SnowBall archive


GE - Legal "Terminator" Threatens Francophone Africa's Farmers

TITLE: Legal "Terminator" Threatens Francophone Africa's Farmers
AUTHOR: Rural Advancement Foundation International
DATE: 17 February 1999

Rural Advancement Foundation International

News Release - 17 February 1999



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?" 

Urgent Action: 
RAFI is writing to each of the 15 OAPI countries, contacting both Ministers 
of Agriculture and Ministers responsible for patent offices. "Depending on 
the country," Pat Mooney notes, "between one-fifth and one-half of all the 
farmers are small-holders who depend heavily on their ability to save seed 
in order to keep production reliable and costs low. There are at least 20 
million such farmers in OAPI states," Mooney says, "Next week’s decision 
could be a major blow to the region’s food security. We suspect that most 
Agriculture Ministers don’t even know what their patent offices are 
proposing to do." 

What is OAPI? 
The precursor to OAPI was established on September 13, 1962, by 12 
francophone African heads of state. It was called the "Office Africain et 
Malgache de la Propriete Industrielle (OAMPI). The agreement establishing 
OAMPI was revised in Bangui, Central African Republic on March 27, 1977, and 
gave birth to OAPI, the "Organisation Africaine de la Propriete 
Intellectuelle". It has 15 members: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central 
African Republic, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, 
Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Togo. Of these, the following are considered 
least developed countries by UNDP: Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, 
Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Togo.

What is UPOV 91? 
The original international Plant Breeders’ Rights convention was adopted in 
Paris in 1961. Since then, the Convention has been amended several times and 
two forms of PBR are now in common use. Most UPOV members, in fact, adhere 
to its 1978 convention, which is widely interpreted by governments to allow 
farmers to save and exchange seed. UPOV’s 1991 convention, however, assumes 
that farmers cannot save seed unless governments permit specific exceptions. 
Around the world, 1.4 billion people depend on the ability of small-holder 
farmers to save seed for their family food security. To date, the only UPOV 
members to confirm the 1991 convention are Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, 
Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Moldova, Russia, Sweden, UK, and USA. If OAPI 
bows to WTO and UPOV pressure during the meeting February 22-25, the 15 
francophone African States will more than double the Convention’s roster of 

RAFI - International Office 
110 Osborne St., Suite 202
Winnipeg MB  R3L 1Y5 CANADA
Tel: (1-204) 453 52 59
Fax: (1-204) 925 80 34
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