UPOV recommendations opposed

‚ĶZambian CSOs says the proposed law, which is designed to curtail farmers’ rights to recycle seeds, will have devastating consequences for food security and sovereignty

By Francis Maingaila

Lusaka, Zambia24 (09-05-2024) – The Civil Society Organisations have cautioned the Zambian government against adopting the recommendations of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), citing concerns that it will undermine the rights of farmers to own, share, and trade their seeds.

Charles Nkoma, Director at Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), told Zambia24 in an exclusive interview told Zambia24 on the sidelines of the one-day sensitization workshop at Radisson Blu that the proposed law, which is designed to curtail farmers’ rights to recycle seeds, will have devastating consequences for food security and sovereignty.

He urged the government to reject the bill in its entirety and instead analyze the agricultural system to determine the kinds of laws that will benefit citizens.

Joining UPOV, Nkoma warned, will result in the loss of Zambia’s sovereignty over its seed system and leave the country at the mercy of donors.

He emphasized that Zambia is a sovereign state that should be allowed to make and adopt its own laws.

However, this usage is subject to reasonable limits and safeguards, as specified by regulations.

The draft Law addresses restrictions on breeder’s rights, highlighting the Authority’s ability to impose conditions when necessary in the public interest.

“These conditions may aim to protect food security, health, biodiversity, or meet other farming community requirements,” she explained.

Nkhoma stressed the importance of maintaining consistent terminology throughout the document, particularly regarding terms like “varieties” and “landraces,” to enhance clarity and understanding.

He also advised clarifying terms such as “commercial interests” and “otherwise” to facilitate better comprehension and implementation of the regulations.

Nkhoma suggested including Civil Society in the Variety Release Committee’s composition, thus addressing the diverse interests of stakeholders.

Furthermore, Nkhoma proposed clearly specifying referenced schedules in the document to avoid confusion and ambiguity, thereby ensuring all parties understand their obligations.

Nkhoma recommended providing detailed information, including descriptors for distinctiveness, uniformity, and stability.

He also advised outlining the registration, release, and certification process for landraces, along with establishing a variety acceptance committee and certification procedures to streamline applications.

In addition, Nkhoma suggested defining registration, certification, and licensing fees, as well as penalties for non-compliance, to ensure stakeholders understand the associated costs and consequences.

Nkhoma emphasized the need to clarify ambiguous sections, such as exemptions related to seed sales, and to protect committee members and staff acting in good faith under the Act, thus encouraging confident decision-making.

Moreover, Nkhoma recommended specifying required forms and records for compliance, as well as defining restrictions and regulations for the disposal, acquisition, and use of prescribed seeds to prevent misunderstandings and ensure accountability.

Nkhoma expressed the need to enhance the clarity, consistency, and effectiveness of the regulations, ultimately creating a more efficient and equitable system for all stakeholders involved.

Nketani, National Coordinator at The Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB), shared similar concerns, stating that joining UPOV will jeopardize national sovereignty and empower private sector entities, potentially diminishing state control over seed production and distribution.

Nketani told Zambia24 on the sidelines of the one-day sensitization workshop at Radisson Blu that the current legislation already adequately safeguards intellectual property rights for seed companies, fostering a thriving seed sector in Zambia.

Nketani urged the government to carefully assess the ramifications of UPOV membership and ensure that any seed law aligns with the diverse needs of the farming community.

She warned that the proposed changes may escalate production costs for farmers and erode control over genetic material, particularly impacting smallholder farmers.

According to Nketani, the current proposal entails significant changes to the rights of Zambian farmers regarding seed usage.

The right to sell seed of protected varieties is abolished, and the ability to exchange seeds of protected varieties is also abolished. Multiplying and using propagated seeds of protected varieties are now restricted to specific crops, excluding fruits.

Accessing protected varieties from gene banks or plant genetic resource centers is no longer possible.

Nketani explained that the draft Law outlines exemptions to the breeder’s rights, allowing farmers to use harvested products for propagation on their own land, provided it originated from planting the protected variety.

However, this usage is subject to reasonable limits and safeguards, as specified by regulations.

Moreover, Nketani expressed concerns over the wording of the draft Law, which persists despite the UPOV Secretariat’s request for alternative language.

The proposed changes significantly limit the Zambian government’s ability to intervene in plant variety rights for public interest reasons.

She emphasized international treaties like the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, stressing farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange, and sell seeds, as well as the need for policies supporting peasant seed systems.

Nketani highlighted the rigidity of the UPOV accession process, requiring new members to align their legislation closely with UPOV standards, limiting national flexibility in developing plant variety protection laws tailored to local needs. She cited Malaysia’s experience, emphasizing the need for substantial adjustments to national laws when joining UPOV.

Furthermore, Nketani concluded that the proposed changes would abolish farmers’ rights to sell and exchange seeds of protected varieties, restricting seed multiplication and use to a defined list of crops, excluding fruits.

The Zambian government’s ability to protect public interest will be limited by restricting plant variety rights and granting compulsory licenses.

Nketani expressed concerns over the wording of the draft Law, which persists despite the UPOV Secretariat’s request for alternative language. The proposed changes significantly limit the Zambian government’s ability to intervene in plant variety rights for public interest reasons.

Nketani emphasized that international treaties like the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants stress farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange, and sell seeds, as well as the need for policies supporting peasant seed systems.

“The UPOV accession process is rigid, requiring new members to align their legislation closely with UPOV standards, limiting national flexibility in developing plant variety protection laws tailored to local needs. Malaysia’s experience highlights the need for substantial adjustments to national PVP laws when joining UPOV,” she explained.

UPOV’s emphasis on commercial breeders and genetic uniformity may undermine biodiversity and indigenous seed systems, lacking mechanisms to prevent biopiracy. IPR regimes, including UPOV, can impact developing countries’ plant breeding industries by potentially restricting farmers’ seed systems, affecting agricultural sustainability and food security.

Nketani concluded that the proposed changes will abolish farmers’ rights to sell and exchange seeds of protected varieties, restricting seed multiplication and use to a defined list of crops, excluding fruits.

The Zambian government’s ability to protect public interest will be limited by restricting plant variety rights and granting compulsory licenses.

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