New ARIPO Plant Protocol: Conflict Of Farmers’ And Breeders’ Rights? 10/07/2015 by Hillary Muheebwa for Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)KAMPALA, UGANDA — Member states of African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) have adopted a protocol for the protection of new varieties of plants. The measure is aimed at modernising African agricultural practices, but some say it comes at the expense of age-old traditional farming practices, such as saving and re-using seed. The protocol adopted during a diplomatic conference held in Arusha, Tanzania, on 6 July is called the Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. [Note: The final text is not yet publicly available.] Negotiators of the Arusha Protocol, photo credit ARIPO According to the ARIPO website, “the Protocol seeks to provide member states with a regional plant variety protection system that recognizes the need to provide growers and farmers with improved varieties of plants in order to ensure sustainable agricultural production.” The protocol is modelled on the 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 1991). UPOV 1991 provides the strongest international standard for plant variety protection. Supporters of the protocol say that strong protection of breeder’s rights will incentivize plant breeders leading to the introduction of new varieties of plants for farmers; while those against it argue that the proposed protection framework is unsuitable for African countries as it may affect traditional rights for farmers to save, exchange or sell farm-saved seeds. Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) recognises this right “to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material” as being “fundamental to the realization of farmers’ rights, as well as the promotion of farmers’ rights at national and international levels.” The ITPGRFA is an adoption of United Nation Food and Agriculture Organisation. The ITPGRFA requires its contracting parties to take measures to protect and promote farmers’ rights. Fourteen ARIPO member states are contracting parties to the ITPGRFA. Strong Concerns for Traditional African Farmers A press release by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), released after ARIPO members had signed the protocol, stated: “[C]rucially, the ARIPO PVP Protocol proposed extremely strong intellectual property rights to breeders while restricting the age-old practices of African farmers freely to save, use, share and sell seeds and/or propagating material. These practices are the backbone of agricultural systems in Sub-Saharan Africa; they have ensured the production and maintenance of a diverse pool of genetic resources by farmers themselves, and have safe-guarded food and nutrition for tens of millions of Africans in the ARIPO region.” AFSA is a Pan African platform comprising networks and farmer organizations working in Africa. According to AFSA, the UPOV 1991 is a restrictive and inflexible international legal precept, totally unsuitable for Africa. “Multinational seed companies intend to lay claim to seed varieties as their private possessions and to prevent others from using these varieties without the payment of royalties,” AFSA added. The group also claimed that local civil society groups were purposely excluded from the negotiations, while the commercial seed industry and foreign groups such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and European and United States governments were allowed to be involved. Four ARIPO member states signed the protocol after its adoption: The Gambia, Ghana, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe. All the four are categorised as least developed countries (LDCs), along with a further 10 of the 19 members of ARIPO. “LDCs are currently not under any international obligation to provide any form of plant variety protection until 2021, let alone one based on UPOV 1991,” the AFSA press release said. But the report on the ARIPO website said, “The Diplomatic Conference has called on the Member States to take the necessary steps to ensure a rapid ratification or accession to the Protocol and the Administrative Council of ARIPO to make the necessary implementing regulations in order to ensure a prompt and efficient implementation of the Protocol.” According to AFSA, “all countries have an option to develop sui generis plant variety protection systems that cater for their specific conditions. Acceptance of the Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants will eliminate this option. Smaller countries are bullied into accepting their subordination to regional bodies that are dominated by more powerful foreign countries and multinational corporate interests.” Promoting Innovation and Variety? Prof. Tukamuhabwa Phinehas is a lecturer at Makerere University, Kampala, and a plant breeder with experience in agricultural plant science. He says “farmers also have rights, but these rights should not infringe on rights of breeders. Innovators should be rewarded for it, including plant breeders.” “If we have more varieties on the market, farmers will have a greater choice for which variety to plant,” he added. “This will in the long run lead to agricultural development and since most of our population depend on agriculture, the development will flow into the other community sectors.” According to Phinehas, farmers’ rights which agencies seem to be fighting for are always catered for. “Governments do appoint people to develop and multiply new and improved breeds, these new varieties belong to the government which is free to distribute them to the general public. Then seed companies also develop their plant varieties which they may sell to farmers. While at other times, the government may subsidize a seed company to work on improving existing plant varieties. With all these, the farmer always has a choice on which plant variety to use on his farm.” Phinehas added: “At times, we haven’t had any plant varieties to begin with. For instance, most of the vegetable plant varieties, like cabbages, were brought into the region. If we have a regulation framework that rewards breeders, then we shall have more companies bringing their plant varieties into the region. Once we have access to these new plant varieties, there’s a potential to use them and develop even better varieties.” Phinehas said he is convinced there is an increasing demand for new varieties of plants as farmers, even small farmers, want increased harvests, pest and disease free seeds and resistant varieties. Opening the Conference, Tanzania Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal said that “effective demand for improved seed is targeted to be 60,000 metric tons annually. However, the formal seed sector in Tanzania produces about 25 per cent of the total potential seed requirement.” “Tanzania is convinced that the proposed ARIPO protocol will provide suitable motivation to encourage plant breeders to work hard in developing new varieties for the benefit of the ARIPO countries and the society as a whole,” he said. The Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants shall remain open for signature by member states of ARIPO, other States and members of the African Union until 31 December 2015. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Hillary Muheebwa may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."New ARIPO Plant Protocol: Conflict Of Farmers’ And Breeders’ Rights?" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.