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Why Nigeria should design own plant variety protection laws

The Federal Government has been urged not to sign the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV 1991) but instead should design its own plant variety protection laws that are suitable to the Nigerian environment.

Conference on Seeds, Food and Biosafety
A panel discussion session during the conference

The call was made by some 100 delegates made up of consumers, farmers, academics, researchers, government officials, medical professionals and representatives from civil society organisations (CSOs) who converged on Abuja on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 at the instance of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) for a conference on Seeds, Food and Biosafety.

In a resolution at the close of the event, participants emphasised that, besides supervised seed extension villages where seed saving, research, seed exchange/sharing will be facilitated, farmers should be carried along in the formulation of policies and legislations concerning agricultural seeds and systems.

“There should be stronger engagements among all stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Council on the implications of joining UPOV,” the forum resolved, even as it demanded amendment of the National Agricultural Seed Council Law amendment to ensure that:

  • All seed breeders, formal or informal, private small or large corporations ensure full disclosure of information relating to improved varieties; and,
  • Informal seed breeders are harmonised and empowered to sustain our indigenous varieties.

Participants examined numerous other concerns and attempted to define a sustainable course for the Nigeria regarding seed laws, agricultural productivity and food sovereignty.

The conference was followed with a workshop focused on seed treaties and farmers’ rights.  At the end of the two-day engagements, participants made commitments to enforce the demand for the preservation of farmers’ rights, indigenous seeds varieties and overall biosafety.

Participants reached a handful of resolutions at the events.

Genetic modification of food crops is not needed in Nigeria

The challenges of food production in Nigeria, they say, lie outside the realm of supposed solutions offered by genetic engineering. According to them, what is needed is adequate support for farmers in terms of extension services, credit schemes, storage and processing facilities to reduce wastage, good roads to access markets, and increased access to agricultural land for increased productivity and food security.

No to colonialism, neo-colonialism using modern agricultural biotechnology.

Colonialism and neo-colonialism are implicated in the disruption of food systems and in the introduction of unnatural plants and animals, the stress, adding that agricultural biotechnology will foster corporate control of food production and disrupt local economies “and thus we oppose its use in Nigeria”.

Current regulatory frameworks require urgent review

In order to protect Nigerians and ensure a robust management of biosafety, the nation needs strict regulatory frameworks that protect/promote the rights of farmers and the rights of the people to safe food and environment. The National biosafety Management Agency Act 2015 needs to be reviewed to prioritise the precautionary principle, strengthen public participation, and include strict provisions for liability and redress, the forum suggests.

NBMA must be held accountable to carry out regulatory duties thoroughly

It is the responsibility of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to regulate in an unbiased manner and not to promote the use of GMOs in Nigeria or issue permits to biotech companies indiscriminately or without due diligence including public consultations, the forum agreed.

Enforce the preservation of natural and indigenous food system of Nigeria

Farmers’ rights to own, use and share their seeds and to be involved in charting the path for the development of our food and agricultural systems must be secured, they stress. They add that the combination of GMOs and a loosely unregulated biosafety landscape will constitute great environmental harm and will intensify poverty, hunger and a devastation of consumer rights.

Similarly, government was urged to properly fund agricultural research institutions to produce wholesome foods and to proffer sustainable, consumer friendly solutions to challenges of agricultural productivity.

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