Hundreds of farmers in the three Northern Regions of Ghana Friday embarked on a street march in protest against attempts by Government to pass the Plant Breeders Bill into law as a prelude to the introduction of GMO products into the country.
The more than 600 small-holder farmers marched through the principal streets of the Northern Regional capital, Tamale to draw attention to what they said were dangerous steps being considered by government which have the potential to undermine the local economy and worsen poverty in deprived regions of the country.
They cited the Plant Breeders Bill, the Genetically Modified Organisms as well as the vexed issue of the Economic Partnership Agreement (which government is determined to sign) as the retrogressive steps.
After the nearly three hours march, the protesting farmers converged at the Jubilee Park in Tamale where they presented their concerns in the form of a communiqué to the Northern Regional Minister who was represented by the Regional Coordinating Director and the Northern Regional Director of Agriculture.
In the communiqué, the farmers complained there had not been sufficient consultations with Civil Society groups, including faith-based and famer-based organizations, NGOs, CSO coalitions and concerned Ghanaians on the Plant Breeders Bill as well as the introduction of GMO products in Ghana.
This, they said, “has resulted in missed opportunities to ensure that ordinary citizens of Ghana, particularly small-scale farmers whose livelihoods will be most affected by the measures, have a voice in the discussions.”
“Currently, the Plant Breeders Bill is at the consideration stage by parliament. Public debate and consultations of a bill which has such far-reaching implications for the nation and the livelihoods of citizens requires more in-depth debate and civil society inputs than is presently the case. It is for this reason that the Speaker of Parliament in his wisdom has postponed any further discussions on the Bill until he is assured of sufficient discussions by the public,” the farmers said.
According to them, as part of measures to address their concerns, “Action Aid Ghana, The Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) and the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana came together to develop a programme that seeks to empower local farmers as well as ordinary Ghanaians to make themselves visible and relevant in these discussions that is currently underway in Ghana.”
Below is the petition that was presented:
POSITION OF SMALL HOLDER FARMERS IN NORTHERN GHANA ON THE PLANTS BREEDERS BILL AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS IN TAMALE ON 16TH MAY 2014
The debate on the Plant Breeders Bill (PBB) and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Ghana and across the globe is of concern to food security, socio-economic, cultural and human dignity. This is most important to small holder farmers due to implications for agriculture which still forms the backbone of the economy.
Having provided the platform for small holder farmers in the northern Ghana courtesy the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, Action Aid Ghana and the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development to understand both the negative and positive effects of the above topic have agreed on the following
The PBB in its current state undermines and threatens the inherent right of indigenous peoples and farmers to access to, own, save and share their traditional germplasm and biodiversity, which is necessary for their survival. Therefore privatization of seed and biodiversity through any intellectual property rights (IPR) regime, favors large-scale plant breeders, while violating the basic right to seed of indigenous communities and small holder farmers, who depend on seed as a resource for survival.
The passage of the PBB in its current form, which is at the consideration stage, would allow multinational seed and chemical companies to take over the country’s seed market from Ghanaian seed producers and indigenous farmers.
Section 23 of the Plant Breeders Bill which states: “A plant breeder’s right shall be independent of any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana the production, certification, and marketing of material of a variety or the importation or exportation of the material”. This means that the bill as it stands means that the government has no authority over any seed production and marketing firm which deals in so-called “improved” seed varieties in the country.
Another absurdity of the bill is that it demands royalties from farmers who use seeds bred by scientists working in public research institutions in Ghana, using public funding. The germplasm that the scientists have used to develop their varieties is from seed that farmers have developed, bred, saved and freely shared over centuries. It is therefore an outrage to demand royalties from farmers who have developed and freely shared the seed that scientists now use.
An attempt to delink the Plant Breeders Bill from the current global discussions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is erroneous as the PBB provides the legal framework for the introduction of new varieties including GMOs.
Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food”. These include infertility, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, changes in major organs and gastro-intestinal system and immune problems
GM seeds will make Ghanaian farmers dependent on foreign corporations for seeds. Elsewhere in the world where GM is grown, farmers are forbidden from saving their seed if it is genetically modified. They are legally obliged to buy new seed each season. Therefore farmers will lose the right to freely use, select, share and sell seeds. Accepting GMOs will amount to re-colonization of the Ghanaian economy
The ECOWAS block has signed on the interim EPAs waiting to rectify technicalities in the agreement for implementation, the implication accepting GMOs in Ghana and trade with EU is simply opening our markets to them but Ghana will not be able to export to EU market due to GMOs being banned in Europe.
We therefore make the following recommendations, in the interests of the public, our food producers, and Ghana’s future food security:
We recommend legislation to regulate corporations’ access to biological resources, knowledge and technology so that access shall be allowed only with the prior informed consent of the local communities and the State and shall benefit them, and to recognize community rights in order to protect the heritage of the local people. Such policy should be based on the AU’s African Model Law on the Regulation of Access to Biological Resources.
Smallholder farming must be excluded from infringement actions and included in the exceptions provided in clause 21.This is very important to avoid criminal sanctions against smallholder farmers. The sanctions include jail terms, fines as well as civil remedies such as destruction of propagated and harvested materials.
Farmers’ Rights should be enshrined in the Bill to balance the equation since rights and obligations are mutually inclusive
We need a bill to protect farmers, especially small scale farmers against the introduction of GMOs and other international treaties that are not farmer friendly
Indigenous agricultural crops should be protected and promoted.
There is a need for establishment of a competent bio-safety authority with proper representation of farmers’ and consumer groups to uphold strong regulatory requirements on GMOs, to ensure monitoring and to take major decisions on PBB and GMOs in the public interest.
Considerations of Biosafety must be made in line with the AU’s African Model Law on Biotechnology and Biosafety.
We by this call on parliament to rewrite a new bill that protects Ghanaian smallholder farmers, seeds and germplasm, consumers and Ghana’s control of its own agriculture and the economy.
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