GMO fears frustrate passage of Plant Breeders Bill in Ghana

For the past three years, Ghana’s scientific community has clamored for the passage of the Plant Breeders Right (PBR) Bill to protect their intellectual property rights.

The bill, which has been shelved after some parliamentary debates, will allow commercial end-users of research products to pay royalties to the scientists and their institutions.

Research scientists at the Crops Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who have been pushing for the passage of the Bill, have stated that the PBR Law will be in the interest of farmers and the seed industry as it will be for scientists.

The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Mahama Ayariga, during a recent visit to the CRI, observed efforts to get the bill passed have been frustrated because there is an atmosphere of fear among parliamentarians and policy makers.

“There are many people who have spent so much time trying to misrepresent the real intention behind the Plant Breeders Bill and that has delayed the passage of the bill,” he said.

Some advocacy groups, including the Food Sovereignty Ghana and the Coalition for Farmers’ Right, have kicked against the bill in its current form.

They have argued the bill will pave way for importation of genetically modified foods into the country, as well as compromise farmers’ rights in accessing seedlings for planting.

“They are using fears around GMO – genetically modified organisms – to confuse the public and to frighten the public and to create a certain disaffection for the Plant Breeders Bill based on fears that people have around GMOs,” noted Mahama Ayariga.

The Minister therefore wants intensified advocacy for passage of the bill into law to enable local researchers benefit from the use of their products, especially in other countries.

He has also made a strong case for the country to advance its biotechnology capabilities to develop crop varieties of higher yield to address the food security issues.

“You may say that let’s put more fertilizer but the very people who are fighting GMO are the very people who are fighting too much chemicals into the system, because lives are in danger if we take too much chemicals…so clearly your only option is biotechnology which does not involve the use of chemicals,” said Mr. Ayariga.

The Food Sovereignty Ghana is in court to halt the introduction of GMOs into the country’s food chain.

Meanwhile, Cabinet has given approval for the biosafety regulations to be laid before parliament.

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