Ghana’s Monsanto seed law faces set back
27 November 2014
When Ghana’s government embarked on passing a set of new seed policies into law last year, they were probably hoping to do so quietly. After all, they knew that if the Plant Breeders’ Bill came to the attention of the country’s farmers there would be mass opposition. The bill proposes a new intellectual property rights system for seeds that would allow powerful companies to patent seed varieties they lay claim to.
The company in question would not have to disclose the origin of the seed they have ‘created’, opening the door to what opponents call bio-piracy. The right of that company would then be exempt from any future regulation put in place by the Ghanaian government. What’s more, many Ghanaians are angry that reforms like this one are in part the product of pressure from rich countries including the UK and US to open Ghana’s economy to giant agribusinesses like Monsanto, Unilever and Coca Cola.
But plans to keep the bill under the radar aren’t going so well. In October last year, the government were lambasted for introducing the bill’s all important Second Reading (a point at which major changes can be proposed) when the public’s attention was distracted by Ghana’s World Cup qualifying match with Egypt. Despite a wide-spread outcry from campaigners including Food Sovereignty Ghana, trade unionists and farmer groups, the government went quiet on the bill until they attempted to pass it into law during Team Ghana’s next appearance at the World Cup tournament itself in June this year. Realising the extent of opposition, Parliament insisted more time was taken to consider the concerns of civil society groups. The Government’s hopes of passing the bill were dampened even further again this month when their Parliament’s Speaker effectively demanded that the legislation returned to its Second Reading in order to properly address concerns by civil society.
This gives Ghana’s famers and campaigners more time to mobilise against the Monsanto law. With the power of corporations and aid donors behind the legislation, the struggle is far from over. Yet thanks to WDM supporters, the UK’s support for the corporate seed laws isn’t going unnoticed either. As of this week almost 5000 people had emailed their MP, asking them to call on International Development Secretary to stop backing ‘Monsanto laws’ in Ghana and beyond and support community-controlled seed systems instead. Thanks to WDM supporters’ call, at least eighty nine MPs have signed a ‘Seed Sovereignty’ early day motion (EDM) tabled by Diane Abbott, and Government ministers have faced questions on their support for corporate seed laws in Parliament.
Our action in the UK is making a difference. Not only are we putting pressure on our own government to stop backing the ‘Monsanto Law’, we’re providing solidarity to Ghana’s farmers and activists on the frontlines of the battle against it. “We are most grateful for this show of solidarity,” says Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah of Food Sovereignty Ghana to all those who have taken action. “The story of a successful campaign against the imposition of the "Monsanto Law" on Ghanaians shall never be complete without this support from you.”