Saturday, September 25, 2021

Smallholder Farmers And Plant Variety Protection Bill

Prof. Chiedozie Egesi

On March 3, 2021, the Plant Variety Protection Bill was passed into law by the National Assembly to establish a legal framework to protect the rights of breeders of new varieties of plants or plant groupings and promote the breeding of new varieties of plants. The bill is awaiting presidential assent and printing of law and regulations for implementing the law. It may be some time before it is possible to file for PVP in Nigeria. The Plant Variety Protection (PVP) is an intellectual property right used to protect new varieties of plants by giving exclusive commercial rights for 20 years (25 years for trees or vines) to market a new variety or its reproductive material.  

The subject matter of PVPs is a plant variety. It is imperative to note that under the PVP Bill, there are no restrictions on who can be considered to be a breeder; a breeder might be an individual, a farmer, a researcher, a public institute, a private company etc. We are all equal stakeholders in protecting the integrity of our varieties to ensure we reduce and protect noble materials with us, such as heirlooms. To be eligible for protection by way of a PVP certificate, a particular variety must be novel (new and distinct from other varieties), genetically uniform, and stable through successive generations. This protection prevents anyone from growing or selling the variety without the owner’s permission.

However, there are mandatory exceptions made for reproducing material for experimental purposes, breeding other varieties and private and non-commercial purposes. Optional exceptions may be made for farm-saved seed from the protected variety farmers use for propagating on their holdings, within reasonable limits and subject to safeguarding the legitimate interests of the breeder.

In conventional plant breeding, variety design and release take about ten to fifteen years and require know-how and investment in time and human and financial resources. About six to seven generations are spent in genetic advancement to develop elite and homozygous lines for distinctness, uniformity, and stability (DUS) testing and release. The long breeding process has always put conventional breeding approaches at a disadvantage for the timely development and deployment of improved cultivars. Unfortunately, it is easy for an entity to copy a variety and market it as its own in Nigeria, thereby competing with the breeder in the seed marketing business. If this is allowed to continue, it will hamper breeding efforts, and our farmers will be deprived of quality seeds of genuinely improved varieties.

In addition, there is the need to complement the efforts of public sector breeding by widening the space to accommodate and encourage creativity and investment in private and public breeding through an effective PVP system. With the PVP law in place, the private sector will surely make inroads into areas that were hitherto difficult for public sector breeding. The existence of a legal framework and administrative structure as enshrined in the PVP law will spur the participation of the private sector in developing new and novel varieties because they are sure of controlling the reproduction of their varieties and thus ensure recovery of their investment.

The Nigerian Plant Breeders Association (NPBA) fully supports the PVP law and firmly believes it will strengthen our smallholder farmers by providing them with more choices from an array of improved technologies. 

Prof. Chiedozie Egesi, is the president of Nigerian Plant Breeders Association. Dr. Muhammad Rislan is the association’s public relations officer. Egesi can be reached on c.egesi@cgair.org

Prof. Chiedozie Egesi & Mohammad Rislan
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