13 November 2012

Tanzania: Plant Variety Protection Bill Sails Through

Photo: IRIN
A farmer shows his maize seeds (file photo).

Dodoma — THE Ministry of Agriculture Food Security and Cooperatives recently succeeded to convince the National Assembly to pass the Bill proposing the establishment of 'The Plant Breeders' Rights Act, 2012' despite the heated debate.

The move is explained as a milestone for researchers that ensures adequate availability of seeds in the country. According to the Minister Christopher Chiza, the Bill, which is to be assented by the president to become a law, intends to deal with protection of new varieties of plants in order to promote plant-breeding activities.

The promotion, according to the minister, will stimulate, facilitate and improve agricultural research in the country through grant and regulation of plant breeders' rights, establishment of plant breeders' rights office and entrusting with the office functions of granting plant breeders' rights. Plant Breeders' Rights, which is also known as plant variety protection, is like a system of intellectual property rights, designed specifically to protect new varieties of plants.

It offers legal protection to plant breeders for the investment they make in breeding and developing new varieties of plants. The Bill published in the Official Gazette on 23rd March 2012, was read for the first time in the Parliament on 23rd April, 2012 and is expected to replace the current Protection of New Varieties (Plant Breeder's Rights) Act 2002.

Mr Chiza said the 2002 law does not attract researchers to research on seeds and that the new law would increase morale by introducing royalty and copyrights.He said that the Bill was a move by the government to adhere to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) ratified by parliament in 2010 and that Zanzibar is currently contemplating introducing a similar Law though some of the parts of the Bill cater for Zanzibar as well.

Mr Chiza was forced to issue clarity on the matter as some MPs allayed fears that by having some parts of the Law addressing such matters in Zanzibar it was going against the constitution which bars the National Assembly from forming laws that would affect Zanzibar on the things that are not union matters.The point was raised by Mr Tundu Lissu (Singida East-Chadema) who cautioned the House not to repeat the past mistakes that witnessed formation of laws including Zanzibar on the issues that are not for union, interfering the role of the Zanzibar House of Representatives.

The Attorney General, Judge Frederick Werema clarified on the matter assuring, Mr Lissu that there was no any part of the Constitution breached on the matter because Tanzania is one."In this union while in the country we talk of Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar but when we move to the outside world we are the United Republic of Tanzania, therefore since this law comes as a result of UPOV, we have no way but to move as one country," he said.

Some MPs were also cynical about the possibilities of the Law opening doors to multinational companies to invest in the country and as a result introduce genetically modified seeds that would lead to dependence on Genetic Modified Foods and Organisms (GMO) and in the process undermine traditional seeds.Ms Halima Mdee (Kawe-Chadema) warned the government not to influence MPs make decisions that would affect the population in the future.

"Some of us maybe old enough and maybe we are not sensitive enough about the future because we know that we may not live longer, but it is the high time we think of the future generation and not make decisions that will make them curse us," she said.She gave an example of Argentinean who had accepted soya beans in the system of GMO and in the way farmers started complaining of their land becoming highly infertile.

Mr John Mnyika (Ubungo-Chadema) urged the government to be keen not to allow international companies come in the country and steal from local seeds and claim that such seeds are out of their innovations.He gave an example of colonialists who came in the country and claimed having discovered Lake Victoria and Mountain Kilimanjaro among others as if there were no indigenous of those places who must have known those areas long ago.

Mr Mnyika also blamed the government of opening door when the country was not well prepared in terms of capacity building to its researchers who would compete with foreign researchers who are bound to come as the result.Mr Luckson Mwanjale (Mbeya Rural-CCM) also cautioned the government of excessive opening of doors to foreign breeders who will eventually fill the country with foreign seeds and instead focus on improving local seeds.

"We are discussing this law at a time when developed nationals such as Canada and United States of America are complaining about GMO, we should therefore be keen not to fall in the bandwagon," he said.He added that gone are the good days when farmers could harvest maize and store them for next season but nowadays due to increased modifications in seeds, the same technique has failed to work and thus making poor smallholders suffer.

"The current seeds are mainly business oriented and not good for our farmers, indigenous seeds need to be promoted," he said.Mr Mwanjale also noted that modern seeds are easily attacked by pests, increasing storage costs and that many farmers are not well informed over the best ways of preserving their harvests and thus they end up using dangerous poisons.

Responding to the concerns, Mr Chiza said the government had no intention to open doors for GMOs but it was a move aimed at looking for quality and high yield seeds. "For a GMO to be introduced in the country there are strict liabilities attached under the Environmental Management Act, 2004, therefore there is no need to panic because we are all patriotic and we would not like to put the future of our country in doubt," he said.

He added that the government has its experts at Mikocheni area in Dar es Salaam who are conducting research on GMOs and that the experts have been cautioned not to make any dubious recommendations because of the sensitivity of the matter. "The government is committed in preserving local seeds and we will not let them be replaced by foreign seeds," he said.

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Adam Malima on his part cautioned MPs that they were going astray by discussing GMO matters in the bill because that was not the core focus in it."I am an economist but for the best of my understanding in this Bill we are talking about plant breeding rights. We are looking for quality and high yield and having seeds that will have substantial equivalent and have high level of tolerance in environment changes. GMO is something else," he said.

He anticipated that MPs were suffering from the so called 'fear of unknown' but comforted them that nothing wrong would happen."We have best researchers in the country and we are sure of competing well with foreign researchers and thus I see no reason for panicking," he said.Mr Malima said that the country through its seeds research institutions all over the country such as Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), Ilonga Agricultural Research Institute, Uyole Agricultural Research Institute and Naliendele Agriculture Research Institute among others had the history of all local seeds.

"Researchers in the endeavour are expected to look for increased food and nutritional security. They should make modification of seeds without losing the nutrient values," he said. Some legislators hailed the government for coming up with the Bill saying it would increase availability of seeds and motivate researchers.The MPs also said that the law would help in realizing real objectives of government's policy of Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) which has been hindered by inadequate quality seeds.

Prof Peter Msola (Kilolo-CCM) said that the law has come at an opportune time as seeds production in the country remain poor at almost 25 per cent of the demand, making the country dependent on seeds from abroad. "Through the implementation of this law we will be able to improve technologically but the government should also fulfil its promise of putting aside one per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for research purposes," he said.

Mr Salim Hemed Hamis (Chambani-CUF) said that the Bill would improve agriculture by introducing modern seeds. He said that the maximum demand of seeds in the country was at 120,000 tons per annum and 60,000 tons on average but the country's capacity on the same is at around 28,000 tons.Mr Suleiman Jafo (Kisarawe-CCM) said that researchers in the country were being demoralized by the fact that their work in discovering better seeds is never honoured.

"Having this law in place will boost morale among our researchers and make them work hard than ever before as they are sure of getting royalty from their work and copyrights for their innovations," he said.He emphasized on the need for the government to live up to its promises by setting aside one per cent of the country's GDP for research. "Nothing will be discovered without researches and there cannot be researches without funds, therefore the need to put aside enough money for that purpose is vital," he said.

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