The Economic Benefit of the Plants Varieties Protection Law for Nigeria
NIGERIA has struggled for decades to make Agriculture the backbone of its economy with little progress made along the line.
Despite being identified as a sector with the propensity to expand Nigeria’s economy, helping it to grow and diversify rapidly, not so much had been achieved in this regard. Until recently, most of the efforts towards raving the sector as the economic powerhouse has not yielded so much because of policy flip flops and lack of protection for the local farmers, breeders, and other investors.
One critical sub-sector that had not received the desired attention is the seed sub sector. This is an ironical twist as the sub-sector is the nucleus of crop-based agriculture.
According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria’s seed industry is worth over N4billion annually. Unfortunately, farmers still experience serious shortfalls and had to rely on their stored grains for planting in the new planting season.
Statistics from the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) reveals that Nigeria’s total national seed requirements for major crops, including maize and rice, stood at 413,417.64 metric tons (MT) in 2017, while the quantity available was 93,306MT, leaving a gap of 320,111MT. In spite of this shortfalls, Nigeria still supplies over 40percent of seeds requirement to other West Africa countries.
Despite the challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria was able to record a growth of 1.58 per cent in the agricultural sector in the second quarter of 2020 as against 2.3per cent recorded in the first quarter of 2020.
With the signing of the Plants Varieties Protection Act into law, Nigeria may have been positioned to rave the sector into a major earner for the farmer, the breeder, investors, and the country as a whole.
The new Plant Variety Protection (PVP) law will accelerates investment and gives farmers more access to quality seeds. More importantly, the new law now gives breeders intellectual property right over a new plant variety with exclusive rights to commercialize and propagate new varieties of plants developed in the country.
Through the support of the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) in collaboration with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) coordinated the effort that lead to the enactment of the PVP law by the National Assembly . The collaboration also included othe groups including the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), National Agriultural Research Institutions (NARIs) , Nigerian Plant Breeders Association (NPBA), Universities of Agriculture, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and other government Ministries and Agencies such as Justice, Industry Trade and Investment as well as Science and Technology.
Meanwhile, NESG has predicted that Nigeria would be earning over $2 billion annually through the implementation of the plant variety protection law. NESG, in a statement issued by its Head, Corporate Communications, Yinka Iyinolakan, said the passage and implementation of the Plant Variety Protection Act will give Plant breeders intellectual property over a new plant variety, with exclusive rights to commercialize seed and/or propagation material of the variety.
The statement read in part: “The PVP also promotes the marketing of new varieties and allow breeders to earn back the considerable costs involved in the long process of variety development. Furthermore, a well-functioning Plant Variety Protection (PVP) system will encourage in-country breeding activities; this will also attract foreign companies to introduce high quality improved varieties, knowing that others cannot easily copy their effort or take advantage of it.
“Once the PVP Law is passed and implemented in Nigeria, the country will move from generating $0 from seeds export to generating well over $2.0 billion from seeds export within the first five years.”
While commending the National Assembly for its role in ensuring the passage of the PVP Bill, the NESG stated that the measures set out in the PVP Law will create a more appropriate system that meets today’s realities, improve the business environment and general agricultural performance across the economy as a whole.”
The NASC is also upbeat about the law, which it says is critical to food security.
Prior to its passage, the NASC Director-General (DG), Dr Philip Olusegun Ojo pointed out that Nigeria is one of the few countries in Africa that had no legal framework for the protection of plant breeders.
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With the passage, Nigeria may have crossed a major hurdle, as the PVP plays a major role in responding to changing world by providing a legal framework and a system that encourage plant breeding, leading to the development of superior plant varieties with high yield potentials capable of withstanding conditions resulting from climate change, global population, and growth, etc.
The NASC DG noted that advantages that come under the PVP law are enormous which include increased investment in plant breeding and development of new plant varieties capable of increasing yield and productivity for our small-scale farmers; Increase in the number of breeders and breeding entities; increase in the availability of more improved crop varieties with better yielding potentials; generation of employment opportunities.
He said that supporting the development of new plant varieties, as the law seeks to do, is an essential response to achieving food security and agricultural sustainability but will require a substantial investment in skills, labor, material resources, money, and time.
He also added that the PVP law affords plant breeders as an incentive for the development of new varieties to contribute to sustainable progress in agriculture, horticulture, and forestry.
Ojo’s point of view on the PVP law was also echoed by the National Coordinator, National Agricultural Seeds Advocacy Group (NASAG), Celestine Okeke, who said there is the need to look at how the country can secure the investment of those who are willing to stake their resources in the sector. This is what the law has done.
Similarly, the President of Nigerian Plant Breeders Association (NPBA), Prof. Chiedozie Egesi, said Nigeria is currently experiencing a food deficit, hence the need to protect any initiative that supports improved production.
“When we check our food system and one of the key reasons is the kind of varieties that we grow. The PVP is to work with the seed law that enables the National Agricultural Seeds Council to implement the seed law which helps us to regulate the kind of seed Nigeria is growing,” Egesi noted.
Speaking on the socio-economic benefit of the law, he said, “The law serves as a motivation for plant breeders to continue to develop improved varieties for our farmers. It promotes accessibility of diverse kinds of improved varieties for our farmers and improves the agricultural sector generally.”
It is important to note that developing improved varieties of plants take a lot of time and research work. It will be unfair that the hard work of the breeder’s can be easily copied. This is what would have happened. But with the PVP law, that loophole may have been addressed.
The passage of the PVP will even help to eradicate the fear of investment by private companies and encourage breeders in their research.
It is important to note that the Plant Variety Protection Law is not a GMO law. For the benefit of doubts, Nigeria was among the first few countries in Africa to enact a biosafety law to protect against breach of ethics.
The Technical Adviser to the Director-General, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Folarin Okelola, put the PVP Law simply and aptly as ‘a value addition’, saying it will give the intellectuals in Nigeria ‘fit and viable space to improve varieties.’
For Nigeria, the advent of the Plant Varieties Protection Law is a big win as it provides a suitable template for economic development that could make the country a leader in sub-Saharan Africa, amid the growing population.
Article By Professor Chidozie Egesi and Dr. Folarin Okelola
Professor Chiedozie Egesi is the President, Nigerian Plant Breeders Association (NPBA) and Dr. Folarin Okelola is the PVP Desk Officer, National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), Abuja.