THE Plant Breeders Rights Bill 2015 was hastily approved by the National Assembly standing committee on cabinet secretariat on January 6 after incorporating a few amendments but without input of some stakeholders.
In its previous meeting held eight days ago, the NA panel chairman Rana Mohammad Hayat Khan had wanted to give a quick nod to the bill but was not supported by other committee members including officials of Sindh government who insisted on having input of other stakeholders before passing the bill.
He was unhappy over the delay in the passage of the bill although it was introduced in the house on November 27 which is less than two months. What he meant by ‘delay’ was not clear. The standing committee, however, decided to invite all relevant stakeholders such as farmers, private seed companies and provincial government officials to the Jan 6 meeting.
Before the bill was adopted, some committee members criticised the contents of the bill which, they said, only aimed at protecting breeders’ rights rather than protecting farmers’ rights. MNA Asad Umar suggested that some sections should be incorporated in the bill to ensure protection of farmers’ rights and also price control over seed.
Federal minister Sikandar Hayat Bosan intervened to say that ‘the main objective’ of this legislation was to protect the rights of farmers and provide high quality seed to the farmers.
Before it was adopted, some committee members criticised the contents of the bill which, they said, only aimed at protecting breeders’ rights rather than protecting farmers’ rights. Rana Mohammad Hayat Khan criticised the ‘failure’ of the public sector agricultural scientists and researchers to produce quality seeds for major crops and bring the agriculture sector at par with the neighbouring countries, even after consuming state’s billions of rupees. In his view, foreign private sector could play an effective role in boosting R&D in agriculture sector.
What is lacking, in fact, is an enlightened debate on the pros and cons of the plant breeders’ bill as well as the Seed Amendment Bill 2014 which has by now been approved by the National Assembly and is waiting for approval in the Senate. These two bills are closely related to each other.
Plant breeders’ rights, one may note, are specific intellectual property rights granted to the creators of new varieties of plants. Pakistan, being a member of the WTO, is required to provide protection to plant varieties under sui generis system under Article 27-3 (b) of the Trips law. The sui generis system for plant varieties must, under the law, comply with the basic principles of national treatment.
The regime in 2001 had intended to protect plant breeders’ rights by issuing an ordinance but its status did not go beyond a draft. The basis of the law was treaties of 1978 and 1991 of International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (Upov).
Pakistan had consulted Upov on the conformity of its law (ordinance) with the Upov Convention but later decided not to join Upov. A prominent feature of the draft was acknowledgement of the farmers’rights under the new set-up. No protection was to be granted to varieties containing ‘terminator’ type genes.
According to a Grains study, intellectual property rights (IPRs) and plant breeding have, historically, had nothing to do with each other. The IPRs route, if adopted, leads to the privatisation of agriculture and the other route, which has been neglected, leads to farmer-led agriculture. One cannot travel both ways when it comes to IPRs. But most governments, Pakistan included, and the formal research sector do not, for the most part, recognise this conflict.
As a result, many countries in Asia are trying to fulfil their sui generis requirements under Trips ‘in the hope of simultaneously attracting foreign private sector investment for domestic R&D and protecting the fate of the farmers, in addition to giving some boost to their own public research systems. It is obvious they are just deluding themselves’.
What is actually at issue is the question whose interests agriculture R&D should serve. IPRs are suited to the profit strategies of the global seed
companies which seek to dominate agricultural production worldwide. These companies are building ‘vast industrial breeding networks in all major crops and, with their economies of scale and ownership over technology through IPR, they will drive local breeders, both in private and public sectors, out of the commercial market’.
The study notes that in Asia, patents were never allowed on life forms because of ethics and colonial legacies. By the mid-1900s, some industrialised countries began to offer limited forms of plant variety protection (PVP) to breeders of new crop varieties.
PVP was constructed as an ‘alternative’ to patents that would supposedly be attuned to the needs of agriculture. It guaranteed breeders a commercial monopoly on the use of their varieties while leaving loopholes open for farmers and other breeders.
Since then, however, those loopholes have been tightened. The industry is now putting pressure on governments to provide full scale patent rights on any form of ‘tinkering with the very stuff of life’.
News source: Dawn