Agric minister, Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie
Scientists are asking government to re-introduce to parliament for approval the Plant Breeders’ Bill to help make the country more competitive in the seed industry and ensure food security.
Scientists say this will encourage more private investments in the seed sector for the benefit of farmers and the nation as a whole.
“What it seeks to do is to give the scientists who develop the seeds to be paid some royalties to enable the scientists and organisations developing the seeds to continue doing it. The government is not giving the scientists money to develop seeds for our farmers.
“But we need different seed varieties for farmers to have optimum choice,” Dr. Richard Ameyaw Ampadu who is a Research Scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) told Joy News in an interview.
“More diseases and pests will continue to come. So we need to develop something to block them. So we need money so the scientists can continue to do their work. That is why we are talking about this bill. We want parliament to sit down to pass the law as soon as possible to ensure improvement in the seed sector,” Dr. Ampadu added.
The Bill was first introduced to parliament about six years ago but has yet to be approved. Parliament suspended work on it in 2015 following protests from some civil society and farmer groups which claimed it will make farmers lose ownership of their seeds.
The bill when passed will give scientists and science institutions intellectual property over new plant varieties they develop so they can earn royalties on them.
In Africa, more than10 countries including Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have passed a Plant Breeder’s Bill into law.
This has accelerated the introduction of new plant varieties and led to the transformation of their agricultural sector. The scientists want to have that increased competitiveness in the industry right here in Ghana, hence the demand for the law.
In 2015, more than 200 scientists from the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) of the University of Ghana, the Ghana National Association of Farmers and Fishermen, the Ghana Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Biotechnology and Nuclear, Agriculture Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, among others, petitioned parliament to speedily pass the Plant Breeders’ Bill.
The petition noted; “this bill is an important measure to combat poverty in our country. Our farmers desperately need access to improved varieties of our staple crops. This is essential if we are to continue to modernise agriculture.”
Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement, Prof. Eric Yirenkyi Danquah noted; “if the development of new varieties in Ghana is not underpinned by science and technology, the country will not attain food and nutrition security in our lifetime”.
“Passage of the Ghana Plant Breeders Bill will encourage investments for the development of superior varieties of staple crops urgently needed in farmers’ fields to spark a green revolution in the country,” he added.
Former Director of the Crop Research Institute Dr. Hans Adu-Dapaah wrote; “Breeding takes a long time and a lot of resources to develop varieties. Efforts of breeders have to be recognised and rewarded. This will encourage the development of more improved varieties tolerant to diseases, pests, heat, drought for use by farmers to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Approval processes for the bill was suspended to allow for further consultation following objections by some groups. National President of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana Abdul-Rahman Mohammed has kicked against the bill insisting; “it will allows foreign seed corporations to take control of the Ghana seed industry in the name of intellectual property right. Our agricultural sector cannot grow by relying on the importation of seeds from foreigners.”
But member of Parliament’s Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Committee and MP for Kintampo North Kwasi Etu-Bondie disagrees. He says it will rather ensure Ghana benefits from its improved varieties abroad.
He cited maize and palm oil as two main crops that Ghana is losing a lot from because there is no Plant Breeder’s Bill in the country. “Obantapa is the only maize with the highest protein in the world. And this maize is being grown in the whole West Africa. Ghana invested in the scientists at Crop Research Institute to produce it. But everyone is taking it free without paying a dividend to Ghana. That is what we are saying that we have to protect,” he said.
“Everyone knows oil palm was bred in West Africa. And now we know oil palm is making good money for Malaysia which took the seed from Ghana. If we have this bill, Malaysia will be paying something to Ghana,” the MP noted. “We are looking at the Plant Breeder’s Bill to make sure we will get something out of our genetic resources. It’s like copyright or patent thing we are trying to use to protect our genetic resources and scientific invention in agriculture,” the MP explained.
Currently, less than 10 percent of farmers in Ghana use improved seeds, with majority of them relying on traditional varieties that do not yield much.
This has led to low productivity on a lot of farms in the country. Ghana in 2017 had to import seeds from neighbouring countries including Burkina Faso for government’s latest flagship Planting for Food and Jobs Initiative because local companies could not produce enough.
“It was unfortunate that when seed dealers in Ghana were challenged to supply us with adequate seeds for our farmers, they were found wanting. We have had to import seeds from sister countries because we were in urgent need of them,” Minister for Food and Agriculture Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie lamented.
John Awuku Dziwornu of the Ghana National Farmers and Fishermen Association believes these challenges would be fixed if the Plant Breeders’ Bill is passed into law.
“The bill will help ensure more investments in the seed industry and ensure availability of good seeds. It must be passed as soon as possible,” he told Joy News in an interview.