In Ghana, students and trade unions have joined small-scale farmers’ organisations in mobilising against a Plant Breeders’ Rights (PVP) Bill. Currently under consideration in parliament, the Bill would establish a national seed law based on UPOV ’91. As has been the case in many countries around the world, the law is being used to introduce legal restrictions on farmers’ use of seeds that go above and beyond the already very restrictive provisions of UPOV ’91. For example, the draft Bill states that “even in absence of proof to the contrary” the breeders can be assumed to be the owners of a variety in question, facilitating both biopiracy and the confiscation of seeds. Moreover, according to the Bill, if farmers use a protected variety against the law—such as reproducing the seeds of a ‘protected’ variety and sharing it with their neighbours—the farmers may be subject to up to 2,000 penalty units and up to two years in prison.
Since 2011, the resistance movement has been successful in gaining broad support against the bill by showing ordinary Ghanaians that it is not only farmers who will be affected. They have argued that the property protection in the Bill is simply the conditions sought by TNCs to operate in Africa, giving preference to cash crops for exports and the businesses of a few elites rather than for feeding the Ghanaian people. The Bill has been popularly hailed as a ‘Monsanto Law,’ underlining that industrial and commercialised agriculture, rather than the welfare of peasant farmers, is at the heart of the Bill. This is explicit in the Memorandum of the Bill, stating it is “aimed at improving the quantity, quality and cost of food, fuel, fibre and raw materials for industry“. Passage of the law is a commitment of the Ghanaian government towards the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
To gain support against the Bill, booklets have been made to explain the consequences of the law to village chiefs and farmer leaders in their local languages. The movement emphasises that seeds belong to farmers collectively and that there can be no private owners. Farmers in Ghana are demanding instead that public breeding programs be put in place to ensure quality seed for indigenous crops such as cowpeas, cassava, rice and coconut. In addition, groups of farmers and their allies have plans to organise collective projects for access to seed in the villages. This will allow farmers to access varieties that have vanished locally but may still be used by their neighbours or by other farmers in villages across Ghana.