ARIPO Adopts New Plant Varieties Protocol

On 6 July 2015, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) adopted a new Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants at a diplomatic conference held in Arusha, the United Republic of Tanzania.

The Protocol is aimed at modernising African agricultural practices, yet some argue that it comes at the expense of traditional farming practices that include saving, re-using, sharing and selling seed.

The Arusha Protocol is aimed at providing protection for new plant varieties by way of a sui generis plant breeders’ rights system so as to allow farmers and growers access to a wide range of improved varieties and thereby ensure sustainable agricultural production.

The Arusha Protocol is a slight revised version of a previous Draft ARIPO Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The Draft Protocol, which was modelled on the 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of Plants, has come under constant and sever attach by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). AFSA’s criticisms is largely focused on the fairly restrictive and inflexible nature of the 1991 Act which provides strong rights to breeders while restricting traditional farming practices of saving, re-using, sharing and selling seed. It is argued that these traditions serve as the backbone for agricultural systems in Sub-Sharan Africa and have ensured the production and maintenance of a diverse pool of genetic resources by the farmers themselves.

Nevertheless, there are strong reasons for the adoption of a system that provides strong plant breeders’ rights protection to growers, primarily the potential to increase investor confidence as well as the encouragement of development and access to new and better pant varieties.

Currently only five member states of ARIPO, namely The Gambia, Ghana, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and most recently, the United Republic of Tanzania have signed the Protocol.

The Protocol remains open for signature by member states of ARIPO until 31 December 2015, and will only come into effect once four states have ratified the Protocol. It thus remains to be seen if other member states will sign the Protocol before the year ends and how many of those subsequently adopt and ratify it.

For more information, please contact Gunther Roland.

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