UPOV 1991 Will Adversely Impact Farmers In Tanzania, Civil Society And Farmers Say

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Tanzania is on the road to becoming a member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), but Tanzanian civil society and farmers’ organisations have warned about possible detrimental effects on small-holder farmers and have asked government to halt the ratification process until all stakeholders have been consulted.

A major concern of local farmers is that adoption of the new UPOV rules will severely curtail the farmers’ ability to reuse seed from their crops, as they have done throughout history.

According to a news release published by UPOV, the Council, which held its thirtieth extraordinary session on 22 March, “welcomed the adoption of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act for Mainland Tanzania on November 5.”

The UPOV Council further “decided that the Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill for Zanzibar, subject to certain modifications, was in conformity with the provisions of the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention.”

“The Council noted that, once the Draft Law for Zanzibar was adopted, breeders’ rights would cover the whole territory and the United Republic of Tanzania could become a UPOV member,” according to the release.

During the last session of the Council, on 1 November, the Council examined the draft legislation of mainland Tanzania (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 29 October 2012). The United Republic of Tanzania comprises mainland Tanzania and Zansibar.

On the same day, a number of civil society organisations and farmers’ organisations, such as Swissaid Tanzania, the African Centre for Biosafety, East & Southern Africa Farmers Federation, and ActionAid Tanzania released a statement warning about implications of acceding to UPOV 1991.

UPOV 1991 is the last version of the UPOV Convention, first adopted in Paris in 1961 and revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991. Civil society representatives have said that UPOV 1991 was more stringent than earlier versions, to the disadvantage of small farmers.

In their statement, the signatories said “the rush for Zanzibar to adopt its Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill is clearly designed to satisfy UPOV requirements and hasten Tanzania’s entry into this intellectual property legal framework.”

The signatories said that the process has been non-participatory, shutting out farmers. “We are deeply concerned that farmers’ organizations and relevant civil society organizations have not been consulted on the Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill for Zanzibar.”

Of particular concern is the fact that small-holder farmers and women farmers are dependent on the informal seed sector and the customary practices of freely saving, using, exchanging and selling farm-saved seeds and other propagating material, practices which would be “severely” restricted by UPOV 1991.

The statement signatories are asking that the government of Tanzania “immediately halt all processes leading to the ratification of UPOV 1991, until all relevant stakeholders – including farmers – have been adequately consulted and their concerns sufficiently addressed.”

Developing Country Resistance to UPOV 1991

A number of African civil society organisations said in November that the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) had proposed a draft regional harmonised policy and legal framework on plant variety protection based on UPOV 1991, according to a media release, and that “the participation of farmers, farmer movements and civil society organizations has been conspicuously absent.” ARIPO is expected to hold national and regional consultations this year, according to the civil society group.

The same resistance was met in Colombia, where the Constitutional Court declared UPOV 91 unconstitutional because indigenous and afro-Colombian peoples had not been consulted before approving Act 1518 of 2012. Colombian civil society said the government was expected to start a process of consultation with indigenous and afro-Colombian peoples (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 04 February 2013).

Serbia is a new UPOV member. The country deposited its instrument of accession to the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention on 5 December 2012, according to the UPOV release.


Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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