Nigeria Needs Plant Variety Protection Law – Experts

Nigeria Needs Plant Variety Protection Law – Experts

Nigeria – SOME intellectual property of Seed Breeders, has been stolen by marketers of fake seeds because of the absence of Plant Variety Protection (PVP) law.

This situation has led to low productivity for farmers and the loss of millions of dollars on foreign export of seeds.

Experts said this has left many farmers with low-quality and adulterated seeds that could be dangerous to crop production and food security.

In Africa, countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle  (OAPI) with its 17 member states from West and Central Africa have joined the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).

Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Rwanda and ARIPO have also developed PVP systems and are in the process of joining UPOV.

The Nigerian Senate on March 3 2021, passed into law the PVP Bill, and it is currently awaiting Presidential assent.

Studies have shown that the PVP system would increase food security, improve environmental safety, bring about less import and create a sustainable seed industry, which enables farmers to access viable seeds for greater economic returns.

PVP gives the breeder exclusive control over the variety, rights to use the variety, and encourages the development of better plant varieties.

The Director General of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NAQS), Dr Philip Ojo said the role of Plant Variety Protection(PVP) law in responding to a changing world is to provide a legal framework and system that encourages plant breeding leading to the development of superior plant varieties with high yield potentials.

He said Nigeria’s agricultural sector transformation is a significant reason why the country ought to pay attention to plant variety protection, adding that the importance of having a PVP law in place cannot be over emphasized.

‘’Section 39 of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) Act 21 of 2019 signed into law by President Buhari mentioned the important need for the granting of plant breeders rights to be provided for in an Act of the National Assembly on plant variety protection”, he said.

On linking the PVP Bill with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) , Dr Ojo said “I have listened to non-state actors try so hard to unintelligently link this bill to GMO or the subversion of farmers’ rights.

“This bill has nothing to do with the advancement of GMO in Nigeria. There are laws and state agencies who have been given this responsibility and the PVP has nothing to do with that.

“Supporting the development of new plant varieties is an essential response to achieving food security and agricultural sustainability. Improved varieties are a necessary and cost-effective means of improving productivity, quality and marketability for farmers and growers.

“However, breeding new varieties of plants requires a substantial investment of skills, labor, material resources, money, and time”.

Celestine Okeke in the seed sector, said, “Nigerian government and other African countries have been falling  behind in investing in research production understandably because our economy has not been as much as it used to be.

“If private sector will invest in plant breeding, they need a law to protect their investment in the same manner we have law protecting authors of book, we also have a law in the entertainment industry for musicians and film producers, in that same manner we need to have the PVP law, without that, we cannot sustainably develop the sector.

Hadiza Yaro, the Business Development Manager, East-west Seed International, said the major reason for low yield in developing countries is lack of improved seeds because most of the traditional varieties have not been improved on for many centuries.

She said modern breeding has enabled farmers to have better and higher yield, which variety accounts for over 50 percent of the output of farmers as well as other practices like having the right fertilizer, technique and better pest and disease control.

Commenting on farmers’ rights, the NASC DG explained that the PVP is not against the right of farmers to use their farm saved seeds.

He said however, the PVP will provide more and better choices for farmers (protected varieties with better yield and superior characteristics Vs non protected varieties).

“Most of the varieties we have in circulation today may not meet the criteria for protection as a basic requirement of the PVP is novelty (must be new and distinct from any known variety).

“It should also be pointed out that protected varieties do not take away access to traditional varieties but rather provide better choices for farmers.

“Smallholder farmers can continue to practice farm-saved seeds on their own holdings even for protected varieties without payment of remuneration to the right holders”,he added.

Speaking on the economic benefit of the law, Professor Chidozie Egezi who is the President of Nigerian Plant Breeders Association (NPBA), said the law would promote and ensure Nigeria gets the right kind of investment.

He said NPBA have a good number of plant breeders in Nigeria that are all eager to see President Buhari sign the law, adding that Nigeria is a food deficit country, importing so much and spending several millions of dollars annually to supplement production.

“When you look at the food system of Nigeria you consider how much we are producing locally and importing, Nigeria is a food deficit country, importing so much and spending several millions of dollars annually to supplement our production.

“One of the few things is the varieties that we grow in the country, the kind of players that have been in the country.

“The law will promote and ensure we get the right kind of investment in the country, it also has a longer term effect on how the farmers benefit from growing the right kind of variety and we know,  it reduces environmental stress like climate change, flooding and drought.

“We have those genes in existence but plant breeders  need to be motivated to do that, it facilitates the sustainable development of the seed industry and agricultural sector.

“We cannot continue doing things the way we have been doing in the past and expect a different result, we already have the seed law, we need the PVP law to give us protection and we need the breeders to begin to put in their best to bring out the best varieties”, he said.

Furthermore, the Technical Adviser to the DG, NAQS, Folarin Okelola, said the PVP is value addition to the natural resources Nigeria have.

Okelola explained that the law would give Nigeria the opportunity to collect royalties from countries using materials, giving the example of Malaysia who took oil palm from Nigeria many years ago.

He said: “We gave oil palm seedlings to Malaysia many years back and they took the oil palm and went into research and improved on it. They protected the things that had come out of those efforts and today Malaysia is one of the leading countries that is benefiting from oil palm.

“It will amaze you that the oil palm seedlings Edo, Akwa Ibom and Cross River State are buying today are Malaysia oil palm seedlings, these are things we are supposed to be collecting royalties from. We are buying because they have added value from what they took from us, why don’t we improve on what we have then export it, then wherever they use it, the money is coming back to us. It will also stop breeders from leaving Nigeria to go and work in other places where they know they get better benefit.

“It took Ghana 22 years to pass the PVP law, just recently, the parliament of Ghana passed a law and the president signed it, we have been misinformed by people against this bill for a long number of years”.VoN