The Protection of Farmers’ Rights and Food Sovereignty in Ghana

March 1, 2016

PRESS STATEMENT BY THE CSOs AND FARMERS’ PLATFORM ON THE PROTECTION OF FARMERS RIGHTS AND FOOD SOVEREIGNTY OF GHANA
Read by Dede Bedu-Addo for the National President of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) – Abdul Rahman Mohammed

Mr. Chairman, Colleague Farmers, Faith-Based Organizations, Representatives of Traditional Authorities, Civil Society Organizations, Friends in the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen; Good morning and welcome to this important Press Conference which seeks to fight for the rights of our farmers to own their own seeds, and the Food Sovereignty of Ghana.

Mr. Chairman, Seeds are a source of life and form the basis of crop farming. The genetic diversity of crops is vital for future food security and the ability of farming systems to adapt to climate change. For this reason, the Ministries of Justice and Agriculture tabled the Plant Breeders Bill in Parliament with the purpose of enhancing the protection of Plant Breeders Rights.

While appreciating the good initiatives of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) to develop the seed industry and enhance food security, many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) including Farmers, Traditional Authorities, Faith-Based Organizations and individuals have expressed concern about possible, adverse effects of the bill on farmers and food sovereignty in Ghana. The group are concerned about the fact that the bill, as it was presented, sought to promote breeders’ rights over and above farmers’ rights. We called on Parliament to revise the bill to reverse this position and to recognize farmers’ rights in the new bill, which they did.

Mr. Chairman, we wish to congratulate the Speaker of Parliament for responding to this call by referring the bill to the Legal and Parliamentary Select Committee for proper consultation and possible review of the bill to reflect the concerns of farmers.
We also wish to recognize the positive response to our call to establish a Biosafety Authority which we are happy to note is now in place.

However, we are yet to see the proper function of this authority and are also yet to meet the CSO representative.
We would also like to urge the Legal and Parliamentary Committee to conduct adequate consultations to ensure that the concerns of farmers and the general public are addressed before drawing their discussions on the bill to a close.

The ARIPO PROTOCOL
Mr. Chairman, in July 2015, our attention was drawn to the fact that although Parliament had not given due consideration to the Ghana Plant Breeders’ Bill yet, Ghana was one of the first African countries to sign the ARIPO Protocol which was adopted in Arusha, Tanzania by African States. The ARIPO Protocol is a harmonised, regional legal framework for the protection of plant breeders’ rights—the Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (the ‘Arusha PVP Protocol’).

This protocol is in conformity with the Union for the Protection of new Varieties (UPOV) 1991 Convention which aims exclusively at protecting plant breeders’ rights and prohibiting the exchange and selling of seeds derived from protected varieties. We are, however, encouraged that although Ghana signed onto the ARIPO Protocol with little consultation with farmers and Civil Society in Ghana, Parliament still has the power not to ratify the Protocol. Should Parliament ratify this Protocol, the national legislation on seed rights will have to conform to the UPOV 1991 Convention which is about promoting breeders rights over and above farmers’ rights, as well as promoting formal cross-border seed trade over farmers’ informal seed exchange systems.

It is on this note that we, as concerned Farmers and CSOs, Faith-Based Organizations and Tradition Authorities in Ghana wish to explain to Ghanaians why we think Parliament should not ratify the ARIPO Protocol.

ARIPO Protocol is an Inflexible Regime.
Colleague farmers, the ARIPO Protocol is modeled on the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants of 1991 (UPOV 1991) which is a rigid and an inflexible regime for plant variety protection (PVP). Ghana has full flexibility under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to develop an effective “sui generis” system for plant variety protection, i.e. to develop a unique system that suits its needs. In view of this, it is truly unfortunate and even irrational that instead of designing a PVP regime that reflects the agricultural framework and realities of Ghana as other countries have done (e.g. India, Thailand, Ethiopia), Ghana is choosing to adopt and be bound by UPOV 1991 without any concrete evidence or impact assessment of the necessity and impact of adopting such a regime.

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.

ARIPO Protocol will infringe on Ghana’s Sovereignty
Mr. Chairman, it is possible to have an effective law on plant variety protection without compromising Ghana’s international obligations and farmers’ rights. Today, several countries have used innovative approaches in their PVP legislation that balances the interests of the breeding industry and farmers’ interests. India is an example of these countries. The African Model Law for the Protection of the Rights of Communities, Farmers and Breeders that was discussed and endorsed at the African Union, also contains innovative approaches for consideration.

Erosion of Crop Genetic Diversity
Claims that the Bill will lead to the development of varieties that are suitable for the needs of Ghana and that it is important for food security is erroneous.
In reality, the Bill only incentivizes “uniform” varieties. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that about 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost due to the proliferation of commercial, uniform varieties replacing native land races. The erosion of crop genetic diversity poses a serious threat to food supplies as it reduces resistance to pests, diseases and changing weather patterns. Genetic diversity within crops is also decreasing.

Additionally, it is erroneous to suggest as the Memorandum does that the Bill will develop varieties that are suitable for the needs of Ghana. PVP systems tend to incentivize and orientate development of new varieties where a commercial market exists and where significant profits can be made. It is definitely not the solution to addressing the nutritional and food security needs of Ghana.

False Promises
The argument in the Memo that the Bill will “help farmers break out of their cycle of subsistence farming” is also flawed. The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has noted, in a recent report that “This shift has led to grant temporary monopoly privileges to plant breeders through the tools of intellectual property, as a means to encourage research and innovation in plant breeding. In this process, however, the poorest farmers may become increasingly dependent on expensive inputs, creating the risk of indebtedness in the face of unstable incomes. The farmers’ seed systems may be put in jeopardy, although most farmers in developing countries still rely on such systems, which, for them, are a source of economic independence and resilience in the face of threats such as pests, diseases or climate change.”

Misappropriation of Ghana’s Genetic Resources
The Bill also contains a “presumption” that a plant breeder is considered to be entitled to intellectual property protection in the absence of proof to the contrary.

It is important to note that Ghana is a member of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and both of these instruments champion fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. Including a disclosure of origin provision in the Bill, is critical as it is widely recognized as an important tool to safeguard against biopiracy. Several countries have included such a provision in their PVP legislation and there is no reason why Ghana should not do the same.

Adverse effects on Public Interest
The Bill also lacks provisions that will ensure that intellectual property protection will not be granted to varieties that adversely affect public interests.

Lack of Credibility
We recommend that Parliament should refrain from ratifying the ARIPO Protocol. We are of the view that, in its current form, the Protocol lacks credibility and legitimacy and does not benefit Ghana. We propose the adoption of a ‘sui generis’ system which will allow extensive consultations involving all stakeholders, including the farming communities and Civil Society to develop a balanced and equitable legislation.

Our major Concerns
As farmers We wish to bring to the fore our major concerns as farmers, that we anticipate will be addressed in a revised legislation on seeds. These include:
• A new Seed Act that will increase funding to public breeders/researchers
• Promote open pollinated varieties
• Promote Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB)
• Enshrine the inherent rights of farmers to save, reuse, select, exchange and sell seeds
• Reorient agricultural policies towards food sovereignty – healthy, ecological biodiversity, sustainable and democratically controlled food systems
• Protect local seed farmers from monopolies that prevent them from having choices
• Promote policies that address basic problems farmers face, such as: rural infrastructure, feeder roads, access to credit for women, address land grabbing issues, improve irrigation and water management, empower local seed breeders, access to extension services, market access and storage.
• Put efforts in passing bills that are beneficial to farmers such as the Cattle Ranching Law to regulate the activities of herdsmen, to prevent conflict with crop farmers

Conclusion
In conclusion, we, the undersigned, on behalf of Rural, Small Holder Farmers, Faith-Based Organisations, Traditional Authorities and Civil Society Organisations wish to state categorically that we are vehemently opposed to the Current Plant Breeders Bill and the ARIPO Protocol.

We, however, remain committed to working with MOFA, The Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, Parliament and all other relevant institutions in Ghana to ensure that farmers, as breeders and users, remain at the center of localized food production systems and continue to exercise their rights to freely save, use, exchange, replant, improve, distribute and sell all the seeds in their seed systems.

Thank you.
Signatories
1. The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG)
2. Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development
3. General Agricultural Workers Union
4. Catholic Bishops Conference
5. Ghana Muslims Mission
6. National House of Chiefs
7. Christian Council of Ghana
8. Apex Farmers Network of Ghana
9. Food span
10. Ghana Trade and Livelihoods Coalition

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