Thursday, March 5, 2015

Plant Breeders Rights Bill and food security

Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong (hands raised), the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, touring an eggplant farm (greenhouse) at The Hague.
Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong (hands raised), the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, touring an eggplant farm (greenhouse) at The Hague.
The world is said to be losing 25 to 33 per cent of the food it produces – nearly four billion metric tonnes, according to environmentalists.  Poor storage facilities and distribution networks are largely to blame for such glut. With the world’s population expected to hit nine billion by 2050, demand for food would shoot up by 60 per cent or more.
United Nation’s Hunger agency has predicted political turmoil, social unrest, civil war and increased terrorist activities in the next few decades if food production is not increased by 60 per cent or more.
Food is a basic necessity, which must be accessible by all but that is not the case in most parts of Africa and Asia – where hunger and malnutrition among children are rife. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 842 million in the world remain malnourished, with nearly a third of them living in the Asia-Pacific. It also estimates that one in four children under age five is stunted as a result of malnutrition.
There are growing demands for food and other crops but the pace of research into food production is slow.
Ghana and food production
Ghana is blessed with vast arable lands but not much investment has been made in the agricultural sector. It is an annual affair to read reports of food crops and vegetables going waste as a result of poor storage facilities and poor road networks to cart food supplies from the farms to market centres. 
Ghana’s neighbour, Burkina Faso, supplies Ghana’s market with fresh tomatoes and onions. Tomato varieties from that country are preferred over Ghana’s, which are usually referred to as “local tomatoes.” The tomato variety from Burkina Faso is much more expensive than the local tomatoes because it tastes nicer and has a longer shelf life than the local tomatoes. That brings to the fore the issue of plant varieties.
Plant Varieties
I was part of a team that followed the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong, who led the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Drafting to the Hague to understudy how Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) had been implemented in The Netherlands. The horticultural and seed propagating industry contributes more than nine  billion Euros to the Netherlands’ economy on an annual basis.
The Netherlands is a leading provider of improved seed varieties to almost all parts of the world. It is a thriving industry, which has invested time, energy, research and resources into ensuring food security for its citizens and the other nationals across the world. It boasts of having the largest floral auction in the world where hundreds of florists meet daily to purchase fresh flowers for export to other countries. The floral auction alone accrues an annual 4.5 billion euros.
What then has Ghana got to do with plant varieties and plant breeders rights? Ghana has currently drafted a bill on plant breeders rights and it is awaiting parliamentary approval. The bill, when passed into law, would give creators of plant varieties legal protection and thus block commercial farmers from harvesting, preserving and re-using the seeds. In the Netherlands, for instance, it is illegal to re-use varieties for whatever purpose.
The law makes it mandatory for farmers to purchase seeds every year. The Agricultural Sovereignty Ghana (FSG), the Peasant Farmers Association and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have opposed the PBB on the grounds that it would throw small-scale farmers out of business. Others have maintained improved seeds contained poisonous substances that could negatively affect consumers when introduced in Ghana. Supporters of the bill, however, are of the view that protecting creators of the new plant varieties would promote food sustainability as more plant breeders would be encouraged to come up with more improved varieties.
As I write, fresh tomatoes, onions and many food crops from Burkina Faso and other countries are preferred over locally produced ones on the grounds that they last longer and taste better. Research into agriculture to improve food security is virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, Ghana’s population is increasing by the day. How long will Ghana toe the path of peasant farming? How long will Ghana produce and get half of its products going waste in the farms because of poor transportation and poor variety? I recently witnessed how investment in agriculture in the Netherlands rakes in billions of euros on an annual basis for that country. Flowers are not edible products but they rake in more than five billion euros annually. 
Ghana’s population keeps rising, thereby making it necessary for food production to be improved. The world’s climate and taste of consumers are evolving. The Netherlands and other developed countries have invested heavily in food research and are reaping the benefits today. While in that country, I  managed to procure a book titled ‘’Framework for the Introduction of Plant Breeder’s Rights – Guidance for Practical Implementation,’’ authored by A.J.P Wijk and N. P. Louwaars. The 207-page book details plant breeders rights and how those rights have been implemented for the benefit of all stakeholders.
It is unfortunate the issue of plant breeders rights has still not been resolved in Ghana. There are concerns on seeds that would be harnessed when the Bill is passed into law. 
The Netherlands has surmounted all those challenges and it is key for Ghana to adopt pragmatic measures to resolve all concerns raised by critics. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Attorney-General’s Department, Parliament and critics must resolve all issues pertaining to the PBB and come out with a resolution that would eventually propel Ghana’s agriculture to the next level. Picketing, levelling unwarranted allegations and counter-accusations are certainly not the way to go. The future of Ghana’s food security lies in the hands of all.

No comments: