Farmers condemn launch of Plant Breeders’ Rights Registry

Faiza Ilyas

KARACHI: Describing a recent federal government decision to launch Plant Breeders’ Rights Registry from Feb 15 as ‘illegal’ and ‘unethical’, representatives of Pakistan Kisan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) at a press conference held at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday demanded that all laws granting control over agriculture to “imperialist states and corporations” be nullified.

The briefing was organised in collaboration with Roots for Equity, a non-profit organisation working for rights of vulnerable communities, especially landless farmers.

Sharing farmers’ concerns over a recent public notice of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research inviting applications for protection of new plant varieties of cotton and maize, Raja Mujeeb of PKMT-Sindh said that it’s an illegal step given the fact that a petition challenging the Seed Amendment Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2016 had been pending in court since 2017.

“We filed writ petitions against these two acts before a full bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) arguing that these laws could not be passed by the parliament in the light of devolution under 18th Constitutional Amendment and that these laws have ignored and trampled on farmers’ rights recognised by Pakistan, which is a party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.”

“The Plant Breeders’ Act basically takes away centuries’ old traditional rights of farmers of saving, exchanging and selling seeds. As a result of national and transnational seed corporations claiming intellectual property rights (IPRs) over seeds, not only the country would become dependent on corporations for food security and sovereignty, but the royalties paid to corporations for IPRs would massively increase seed/crop prices.”

Farmers, who were already reeling from the increased cost of production and reduced crop prices, would have to shoulder the added burden of procuring the specific agricultural inputs mandated by the seed companies, said Asif Khan of PKMT-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

‘WTO dictates’

The speakers criticised the food ministry for starting registration of seed varieties for cotton and maize despite a major decline in cotton production due to use of international genetically modified (GM) seeds.

They also highlighted the devastating impact of GM crops on health and the environment which had led many European countries to impose a ban on them.

They claimed that the implementation of the Seed Amendment Act and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act was dictated by the World Trade Organisation under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

The agreement, it was explained, made it mandatory for the government to provide IPRs on new varieties of plants and seeds. “Essentially, the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act provides monopolistic control to IPR holders of the new plant varieties or seed by prohibiting their use and sale to all others without permission. The WTO, particularly, TRIPS, is thus the biggest imperialist weapon in agricultural production,” said Azra Sayeed of Roots.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2021