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Ghana’s Religious, Civil Leaders Petition President over Plant Variety Protection Bill

Religious leaders and heads of civil societies in Ghana have launched an online petition seeking to block the legislation of the Plant Variety Protection Bill, 2020.

The online petition seeks to gather signatures as an indication of the public’s disapproval of a bill, if signed into law by Ghana’s President, would see local farmers prohibited from exchanging and selling seeds among themselves.

“We are calling on all progressive individuals and organizations to join in the advocacy to prevent the President of Ghana from signing this Bill into law,” religious and civil leaders in Ghana say in their online petition

“The Bill is highly insensitive to Farmers’ rights and rather protects the interest of large commercial Breeders,” the leaders further say in their message authored by the leadership of the National Catholic Secretariat in Ghana among other religious and civil society organizations.

They add that Clause 58 of the proposed Law “goes contrary to the spirit of the Nagoya Protocol, which obligates Ghana to protect the rights of farmers to exchange, save and sell seeds.”

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“The fact that under the Bill there is no obligation by a plant breeder to disclose the source of germ plasm used in the development of the seed will encourage biopiracy of Ghana’s biodiversity,” the leaders further indicate in the online petition. 

On November 4, Ghana’s Parliament passed the Plant Variety Protection Bill, which had been re-introduced in the country’s Parliament in February 2020

The Bill had been withdrawn from the floor of the house in November 2014 amid calls for further consultations with all stakeholders.

In 2013, members of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) rejected the Bill saying the country “can achieve food sufficiency and even produce surplus food for export using the conventional means of farming.”

Other Ghanaian entities campaigning against the Bill include the Ghana Muslim Mission, Food Sovereignty Ghana, the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD), the General Agricultural Workers Union of the Trades Union Congress, Vegetarian Association of Ghana, Vibrant Vegan Society of Ghana (VEGSOG) and the Rastafari Council of Ghana. 

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In the online petition, Ghana’s religious and civil society leaders say that the government has “no justified reason why Ghana does not seek to build a sui generis system of plant protection as stipulated by the World Trade Organization agreement and instead has opted for the highly inflexible UPOV 91.”

A sui generis system refers to the creation of laws that would afford protection to intellectual property dealing with genetic resources while the Union for the Protection of New Varieties (UPOV 91) is a seed law that protects new varieties of plants through intellectual property right. 

Grain, an international Non-governmental organization in the agriculture sector, has described UPOV 91 law as one that strengthens the rights of corporate breeders and re­stricts farmers from saving privatized seeds.

In the online petition, the religious and civil society leaders in Ghana call on the Head of State to “allow for a truly open stakeholder engagement and consultation.” 

They add that the consultation will pave way for the West African nation to arrive at “a plant variety protection regime that is good for Ghana’s farmers as well as plant breeders, be they local or foreign.”

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Besides the online petition, the religious and civil leaders have indicated that they plan to engage in social media campaigns, press conferences and protests across major Ghanaian cities and towns to dissuade the President from signing the Bill into Law.