February 16, 1999

UPOV '91 Threatens Francophone Africa

Right to Save Seed in Poor Countries May be Eliminated as 15 African States are Pressured to Accept UPOV '91

Fifteen Francophone African states, among them some of the poorest countries in the world, are under pressure to sign away the right of more than 20 million small-holder farmers to save and exchange crop seed. The decision to abandon Africa's 12,000-year tradition of seed saving will be finalized at a meeting February 22-25 in the Central African Republic. The 15 governments have been told to adopt draconian intellectual property legislation for plant varieties in order to conform to a provision in the World Trade Organization (WTO) that obliges signatories to protect" plant varieties. The legislation (a kind of legal "Terminator" because it prohibits farmers from replanting "protected" seed) is also known, euphemistically, as "Plant Breeders' Rights". If adopted, the legislation will throw some of Africa's poorest countries into an intellectual property cartel dominated by a handful of OECD states led by the USA, the UK, and Japan.

During meetings in East Africa a few days ago, RAFI's Pat Mooney and Hope Shand learned that OAPI (l'Organisation Africaine de la Propriete Intellectuelle/African Intellectual Property Organization) has agreed to adopt "UPOV 91" , the world's most restrictive form of Plant Breeders' Rights. The Convention is managed by the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) , a subsidiary treaty of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

"Francophone African countries are being bullied into adopting UPOV'91", says Pat Mooney, "even though the WTO is about to conduct a review of its plant variety 'protection' clause." Adds Hope Shand, "The review is not expected to be completed before 2001. Many analysts predict that a whole new trade negotiating round may be launched before the review is completed." "African patent offices are being asked to climb on a wagon other countries in other regions may never accept," agrees Pat Mooney, "Conceivably, a new trade round could render compliance unnecessary. Since six of the 15 OAPI states are "least developed countries" (according to UNDP definitions), regardless of the review or a new negotiating round, they have until at least 2006 before they have to introduce any kind of legislation. " "In a worst case scenario," Hope Shand concludes, "OAPI members would still have the option to accept legislation that would allow farmers to save, re-use, and even sell purchased seed. Where is the pressure coming from and why are sovereign countries selling off the historic rights of their farmers?"


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