The Ghanaian Plant Breeders' Rights Bill is likely to be one of the more controversial matters on the Ghanaian Parliament agenda in October this year when the Parliamentary sub-committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs presents a report to the House on various petitions received by the House on the Bill.

There has been a strong reaction to GMOs (genetically modified organisms), since the Ghanaian government introduced GMO plants into the country in 2013. GMOs are regulated in terms of Ghana's Biosafety Act 831 of 2011, and there are presently a number of confined field trials underway in the country, including for rice and cotton.

In addition, the Plant Breeders' Rights Bill was first published in 2013 to strong opposition by activist groups such as Food Sovereignty Ghana.

The Bill is modelled on UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) 1991, which is viewed by opponents as rigid and inflexible compared to the previous UPOV convention, UPOV 1978. UPOV 1991 has not been acceded to by a number of developing countries such as China, Brazil and Kenya. However, others have acceded to UPOV 1991, such as Peru, OAPI (African Intellectual Property Organization) and Morocco. There is also presently a Plant Breeders' Rights Amendment Bill in South Africa which aims at bringing South African law in line with UPOV 1991.

Opponents of the Bill are of the view that rather than legislation based on UPOV 1991, Ghana requires a sui generis system which is provided for in terms of the World Trade Organisation TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) of which Ghana is a member. Opponents are concerned that the Bill will result in the rights of multinationals being favoured at the expense of local farmers and breeders. In particular, the provisions relating to essentially derived varieties have been criticised, as such rights will extend Plant Breeders' Rights protection to varieties developed through further research and development of a protected variety if the derived varieties are "essentially derived" from the protected variety. Another topical issue is the provision around farm saved seed where smallholder farmers can freely use, save, sell and exchange farm saved seeds.

Proponents of the Bill include government stakeholders and certain members of the scientific community. Their view is that the Bill will allow breeders to protect their intellectual property and will inject investment into plant breeding in Ghana which will be in the interest of farmers and the seed industry. They have also pointed out that the issues relating to GMOs regulated in terms of the Biosafety Act versus Plant Breeders' Rights should be separated.

We will follow developments with interest.

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