Intellectual property: Plant Breeders Rights Bill stuck for past 10 years

Published: June 20, 2016
MNAs, MPAs block passage of bill in parliament to save Rs40-60b business. PHOTO: AFP

MNAs, MPAs block passage of bill in parliament to save Rs40-60b business. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: The involvement of a huge annual business of agriculture seeds valuing Rs40 to Rs60 billion is a key hurdle to passage of the Plant Breeders Rights Bill, which has been stuck in parliament for the last more than 10 years.

In the absence of this law that safeguards intellectual property rights of seed companies, existing producers market not only expensive seeds for agricultural crops, but they are also substandard. This has largely hurt the interest of farmers and the national economy at large.

A powerful lobby, associated with the seed business, is erecting stumbling blocks in the way of passage of the bill that, if passed, will break monopoly of the local seed companies and protect rights of new innovative companies.

For the time being, no respectable foreign seed company looks willing to pour capital into Pakistan where only 10% to 15% of certified seed needs are met annually.

At present, around 750 seed companies are operating in the country. Many MNAs and MPAs, among other influential people, are running these companies and are lobbying to block the legislation process, says an official of the Ministry of Textile Industry.

According to sources, the substandard seeds, besides implications of climate change, are primarily responsible for the 30% fall in cotton production in the current season. Consequently, growth of the overall agriculture sector fell in the outgoing fiscal year 2015-16.

In a bid to increase cotton production, a key cash crop on which the entire textile industry depends, the Ministry of Textile Industry has drawn up scores of recommendations.

It suggests that no compromise on quality and seed germination should be tolerated and quarantine rules should be amended in order to allow import of hybrid cotton seeds in a joint venture arrangement and on technology transfer basis.

It also calls for speeding up amendments to the Seed Act 1976 and promulgation of the Plant Breeders Rights law that was approved by the National Assembly standing committee on national food security and research last year.

There is wrangling over control of the relevant department as the Ministry of National Food Security and Research and the Intellectual Property Organisation are vying to bring it under their fold.

“If the bill is passed, it will ensure intellectual property rights of foreign companies and they will come and invest in Pakistan’s industry,” says the textile ministry official.

Indian example

Statistics show India produces more cotton than Pakistan, but it has only 220 seed companies that produce high-yielding varieties.

In 2013, India produced 36 million bales of cotton compared to an output of 13.1 million bales in Pakistan. India needs 2.5 kg of seeds for cultivation over a hectare of land with certified seed supply at 98%.

However, Pakistan needs 12.5 kg of seeds for a hectare with availability of only 13% certified seeds.

India enacted the Plant Breeders Rights Bill in 2001 under which hybrid and open-pollinated seed varieties were available. On the other hand, Pakistan supplies only open-pollinated seed varieties in the absence of Plant Breeders Rights Act.

Compared to cotton yields in countries that depend on the irrigation system such as China, Australia, Israel, Turkey, South Africa, USA and Egypt, it is the lowest in Pakistan.

The productivity in Pakistan is 700 kg per hectare against 2,100 kg in Australia. For this and other reasons, cotton production in Pakistan has been stagnant for the past 18 years.

The output of cotton and other major crops can be enhanced manifold through supply of quality seeds and adoption of latest technology, which is possible if the country frames stringent laws with an effective implementation mechanism to ensure transparency.

There is also a need to register seed companies, growers, retailers and distributors for keeping a track record.

the writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2016.

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