Don’t compromise food sovereignty, livelihoods for GMOs — Peasant farmers caution legislators


The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana and the Small Scale Women and Men Farmers in Ghana say attempts by some interest groups to push for the passage of the Plant Breeders’ Bill could prove detrimental for Ghana’s food security if the interest groups succeed.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Abdul-Rahaman Mohammed, President of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, cautioned legislators not give up the country’s food sovereignty and the livelihoods of farmers by passing the bill that will seek to promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Read below the entire statement:
PRESS STATEMENT PRESENTED BY ABDUL-RAHAMAN MOHAMMED, PRESIDENT OF THE PEASANT FARMERS ASSOCIATION OF GHANA:

DATE: 20TH NOVEMBER 2014, VENUE: NATIONAL PRESS CENTRE, TIME: 10:00AM-12:00 NOON

DO NOT COMPROMISE YOUR FOOD SOVEREIGNTY AND LIVELIHOODS OF SMALL HOLDER FARMERS FOR TRANSNATIONAL SEED AND FERTILIZER COMPANIES

Colleague Farmers present;
Invited Guest;
The Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
On behalf of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana and the Small Scale Women and Men Farmers in Ghana, I wish to welcome all of you to this Press Conference.

This press conference is to state our position as small scale farmers on the Plant Breeders Bill and constraints in the agricultural sector for public discussion.

Ladies and Gentlemen from the media, we are worried by the desperate attempts  by some interest groupings with and outside of our Parliament, to push for the passage of the Plant Breeders’ Bill with some clauses we believe are detrimental to the interest of small holder farmers and stand to compromise our agriculture sector in favour of Transnational Seed and Fertilizer Companies

 I would first of all like to express our sincere gratitude to the Speaker of Parliament Rt. Hon. Edward  Doe Adjaho who has  consistently remained focused by directing the Parliamentary Select  Committee on constitutional, Parliamentary and Legal affairs to allow for wider  stakeholder  consultation on the Plant Breeders Bill.

Towards the end of last year, following numerous petitions to the Parliament, the Speaker of the House, suspended the legislative processes that would have led to the passage of the Plant Breeders’ Bill into Law and directed that the leadership of the House consider thoroughly,  petitions from various labour unions, faith based organizations and farmers associations on the Plant Breeders Bill and the Biosafety Act  and invite them to hold adequate consultations  with members of the Committee who are in charge of this bill, but that call was not heeded to by the committee. An earlier petition to the President of the Republic  has also directed the Minister of Food and Agriculture to consider the recommendation made therein and take appropriate action. For this we wish to put on record our gratitude to  His Execellency President John Dramani Mahama and still remind him to keenly monitor an attempt by a section of Parliament bent on having the Bill passed against the wishes of the majority the people who will be directly affected  mostly farmers

Going further we  feel saddened and dismayed at the attitude of the Majority Leader and Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Alban Bagbin in his blatant attempt attempt to distort and misrepresent our objections to some clauses in the Plant Breeders’ Bill on the floor of the House, on Tuesday, 11th November 2014. We are at a loss as to what could be his reason or motivation. Whatever it may be, we should all to be guided by our legacy for posterity.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Media; the essence of the Bill we are informed is  to improve the seed industry by providing a legal framework for the protection of the rights of breeders of new plant varieties and to enable Ghana to be in full compliant with obligations under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) of the WTO while promoting and encouraging investment in the seed industry.

However, a careful consideration of the bill reveals otherwise. In the first place the bill does not recognize small holder farmers with a rich history in plant breeding as plant breeders. For a crop variety to qualify for protection under the bill as stated in sections 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the bill, it must be NEW which means that that variety must not have been sold or disposed of to any person by or with the consent of the breeder for the purpose of exploitation of the variety.

By this criteria all existing indigenous plants and seeds do not qualify. Morover, small holder farmers have a long history of saving and sharing seeds. This clause is discriminatory of our practice of saving and sharing seeds even across our borders.

Again the seed must be DISTINCT to qualify for registration which means that it must be different from any other variety. Seeds of small holder farmers does not posses this characteristic. It is only seeds produced through laboratory engineering which can be made to posses that quality.

Thirdly the seed or plant must be UNIFORM, which means that upon maturity of the crop, it be of the same height, size and colour. The seeds of small holder farmers come in various sizes, shapes and colour. This requirement is discriminatory of indigenous seeds.

Worse of all, in section 9 of the bill any foreign citizen or a resident in the territory of a party to a treaty to which our country is a party or foreign company that has registered in Ghana can register a seed in our country. This clause in the Plant Breeders Bill automatically enables foreigners to easily register their seeds here in Ghana because of the huge resources they can command.

In section 9 of the Plant Breeders Bill, anybody including companies from the whole world

 A combined effort was made to intervene in fostering some legal frameworks. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a Protocol to the Convention on Bio Diversity has been ratified by Ghana by the Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831). The Act provides safety checks for the introduction of genetically modified organisms into Ghana which has not been done yet.

The PBB in its current form does not respect Ghana’s obligation under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) of the World Trade Organisation, the objective of which is spelt out in TRIPS Act in Article 7   as follows: “The protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights should contribute to the promotion of technological innovation and to the transfer and dissemination of technology, to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge and in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare, and to a balance of rights and obligations”. The PBB does not consider the right of farmers and indigenous people, it only protect the rights of the breeder (MOSANTOS)

The plant Breeders’ Bill in its current form does not factor in political, economic, socio-cultural and health implications of the bill to citizens. There is a risk of loss or disappearance of local/indigenous seed and the complete takeover of the seed industry by commercial plant breeders.

Ladies and Gentlemen; The agriculture sector is key to the overall economic growth and development of Ghana as it provides employment to about 50.6% i.e. 4.2 million people of the labour force in the country and still has the potential of addressing the problem of graduate unemployment if conscious efforts are made to tackle the bottlenecks in the sector and link it up to industry. The sector also provides livelihoods to about 80 per cent of the rural people. 

Colleague farmers our concerns are as follows:
Peasant Farmers are in full support of science and technology; however we are against technology that will take away our sovereignty and enslave us to foreign multinationals like (MOSANTO) whose primary motivation is profit. Our experienced and intelligent scientists at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), are paid by the Ghanaian tax payer to research into how to improve local agricultural production. We strongly appeal to government to provide financial resource to enable them make available what they have been doing for  farmers.

Ladies and gentlemen from the media; there are numerous problems in the agriculture sector making it impossible for farmers to maximize their potentials: poor feeder roads, lack of storage facilities, postharvest lost problems, inadequate irrigation facilities, difficulty in accessing credit, lack of mechanization services, depleting soil fertility and many others.etc. When these problems are addressed; Ghanaian farmers will be in position to produce enough for domestic consumption and for export. We further want to state that GMOs cannot grow in a dry land, GMOs products cannot fly from farm gate to marketing centres, GMOs seeds cannot grow without fertilizer, GMO seeds cannot grow without extension services and infertile land.

Ladies and gentlemen, passing a law that disempowers Ghanaians, impoverishes already poor rural farmers and creates unlimited opportunities for  profit-oriented multinationals to make business with the livelihoods of our people is unacceptable.

On whose side are our Parliamentarians? Are they on the side of the poor farmer or the multinationals with deep pockets who are lobbying them to pass the bill? They must choose a side. Our MPs cannot convince the poor farmers of Ghana that they are on their side with their current position.

The Majority Leader, Alban Sumana Bagbin rightly said on the floor of the House yesterday that public office is a trust which must be kept with integrity. The poor farmers of Ghana are opposed to the Plant Breeders’ Bill in its current form and we hope that it shall not be said that a Plant Breeders’ Law was passed under his leadership.  We have trust in their office and would not like to be disappointed.

Colleague farmers, invited guest, friends of the media, ladies and gentlemen I would conclude by urging the majority Leader, who is actively promoting a Code of Conduct requiring “Propriety, correctness, transparency and honesty on the part of Members of Parliament,” not to be seen pushing a bill that is inimical to the local economy in the long-term.

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