Multi-billion seed market goes untapped

While politicians and civil society actors continue to haggle over the Plant Breeders bill, the global seed market reached a value of more than US$58billion in 2016 and is expected to reach over US$86billion by 2022.

Commercial production of seeds is increasingly becoming the norm across the globe, but farmers and civil society groups in Ghana fear the increasing commercialisation could mean less space for local breeders and more advantage to multinational breeding concerns.

Groups like the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana and Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) have raised concerns, also, over the possible introduction of genetically modified organisms into the country’s food system once the Plant Breeders Bill is passed in its ‘too liberal’ state.

At its Annual General Meeting in Techiman last week, the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) said: “The bill rather allows foreign seed corporations to take control of the Ghana seed industry in the name of intellectual property rights”.

It said: “Our agricultural sector cannot grow by relying on the importation of seeds from foreigners”.

But former Deputy Agriculture Minister Dr. Alhassan Yakubu disagreed with the farmers, in an interview with the B&FT, saying absence of the law rather makes local breeders vulnerable.

“If our scientists are not protected by a national breeders’ act, what it means is that our varieties can easily be stolen. A classic example is the Obatanpa maize variety; it was the first protein-fortified maize seed to be developed in Ghana.

“It is now planted in the whole of West Africa, but the country doesn’t earn a penny or any royalties from it – that is the system that I am taking about; it is not about somebody coming to dominate our territory.

“It is when you don’t have a Plant Breeders law that you can easily be dominated, because they [expatriates] will come and steal your intellectual property, register it as theirs and sell it back to you,” he explained.

One major trend that has influenced the seeds market is the significant shift in farming practices worldwide.

Nowadays, an increasing number of farmers buy commercially produced enhanced seed varieties as opposed to using seeds from the last harvest.

Contrary to fears that the proposed Plant Breeders bill, which is currently before Parliament, could leave the average Ghanaian worse-off if passed into law, Dr. Alhassan – who was once a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture – said nowhere in the proposed Plant Breeders bill is it stated that farmers will not be allowed to keep their own seeds.

“In the bill, farmers are well-protected because there are time-limits to the period that the breeder is protected. It is not like if you produce it, it is yours forever. Nowhere in the bill has it been stated that everybody else can keep his seed, but the ordinary farmer cannot. It is not there,” he further stressed.

However, reacting to the concerns raised by the PFAG, Dr. Yakubu said the Peasant Farmers are creating a bad impression about for bill.

“The protection comes in if you are using it for a commercial gain; then, of course, the developer will be entitled to a share in the commercial business that you are engaging in. Just like in music when you buy a music compact Disc (CD) to play in your room, you don’t pay anything; but when you play it on an FM station so that you can attract people to listen to your station so you can make more money, you will definitely pay royalties to the artist, isn’t it?

“If you to want to protect yourself from biotechnology products from outside the country, you can’t do so with physical barriers; you can only do so with laws – and these are the laws that we don’t want our Parliament to pass.

“All those countries that are encouraging us not to pass the Plant Breeders law have it in their countries; so, what it means is that varieties developed in Ghana will not be protected, but theirs are protected,” he noted.