Ghana's research scientists are anxious to see parliament pass the Plant Breeders Right Bill before end of year.
The Bill, they argue, is a positive development which seeks to address the interests of plant breeders in the private and public sectors to promote agricultural productivity.
Advocacy group, Food Sovereignty Ghana, is however prevailing on the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to object to the Bill in its current form.
The group is of the view that some clauses in the Bill are not coherent with other legislation and national interests such as the protection of environment, health, prevention of misappropriation of genetic resources.
But Dr. Hans Adu-Dapaah, Director of the Crops Research Institute (CRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), says the economic benefits of improved plant varieties are enormous.
“The Bill promotes the breeding of new varieties of plants aimed at improving the quantity, quality and cost of food, fuel, fibre and raw materials for industry,” he stated.
According to him, consumers will benefit economically as an increased productivity will lead to reduction in price of end-products and improved quality will lead to higher value products.
There are also health benefits in the form of improved nutritional content of food crops in the prevention of certain diseases as well as environmental benefits, such as developing varieties with abiotic stress resistance to mitigate the impact of climate change and variability.
Food Sovereignty Ghana also fears the Bill will compromise farmers' rights whilst the rights of foreign corporate plant breeders are placed above national interest.
Dr. Adu-Dapaah however notes that “nobody will force any farmer to grow any variety; we'll demonstrate the quality of the varieties to you to make your choice.”
He says scientists need to provide the best of varieties to the Ghanaian populace “and a farmer can even come up with a variety and have it protected.”
The Ghanaian scientific community has developed diverse genetic materials and technologies for adoption by farmers and other end-users.
The development of new crop varieties for specific needs of the country is vital for increased agricultural productivity.
However, the researchers are unhappy users of these varieties fail to recognise the investment and the efforts of the breeders and the need to pay the necessary royalties.
Dr. Stephen Amoah, research scientist in breeding and molecular biology, says researchers need to be protected against the physical multiplication of genetic plants without recourse to “the person who sat down to do the crosses, the biology and the genetics”.
The objective of the Plant Breeders Rights is to establish a legal framework to acknowledge the achievements of breeders of new varieties and to protect their intellectual property.
Most biological materials developed in Ghana presently do not fit appropriately under the existing intellectual property rights – including the Patents, Trade Marks, Designs and Copyright.
The PBR allows the breeder to choose to become the exclusive marketer of the variety, or to license the variety to others. This essentially will enable the plant breeders, for instance, to enter into arrangements with seed companies to earn income from research.
“It's a way of motivating the scientists and creating competition among the institutions and also the scientists and that is one way of improving the quality of research”, stated Dr. Amoah.
Story by Kofi Adu Domfeh