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How Ghana stands to gain from Plant Breeders’ Bill


Photo ReportingHow Ghana stands to gain from Plant Breeders’ Bill

With an ever increasing world population and global climate change, agriculture faces an immense challenge in achieving sustainable food security.

The goal of a strong agricultural sector cannot be achieved without a robust research environment. Innovation, especially in agriculture, is a source of economic growth, economic development for the rural sector, and also a major source of new employment.

A dynamic and sustainable agriculture depends on scientific progress and the application of science to crop development through plant breeding to suit society’s needs. Plant breeding seeks to develop crops that are high yielding, resistant to pests, of high nutritional value, tolerant to mineral and environmental stresses and adapted to mechanisation among others.

It was concluded at the September 2009 Second World Seed Conference that if agriculture is to meet the challenge of food security amidst population growth and climate change, government measures and increased public and private investment in the seed sector are needed. Specifically, intellectual property (IP) protection was deemed to be crucial to any sustainable contribution of plant breeding and seed supply.

An effective plant variety protection (PVP) system which confers IP rights, known as Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) was identified as a key enabler for investment in breeding and the development of new varieties of plants.

Just as business owners are granted exclusive rights on the use of their trademarks, and creative artistes granted copyrights on musical, literary, dramatic and artistic works of their creations, the plant breeders’ bill seeks to protect innovations of plant breeders through IP rights.

Ghana’s plant breeders’ bill does not seek to promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but to provide an incentive to plant breeders or their institutions for the development of new varieties of crops.

PVP is covered under the guidelines provided by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). It is an intergovernmental organisation that provides for the recognition of plant breeders’ rights on the international basis.

The mission of UPOV is to “provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society” (UPOV, 2004). UPOV guidelines were revised in 1972 and 1991.

The 1972 revisions allowed the protection of plant varieties under both a national patent system and a UPOV‐style sui generis system. The 1991 revisions expanded the scope of protections to include second‐generation varieties that are “essentially derived”, discarded the list of “allowable” plant genera, thereby ensuring that any and all plant genera could be protected under the UPOV aegis and gave national systems the right to allow farmers save as many seeds as they need to replant their own land.

The development of a new variety requires expertise and investment in terms of technology, infrastructure, financial and human resources. It may take 15 years to develop a new variety with improved features and an additional number of years for it to be introduced into the market and taken up by farmers.

On the other hand, it is easy to reproduce (copy) a variety and possibly compete with the breeder on the commercial seed market. This would be detrimental to any breeding program, as the investor will not be able to recoup the cost involved in breeding, affecting future breeding activities. Farmers suffer most from the lack of sustained breeding programs as there will be few varieties of crop plants to choose from.

The resulting effect will be low productivity posing a threat to food security. It is thus vital to encourage creativity and investment in private and public breeding through an effective PVP system, which provides breeders with a legal framework and administrative structure for controlling reproduction of their varieties, enabling them to recover their investments. Without the legal protection of rights, breeders can lose control of the commercialization of new varieties to persons who did not contribute towards the breeding costs.

UPOV conventions define the principles of plant variety protection that must be included in the national laws of member countries. This promotes international harmonisation and cooperation between the members. According to the UPOV conventions, a variety is granted protection if it is New, Distinct, Uniform, and Stable.

“New” meaning not cultivated or offered for sale in the country at the time of application. “Distinct” implies that the variety must be different in at least one character in morphology (e.g. shape, colour); physiological (e.g. disease resistance); or other (e.g. protein content) at the time of application. “Uniform” denotes that phenotypic expression is uniform within the variety. “Stable” suggests that the variety must have repeatedly reproducible characteristics from one generation to another.

According to the 1991 UPOV convention, the breeders’ rights are granted for a period of not less than 20 years, or for not less than 25 years in the case of trees and vines. The breeders’ right include exclusive control of the protected variety and all aspects of its propagation.

Without the authorization of the breeder, no one is allowed to propagate, sell, or market the plant in any way. However, there are two exemptions to the breeders’ rights which are of relevance to a country such as Ghana. Firstly, protected varieties may be used by other breeders for breeding and developing new plant varieties. This is called breeder’s exemption. Secondly, farmers may save and use their own seed of protected varieties for the purpose of re-sowing on the same farm (but not for the purpose of selling the seed) within reasonable limits and subject to safeguarding the legitimate interest of the breeder. This is called the farmer’s privilege. It is an optional exception, which means each country may decide to include it or not in their legislation. Ghana’s plant breeder’s bill before parliament has farmers at heart and has therefore included the farmer’s privilege.

It is important to emphasize that according to the UPOV Convention, acts done privately and for non-commercial purposes are not subject to breeders’ rights. This means subsistence farmers who propagate a protected variety to feed only their household are excluded from the scope of the breeder’s right. This exception is an opportunity for subsistence farmers to escape the cycle of poverty, through improved varieties (protected) becoming available.

Plant breeders’ right will stimulate investment in plant breeding, variety improvement and commercial propagation of plant material by individuals, private and public breeding organisations, and firms. This will boost agricultural production in the country.

PVP will provide researchers/research institutes/universities with an incentive which will stimulate new breeders and new breeding work and/or providing a basis for more effective breeding work at the domestic level.

Through an effective PVP there will be a major boost in private breeding sector as they will obtain a reasonable return on their breeding activities. Farmers on the other hand will also benefit from cultivating the best variety that suits their environment. This will facilitate “win-win” cooperation between breeders and farmers and in the long run boost investor’s confidence.

PVP will foster private participation in extension services with new innovations in extension with the aim of communicating the attributes of new varieties to farmers who have the sole right to patronise or not to patronise varieties based on their preferred choice and experience in cultivation of such varieties.

An effective PVP system can increase the scope of domestic and international markets by removing barriers to trade in varieties. With access to such valuable foreign-bred varieties, farmers have more scope to improve their production and also to export their products which meets the target market’s requirement.

In addition to using the best local and global varieties there will be an improved opportunity for farmers to capture value in the production chain. As a consequence of the breeder’s exemption in the UPOV Convention, domestic breeders also gain access to valuable varieties for use in their breeding programs. This international aspect is an important means of technology transfer and effective utilization of genetic resources.

New varieties are a vital means of delivering new technologies to farmers and ultimately, delivering benefits through to consumers.

The range of benefits includes: economic benefits, for example through varieties with improved yield leading to reductions in the price of end-products for consumers, or improved quality, leading to higher value products with increased marketability; health benefits, for example through varieties with improved nutritional content; environmental benefits, for example through varieties with improved disease resistance or stress tolerance; and even pure pleasure, for example with ornamental plants.

The development of new varieties stands for dynamism, modernity and permanent innovation. If we wish to remain competitive in a global system, then we must ensure that these features become a permanent part of the Ghanaian agricultural sector. Effects of climate change are seen on a daily basis and unless steps are taken to incentivize public and private participation in plant breeding, food security will be adversely affected.

Low yields as a result of climate change, greater weather variation (drought, flooding, and heat shocks) and the appearance of new insect pests and diseases are becoming a problem. In order to tackle these possible new scenarios, we will require specific research, development and innovation (RDI) strategies focusing on crop selection and the development of varieties that are better adapted to the new conditions.

The development of new varieties will doubtless be inhibited if breeders, the group committed to research into new varieties, are not compensated for their efforts. Ghana has achieved significant success in its breeding programs over the years and failure on the part of parliament to pass the plant breeders’ bill to protect the varieties developed will be a great economic loss to the country.

Photo Reporting

Source: Theophilus Kwabla Tengey | M.Sc. Agronomy (Plant breeding), KNUST, Kumasi | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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