HOMEF Raises Alarm On Plant Variety Protection Bill

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The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), has raised alarm over the passage of the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Bill by the Senate.

According to the group, the bill spells disaster for the agriculture and farming systems in the country.

HOMEF is an ecological think tank organisation advocating environmental and climate justice as well as food sovereignty in Nigeria and Africa at large.

The PVP bill was passed into law by the Senate on March 3.

The bill seeks to protect seed breeders and farmers in the country by giving them intellectual property over a new plant variety with exclusive rights to commercialise seed.

Following the three readings of the bill, the senate passed the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

However, during a dialogue with stakeholder programme organised by the HOMEF to discuss food, food policy and PVP, the group decried the passage of the bill by Senate without proper consideration for all the parties involved in the agricultural sector.

In a statement issued at the end of the programme by Director, HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, and made available to The New Diplomat, the group called for a review of the bill in other to ensure the interest of small-scale farmers.

Bassey lamented that the interest of the small scale farmers are not fully protected in the bill, adding that the bill failed to address critical issues of the country’s agricultural ecosystem.

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“The bill makes no space for civil society representation and none for small-holder farmers except where it mentions “the registered farmers’ association.” Saying “the” rather than “a” suggests that the registered farmers’ association is already known to the drafters of this Bill,” Bassey stated.

The Director added that the PVP bill was adopted from The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), an inter-governmental organization with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The bill aligns with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), a patent-driven system formulated without the participation of African countries and designed by “countries where agriculture is a business rather than a way of life.” Such countries have a tiny fraction of the population involved in agriculture which is of the industrial type,” Bassey noted.

While calling for the withdrawal of the bill, the group stated that failure to do so would spell doom for the agricultural sector of the country.

According to Bassey, the bill, once the bill is in place, “farmers will be criminalised if they duplicate or share seeds registered under this law.”

The communique reads in part, “Although the proponents of this bill insist that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will not creep into the food system as part of the new plants varieties, there are some worrisome provisions in it. Clause 9 establishes a PVP Advisory Committee which includes known GMO promoters such as the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the biosafety regulatory agency, (NBMA). The bill makes no space for civil society representation and none for smallholder farmers except where it mentions “the registered farmers’ association.” Saying “the” rather than “a” suggests that the registered farmers’ association is already known to the drafters of this Bill.

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“The PVP bill Clause 13 (2) says “The grant of the breeder’s right shall not be subject to any further or different conditions…” In other words, this act locks breeders’ rights in concrete. It could preclude the development of appropriate laws and policies to decriminalise farmers’ seed systems and farmers’ rights and is grossly inequitable. It also restricts Nigerian farmers’ rights more heavily than the laws of Brazil, Argentina, China, South Africa, etc.

“Another interesting provision is Clause 19 (7) which states that if a member of an international organisation protects a variety and brings an application by itself or in partnership with another organisation, the Registrar will register such an application unless he considers the denomination unsuitable for Nigeria. Note that this clause places national sovereignty and ecological integrity of the nation in the hands of the Registrar. Clause 29 (5-6) of the bill appears to be a backdoor for GMOs to be registered. It states that any variety that can be seen as unique varieties would be registered and protected.

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“We have taken time to talk about the PVP Bill because it is already on the President’s table and could be signed into law at any time. This is the time for the bill to be withdrawn and returned to the drawing board for real public consultations and inclusion of the views of small-scale farmers who risk being criminalised through this piece of legislation. Nigeria needs an omnibus law that covers plants, animals, and fishes. Rather than approaching food in silos, promoting the interest of seed oligarchs and speculators, we should be looking at how to create spaces for the celebration of traditional ecological knowledge and technologies and at how to amplify our traditional diets and cuisine. We should look for ways to encourage research into these as a sure pathway to secure our food systems for now and for the future.

We should never forget that food is a human right, and no one should be subject to the indignity of chronic hunger and malnutrition. Our composite farms offer foods needed for balanced nutritious diets rather than what plantation monocultures or green deserts offer. This is the time to build a food policy anchored on agroecology. It is time to support our farmers with adequate extension services, infrastructure, finance, and market access.”

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Hamilton Nwosa is an experienced, and committed communication, business, administrative, data and research specialist . His deep knowledge of the intersection between communication, business, data, and journalism are quite profound. His passion for professional excellence remains the guiding principle of his work, and in the course of his career spanning sectors such as administration, tourism, business management, communication and journalism, Hamilton has won key awards. He is a delightful writer, researcher and data analyst. He loves team-work, problem-solving, organizational management, communication strategy, and enjoys travelling. He can be reached at: hamilton_68@yahoo.com

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