Nigeria: Why Nigeria Should Develop Own Indigenous Plant Variety Protection Laws - Experts

The Nigerian government has been urged to develop its own indigenous plant variety protection laws that are suitable for the country's environment.

This demand was made as part of a resolution after a conference on Seeds, Food and Biosafety organized by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on Thursday in Abuja.

Farmers, academics, researchers, government officials, medical professionals and representatives from civil society organisations (CSOs) were among some of the 100 delegates who attended the event.

Making their demands in the resolution they jointly signed, the group urged the government not to join the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV 1991) but, instead, design a law to protect seeds, plants and farmer's right that will be relatively indigenous to the country's farming system and environment.

"There should be stronger engagements among all stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Council on the implications of joining UPOV."

It further demanded an amendment of the National Agricultural Seed Council Law to ensure that all seed breeders, formal or informal, private small or large corporations ensure full disclosure of information relating to improved varieties; and Informal seed breeders are harmonised and empowered to sustain our indigenous varieties.

"Agricultural research institutions should be well funded by the government to produce wholesome foods and to proffer sustainable, consumer-friendly solutions to challenges of agricultural productivity.

"There is need for rigorous training for small scale farmers on the implications of modern biotechnology, seed treaties and the threat to farmers' rights. Information and terminologies on genetic engineering technology and seeds issues should be simplified to aid thorough understanding.

"Besides supervised seed extension villages where seed saving, research, seed exchange/sharing will be facilitated, farmers should be carried along in the formulation of policies and legislations concerning agricultural seeds and systems," it resolved.

UPOV: Back story

Nigeria currently does not participate in the multibillion-dollar global seed trade as a result of the lack of a Plant Variety Protection law in the country.

There is also the need to provide legal intellectual property rights to plant breeders who develop new and improved seeds for increased crop production.

With the foregoing, the government began drafting a law known as the Plant Variety Protection Act. Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing the draft law for possible adoption.

Through the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA), together with AGRA, the Rockefeller Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID has been collaborating with the Nigeria Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) to support the enaction of legislation that will provide a plant variety protection system that will incentivise national and multinational agribusiness investments.

At the global level, both AGRA and USAID are collaborating with the International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) in Geneva, Switzerland to secure new seed systems and varieties of high-performance seeds for Nigeria's agricultural transformation.

UPOV was established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991. The objective of the Convention is the protection of new varieties of plants by an intellectual property right.

As at 2015, 74 countries were members of UPOV, including the US and many developed countries in Asia and Europe such as China and the United Kingdom.

No country in West Africa is yet to join the convention.

The UPOV has been updated several times to reflect changing technology and increased understanding of how plant variety intellectual property protection must work. The last revision was in 1991, and genetic engineering was specifically mentioned only insofar as it is a method of creating variation.

Under the UPOV Convention, intellectual property rights for genetically modified crops are no different from that of traditionally bred varieties.

Nnimmo Bassey, the director of HOMEF, argued that Nigeria was never part of the negotiation from the inception of the UPOV in 1991, hence the need for the country tp tread with caution in joining the convention.

At the conference, Francois Meienberg, a German seed expert, stressed the need for Nigeria to develop an indigenous law of its own that will prohibit farmers to exchange seeds and sale seeds in the local markets without proper regulation.

"The UPOV convention is good and aimed at protecting the agricultural system butt Nigeria have the capacity to develop their own law which would suit their circumstances because the UPOV convention is not negotiated locally and they (Nigeria) were not in the table when the law was created."

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