

For instance, Clause 23 of the Bill is asking the Parliament to evacuate their solemn responsibility to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Ghanaians. This Bill, if passed, will hand over the ability of the Republic of Ghana to take measures to regulate within Ghana, in terms of the production certification, and marketing of material of a variety or importation or exportation", to the plant breeder, mostly giant foreign multinational corporations like Monsanto which dominate the world market, irrespective of its impact on public health or the environment!

The Bill is arrogantly calling on Parliament to make the rights associated with a commercial activity independent of any measures by the state:

*Clause 23 on Measures regulating commerce.*

“A plant breeder right shall be independent of any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material.”

Food Sovereignty Ghana is desperately lobbying the MPs to amend the obnoxious elements in the Plant Breeders' Bill. I support these efforts. So far, I have noticed a few dissenting voices in Parliament mainly coming from the Minority side. This is not good enough, if we must succeed in freeing Ghana from such a dangerous trap. What is urgently lacking is an opposition to the Bill from the Majority side. If we must make any headway in this action, this is crucial.

Dear reader, we have only one Ghana. I am therefore pleading with you to make this a priority to warn the NDC that they risk being tagged the "sellers of farmers' rights to foreign multinational corporations"! President Mahama must send the appropriate signals to his Attorney-General and Minister for Justice that the game is over! He needs to do that if he does not want to be impeached, or at best thrown out at the end of his first term.

It might be instructive to remind the NDC MPs that this call is against the following backdrop. In the run-up to the Presidential elections in 2012, one of the key elements cited by the NDC supporters against the NPP was the accusation of “the opposition New Patriotic Party and its presidential candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of being puppets of multinationals such as the United States’ agricultural company Monsanto.”

For example, in predicting a win for the NDC, Africa Confidential published an article on 16 November 2012, Elections 2012: *Mahama ahead by a hair *, in which it pointed out that “NDC critics claim the NPP’s agricultural expansion policies are based on imposing Monsanto’s genetically modified seed varieties on local farmers. More widely, they paint the centre-right NPP as the party of ‘bosses in suits’ who have little understanding of or interest in the lives of the urban or rural poor.” *[*See: Elections 2012: Mahama ahead by a hair, 16 November 2012,*]*

Perhaps the NDC MPs also need to be reminded of the fact that the NPP would be happy to put off the label of being the porters of Genetically Modified Foods in Ghana, and gladly offer the mantle to the NDC. The Pan-Africanist International has already flagged the NPP 2012 Manifesto on Agriculture. In an article “*The NPP Manifesto on Agriculture is Bogus and Fraudulent! *", the P-AI argued that:

“Like the poor cat in the adage, who wanted to catch the fish but did not want to wet its paws, the NPP wants a mandate to introduce Genetically Modified Organisms into our food chain, but they do not want a discussion! They do not even want the people to get the full picture, even less, to be informed! We are going to discuss this, whether they like it or not! And we are going to inform the good people of Ghana.

There is something fundamentally flawed in the bid by the NPP to seek the mandate to assault our agriculture under false pretences. We want the NPP to come out to clearly explain that anomaly, or to formally rule out the introduction of GM crops under their administration. The people of Ghana need to know if a vote for the NPP is equal to a vote for GM crops. The NPP is being unfair to Ghanaians by asking them to vote NPP on the basis of promises to provide “improved seeds”, a well known term commonly used to disguise and greenwash the fact that those seeds are genetically modified organisms that carry with them a myriad of dangers.” See: NPP Manifesto on Agriculture is Bogus and Fraudulent!September 10, 2012,

The Bill is perhaps the most outrageous encroachment of our sovereignty since the Crown Lands Bill of 1896and the Lands Bill of 1897, which triggered the formation of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society. You all know how hard I worked for the Mahama victory. I personally feel sad and disappointed in the Mahama Administration for attempting to introduce such a colonialist adventure, fifty six good years after our political independence!

It is a sad commentary, not only on their sense of priorities, but also on their sense of loyalty. Is the loyalty directed at UPOV in Geneva, or the poor Ghanaian farmer expecting our government to take care of their interests? A preamble of the Petition to Parliament on the Plant Breeders' Bill eloquently expresses the reason why we all need to put pressure on Parliament to do the right thing:

*NOTING WITH DISMAY *that the Plant Breeders’ Bill currently before Parliament has moved to the Consideration Stage;

*DESIROUS *to urgently contribute to the debate in order to help ensure the rights of the small farmer are not trampled upon in our zeal to protect the rights of the plant breeder;

*CONCERNED* that the Bill, as it stands, contains clauses that have serious implications on our sovereignty as a people, including unacceptable limitations on the policy space it leaves for the state to regulate the activities of plant breeders vis-à-vis measures to protect public health and the natural environment;

*DEEPLY TROUBLED* that the Bill, as it stands, facilitates bio piracy in that it does not require a breeder to disclose the origin of the genetic material used to develop the variety it wishes to protect and neither does it provide mechanisms for prior informed consent and access and benefit sharing, although African nations have championed these mechanisms in various international forums.

*ALARMED *that in the absence of these elements, the Bill sets up a framework for commercial breeders – most of which are likely to be foreign entities – to use local germplasm to develop varieties that are then exclusively appropriated by such breeders through the PVP system established by the regional legal framework:

*WORRIED* that the Bill will lead to erosion of crop diversity and thus reduce resilience to threats such as pests, disease or climate change.

*FURTHER CONCERNED* that the Bill hinders Ghana’s ability to fulfil its commitments under the international Treaty on Plant Genetic Resource for Food and Agriculture in particular, to realise, protect, and promote farmers rights, including the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material, and to participate in decision-making regarding, and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

*EAGER TO* help block a reckless loop-hole that is bound to saddle us with huge judgement debts, as a nation, we particularly oppose Clause 23. This clause will, at best, present us with a dilemma of regulating the activities of the plant breeder for the sake of public health or the environment and face judgement debts, or accepting the right of the breeder and be damned. As it currently stands in Clause 23, a plant breeder’s right is “independent of any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material”, irrespective of the consequences;


Please call your MP and talk to him within the next 24 hours before it is too late!

*Forward Ever! Backwards Never!!!*


*Nana Akyea Mensah, The Odikro*