The passage of the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Bill into law, by the 7th Parliament of the Fourth Republic of Ghana on November 4, 2020, followed by the President’s assent to the bill on December 29, 2020, by far, constitutes a landmark achievement in the country’s bid to harness the intellectual abilities of its citizenry.

The Plant Variety Protection Act, 2020 becomes the one thousand and fiftieth Act of the Parliament. The Intellectual property protection for outputs of plant breeding in Ghana is designed to be an incentive to promote the development of new varieties to contribute to sustainable progress in agriculture as well as horticulture, plant medicine, floriculture and forestry.

Initial attempts leading to this achievement, date as far back as 2003. The journey to its passage in 2020 saw many key actors making variously vital contributions worth mentioning. However, in recent times, the contributions of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for his foresight and unflinching guidance and leadership; the Vice-President, the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister for Justice for their enviable passion displayed towards the passage of the bill are worth acknowledging.

Others include; the Speaker of Parliament, the Majority and Minority Leaders, the Chairman and Honourable Members of the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs as well as the Honourable Ministers of two key sector Ministries – Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation – all in the 7th Parliament of this fourth Republic.

A critical evaluation of probable happenings post-passage of the Plant Variety Protection Bill suggests a number of potential benefits for Ghana. These benefits are however only predictions tenable upon the enforcement and the creation of a congenial atmosphere and system for the operation of the variety protection in Ghana. Some of these potential occurrences and benefits have been indicated below:

  1. The introduction of the PVP system has the potential to increase the overall numbers of improved varieties developed for not only staple crops such as maize, millet, sorghum, rice, cassava, yams, groundnut, cowpeas, soybean, sweetpotato, vegetables and fruits but also ornamental plants and flowers, forest trees and traditional or medicinal plants. The protection extends to all genera and species of plants in the country. This will help Ghana receive the full benefits of the protection of the wider net of its plants. The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention recognizes and thus has put in place an effective and efficient system that encourages the activity of breeding across all plant genera and species. Protection that may be sought for varieties of hundreds to thousands of plant genera or species will help to protect Ghana’s biodiversity. It is however necessary to indicate that these species cannot be accepted to be varieties in Ghana and much more their protection under the PVP System if they do not meet or satisfy the standards and conditions established by the National Variety Release and Registration Committee of Ghana.
  • The protection will not only lead to an increase in top-notch crop varieties with increased marketability, improved nutritional content, improved disease resistance or stress tolerance and those of ornamental importance but it is expected that these new varieties will truly excel in one or more characteristics over older commercial and popular varieties. In this case, Ghana has a good record in variety development, with several varieties such as the maize variety Obatanpa developed bybreeders from the Crops Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-CRI) which have become popular in Africa and beyond. This success has been achieved because of a strive for excellence by domestic breeders and this is what the PVP shall seek to encourage the more. The impact of protection on the improvement of varieties can be seen in the extent to which new protected varieties gain in market share, indicating their value and benefit to farmers.
  • It is expected that royalties obtained from the development and release of these top-notch varieties  are ploughed back to support and sustain plant breeding programmes to deliver further and better demand-driven varieties. Plant breeding requires know-how and investment in terms of time, human and financial resources. It may take between 4 and 15 years to create a new variety with improved features (depending on the type of crop, methodology used and resources available) and an additional number of years before it is introduced into the market and taken up by farmers.
  • There is also the possibility of increase in the number of domestic plant breeding agencies in Ghana. Commercial plant breeding activities in domestic public research institutes and universities are expected to rise. In addition, similar increase is expected in the number of domestic seed companies to be involved in plant breeding leading to the development of new crop varieties.
  • We are likely to see the increase in more diverse types of breeders such as domestic public plant breeders, domestic private plant breeders, foreign plant breeders as well as the possible emergence of private farmer breeders.
  • More breeders will be encouraged to show interest or engage in plant breeding of lesser known or less traditional but highly economic plant species such as in floriculture.
  • The number of jobs in plant breeding and their related disciplines is expected to increase. 
  • The PVP will encourage the formation of domestic/foreign, public/private, industrial/academia partnerships as well as multi-, inter, transdisciplinary research collaborations for the development of new crop varieties allowing foreign exchange injection into Ghana’s economy.
  • Acceding to the UPOV Convention gives a clear signal to foreign plant breeders that Ghana will provide effective protection for their interests and the new varieties they generate, for that matter. This will invariably lead to increased availability of “foreign” new varieties from an expected increased number of applications for protection from foreign plant breeders.
  1. The increase of foreign varieties, per Ghana’s accession to the UPOV system, will permit plant breeders in Ghana to exploit them to enhance their domestic breeding programmes just the same way plant breeders of other UPOV member countries can exploit our varieties to enhance theirs. This is what is termed plant breeder’s exemption in the UPOV Convention. It, therefore, suggests that the extent of benefit that can accrue to Ghana’s economy as a UPOV member depends on the extent to which it is able to exploit foreign varieties of other UPOV member countries to its advantage. There is empirical evidence to suggest that the enactment of the PVP Bill has the potential to contribute significantly to the development of agriculture in Ghana. Neighbouring Burkina Faso and Cote D’Ivoire have passed their PVP Bills tailored along the UPOV Convention and Ghana would have risked the pirating and takeover of ownership by companies and individuals in these countries had we not passed ours.
  2. Again, accession to the UPOV Convention can lead to the springing up of new industries that are competitive in foreign markets. A typical example is what pertains to Kenya which has seen appreciable growth in cut flower exports. According to UPOV, about 52 % of the varieties of plants protected in Kenya are ornamentals. The conducive climatic conditions for flower and ornamental plant production in Kenya (as also pertains here) has greatly contributed to this achievement. Consequently, Kenya continues to receive increasing numbers of plant breeders to develop and grow new varieties meant for the European market. This has attracted an estimated 5.5 million people in the floriculture industry in Kenya providing income and livelihood to many people who are directly or indirectly found in the industry’s value chain. All over the world, the production of diverse, high-quality varieties of fruit, vegetables, ornamentals and other agricultural crops provides increased income for farmers and employment for millions of people.
  3. Smallholder farmers also stand to benefit from the use of improved varieties since under the protection, activities carried out privately and for non-commercial purposes are not subject to plant breeders’ rights. In other words, subsistence farmers in Ghana can grow a protected crop variety to produce a food crop for consumption solely by the farmer and the dependants living in his household. In addition, the small-holder farmer is allowed to save his/her own seed of the protected variety for propagating on their own holdings, within reasonable limits and subject to safeguarding the legitimate interests of the plant breeder.
  4. The increase in the number and availability of improved varieties may lead to a wide range in the choice of varieties by farmers with the potential to increasing their incomes and improving their living standards.
  5. Competition among seed and plant breeding companies may contribute to providing high quality seeds at affordable and stable prices for farmers.
  6. The socio-economic development of countries like Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Algeria, Argentina, Korea and Poland and new member states including Burkina Faso and sixteen other Francophone African States have improved as a result of the adoption of the UPOV System of Protection. Ghana can gain from taxes generated from all crop value chains that may be positively impacted by the roll-out of the PVP Bill.

By far, the passage of the PVP Bill was a laudable achievement. What remains is the President’s assent to the bill.  However, it is important to state that these predicted benefits of the Plant Variety Protection are not automatic. To take full advantage of the Protection System, its associated regulations as well as incentive policies in Ghana’s seed industry must be enforced.

In addition, accompanying agricultural inputs needed to achieve expected yields of some improved varieties must be made available and affordable to small-holder farmers. It is therefore hoped that potential domestic beneficiaries of this protection in Ghana as stated above will initiate the necessary actions to take advantage of the protection and thus lead to a formidable and vibrant domestic plant breeding industry hopefully ahead of the onset of foreign applications, which is likely to increase with time.

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The writer, Sylvester N.T.T Addy (PhD), is a Plant breeder/Research Scientist with the CSIR-Crops Research Institute