Civil Society Group Alliance for Science Ghana is appealing to President Akufo-Addo to help ensure passage of the Plant Breeders’ Right Bill into law.
It says passing the bill into law is crucial to ensuring food security and improving the lives of farmers.
In a statement to mark farmers day signed by executive member Reuben Nana Yaw Quainoo, the group urged “President Akufo-Addo to get this bill passed into law to cement the reputation he is building as a champion of Ghanaian farmers.”
Below is the full statement
As we mark Farmers’ Day today, we at the Alliance for Science Ghana wish to extend our heart warm felicitations to farmers across our land for the great job they are doing.
There is no doubt in our minds that you remain the most hard working professionals our country has ever known. Despite the numerous troubles of your daily lives and tough-talking politicians ‘throwing you under the bus’ more often than they lift you up, you remain unperturbed, unshaken and optimistic about what the future holds for you and your children. You still manage to lift yourselves up every morning with renewed spirits, clean up your sweat with wipes that look no better than the leaves on your farms and get back to tilling the soil knowing that the lives of your families and our country depend on your work. We are grateful for the sacrifices you and your families make to ensure we get food to eat every day. Congratulations to you all on this day. We are so proud of you.
Our Agric sector has too many challenges; all of which we cannot finish discussing in this piece. Our annual food import bill is about $2 billion. Particularly in the northern sector, it is estimated one in every three farmers is food insecure. About three-quarters of all children in Ghana suffer one form of malnutrition or the other in their childhood days. Farmers remain some of the poorest group of people you will find anywhere in this country. All these challenges need to be fixed holistically through not only comprehensive policies but also pragmatic actions.
And we are convinced one sure way around improving on the country’s food security is tackling the challenges with the quality of the seed our farmers’ plant. We welcome all the ongoing efforts under the planting for food and jobs programme to ensure farmers get access to improved quality seeds because it remains a big issue. For example, currently, less than 10 percent of farmers in Ghana use improved seeds, with a majority of them relying on traditional varieties that do not yield much.
This has led to low productivity on a lot of farms in the country. When you look at the maize crop, the average yield of maize on each hectare of farm in Ghana is about 1.7 tonnes, whilst in the US where a lot of farmers use improved seeds, some farmers are able to produce up to 22 tonnes per hectare. Ghana in 2017 had to import seeds from neighbouring countries including Burkina Faso for government’s latest flagship Planting for Food and Jobs Initiative because local companies could not produce enough.
We are convinced that one sure way to turn things around would be government passing the long-awaited Plant Breeders’ Right Bill into law. The bill was first introduced to parliament about 6 years ago but has yet to be approved. Parliament suspended work on it in 2015 following protests from some civil society and farmer groups which claimed it will make farmers lose ownership of their seeds.
The bill when passed will give scientists and science institutions intellectual property over new plant varieties they develop so they can earn royalties on them. This will encourage more private investments in the seed sector for the benefit of farmers and the nation as a whole. The bill when passed will help make the country more competitive in the seed industry and ensure food security.
In Africa, more than10 countries including Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have passed a Plant Breeder’s Bill into law. This has accelerated the introduction of new plant varieties and led to the transformation of their agricultural sector.
South Africa, a leader in Africa’s seed market has had a Plant Breeders’ Right law since 1976 and the industry has benefitted greatly from it. That country releases more improved seeds every year for use by farmers than Ghana. For example, according to the September 2018 edition of ‘The Africa Seed Access Index,’ South Africa over the last three years released 363 varieties of 4 of the country’s major crops, whilst Ghana released only 17. Farmers’ in Ghana deserve that increased competitiveness in the industry, hence the demand for the law.
In 2015, more than 200 scientists from the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) of the University of Ghana, the Ghana National Association of Farmers and Fishermen, the Ghana Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Biotechnology and Nuclear, Agriculture Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, among others, petitioned parliament to speedily pass the Plant Breeders’ Bill. The petition noted; “this bill is an important measure to combat poverty in our country. Our farmers desperately need access to improved varieties of our staple crops. This is essential if we are to continue to modernise agriculture.”
Breeding takes a long time and a lot of resources to develop varieties. Efforts of breeders have to be recognised and rewarded. This will encourage the development of more improved varieties tolerant to diseases, pests, heat, and drought for use by farmers to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The absence of the bill is making Ghana lose a lot of money. The ‘Obantapa’ maize is known to have very good protein content. It was developed here in Ghana but today it is grown in the whole of West Africa. Ghana invested in the scientists at Crop Research Institute to produce it. But everyone is taking it free without paying a dividend to Ghana. That is what we are saying that we have to protect through legislation like the Plant Breeders’ Right Bill.
As we mark Farmers’ Day today, we would want to renew calls on government and particularly the Attorney General’s office lead the process of re-introducing this all-important law in parliament for approval. Alliance for Science Ghana – a network of farmers, scientists, communicators, and well-meaning Ghanaians – urge President Akufo-Addo to get this bill passed into law to cement the reputation he is building as a champion of Ghanaian farmers. And posterity will forever be grateful to him for that.
May God bless our gallant farmers. And may God bless our homeland Ghana.
Reuben Nana Yaw Quainoo
Executive member, Alliance for Science Ghana