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News about our programmes 30, Sept. 2014

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Features

President Mahama, Don't Join UPOV 91

Food Sovereignty Ghana

2013-10-29, Issue 652

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/89431

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There is a new form colonialism under way in Africa. Foreign multinational companies and their governments are exerting relentless pressure on African countries to pass laws and implement policies whose net effect will be to promote agribusiness and destroy small-holder farming, which is the source of most food

Food Sovereignty Ghana strongly opposes the UPOV 91 compliant Plant Breeders' Bill, currently before Ghana's Parliament. The bill is a danger to the way we farm and to Ghana's rich variety of seeds. It is a danger to how we develop our own varieties of seeds, and how we farm in Ghana. It is a give-away to foreign agribusiness corporations, which is why UPOV 91 has been nicknamed the Monsanto law in some countries.

UPOV 91 is a legal convention, International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), that protects plant breeders when they create new varieties of plants. It does not protect the plants; it protects IPR, Intellectual Property Rights, of the breeders. International agribusiness corporations want countries to pass UPOV 91 compliant laws because it means huge profits for those companies.

The UPOV 91 compliant Plant Breeders Bill in Ghana is designed to create and serve the interests of an industrial-style, monoculture-based farming system. It is a corporate farming system that is heavily tilted in favour of the commercial seed industry. In Ghana and Africa that means the foreign seed industry. The bill advantages foreign corporations over Ghanaian farmers presently working their own small farms in Ghana. The bill is an action against the interests of smallholder farmers. The bill is aimed at replacing local seed varieties with uniform commercial varieties that are most likely to be imported. It will increase the dependency of smallholder farmers on commercial seed varieties, possibly excluding all other varieties. Contracts permitted under this bill will force farmers to buy new seeds every year. These purchases will come from a limited range of foreign seeds. The effect will be the erosion of Ghana's crop diversity; we may lose most of the varieties of foods we like and plant, varieties that grow well in Ghana. The limited variety of mostly foreign seeds that we can purchase will make our crops far more vulnerable to threats such as new plagues of insect pests, super weeds, plant diseases, and climate change.

The corporate seed industry seeds, often laboratory created genetically engineered GMOs, must be purchased new each planting season. Under the UPOV 91 Plant Breeders Bill farmers may have to pay royalty fees to the corporations if they save and replant their own seeds. Farmers may also have to pay royalty fees to the foreign corporations if they give or sell seeds to neighbouring farmers or sell them in local markets. Ghanaian farmers have always saved seeds to plant the next season. This is the business of farming. Should this practice be reduced or ended by law? In Colombia, tons of seeds of hard working farmers have been confiscated by their government and destroyed. Is that what we want to happen in Ghana?
The entire point of genetic modification, GMO technology, is to control the seed supply in individual countries and around the globe through IPRs. UPOV Plant Breeder laws, in compliance with UPOV 91, are the legal tool designed to use IPR to control the seed supply. UPOV laws grant those IPRs that grant corporations rights to seeds. There are no GMO laboratory created crops that are more productive, more resistant to climate change or pests, than seeds produced by conventional breeding techniques and generations of local research. GMO pest resistance to insects and weeds comes entirely from toxic chemicals engineered into the plants or applied in massive doses to the plants. Industry representatives frequently lie and say GMO crops are safe and more productive, but in country after country this is shown to be a lie.

President Mahama supports the current Bill before Ghana's Parliament called the Plant Breeders Bill, which is scheduled for a Second Reading soon. The Bill is designed to make Ghana a "UPOV 91 compliant state". So far both the NDC and the NPP Members of Parliament support the bill.

Ghana's MPs probably don't know much about the effect of these laws. They have been flattered and courted by the US Embassy, Monsanto, Syngenta etc., the GMO advocates at FARA, the G8 representatives, and more, and told over and over that UPOV 91 will bring investment and profit to Ghana. It will bring investment that will co-opt Ghana's farmland and drive rural populations off the land and into the cities. All the profit will go out of Ghana and into the foreign corporations, just as in 19th century colonialism. A very few of Ghana's elite may profit as well, but the country will see loss rather than gain. If foreign corporations control our seed supply they control our food. If they control our food they control our sovereignty. They will control our ability to govern our own food supply, our ability to grow our own food and eat it if, when, and what we want. We will have new colonial masters.

UPOV 91 facilitates the theft of the genetic inheritance of the Ghanaian people which for centuries we have developed freely with seeds grown and traded collectively as part of our farming culture. The UPOV law facilitates biopiracy as it does not provide for mechanisms of prior informed consent and access and benefit sharing. In the absence of these elements, the bill sets up a framework for breeders, most of which are likely to be foreign entities, to use local germplasm, the living DNA of Ghana's seeds, to develop new varieties without credit, attribution, or remuneration to those who painstakingly developed these seeds. The "new variety" becomes exclusive corporate property under the UPOV 91 law.

This is not the end of it. At the regional level, the Africa Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) is in the process of adopting similar, but worse, legislation. The draft legal framework under consideration is not only based on UPOV law, it also creates a centralised regime whereby all decisions concerning protected varieties will be taken at the regional level, superseding national legislation. This is another major attack on Ghanaian sovereignty, and the sovereignty of African nations. Ghana's own laws can be set aside by this foreign external organization. This completely undermines Ghana's sovereignty to regulate seeds according to national needs and interests.

Both the bill and the ARIPO draft legal framework for plant variety protection are against the interests of Ghanaian farmers and consumers.

We are making an urgent appeal to alert all Ghanaians of goodwill, to take note, that in view of these challenges, we humbly propose:

Halt the Plant Breeders Bill currently going for a second reading before our Parliament and stop Ghana from joining UPOV;

We need to engage with everyone, especially the Alliance for Food Sovereignty In Africa, AFSA, on a strategy to deal with the ARIPO PVP harmonised regulations based on UPOV 1991; and
We must campaign to block any attempts to ratify them in our domestic law. Freely using, exchanging and selling seeds and propagating material is the business of farming, Farmers should not be required to pay royalties to foreign corporations to do their normal business and enjoy their agricultural inheritance. Should Ghanaian farmers face the possibility of having their seeds seized and destroyed, and suffer lawsuits from giant foreign corporations?

If the UPOV 91 Plant Breeder Bill is passed the Ghanaian diet and health will suffer. Farmers will be forced into debt buying seeds each year and forced out of business. There will be far less variety of foods. The health effects of toxic chemicals, GMO alien proteins, and a far more limited diet will play out over generations.

Is this what Ghanaians want? Say NO to UPOV laws! Say no to GMOs! Farmers must be able to freely use, exchange and sell seeds and grow traditional Ghanaian foods and crops! Contact your District Council!

Ask them to tell your MP:

No to UPOV 91 !

No to the current Plant Breeders Bill!

No to GMOs!

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