Demanding that Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill 2010 should not be passed in haste as it needed more time to be debated by the stakeholders concerned, the civil society organizations on Wednesday asked the government to postpone the bill and to let the new National Assembly after the next general elections to consider it. This was said in a seminar “Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR) Bill 2010” held by the Centre for Culture and Development (C2D), Sustainable Agriculture Action Group (SAAG), Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (PODA) and Lok Sanjh Foundation in collaboration with Actionaid-Pakistan.

The policy seminar was aimed at addressing the conflict emerging between farming communities, civil society and seed producing companies after the introduction of the PBR bill in the parliament.

The participants from civil society and small farmers associations demanded that the present National Assembly had a very short time to consider the proposed PBR bill 2010 and it, if passed in haste, would have drastic implications for the small farmers and the agriculture sector.

The PBR bill had been pending for contemplation in the National Assembly for the last few years and it had received renewed attention from the government after formation of Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) as the regulator of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in Pakistan.

Lok Sanjh Foundation Executive Director Dr Shahid Zia gave a brief overview of the PBR legislation in Pakistan. He said that seed monopolies were expected under the original and existing version of the PBR bill. He added that the present proposed bill was a replication or the reorganization of the previous draft of 1998 with some cosmetic changes. Under the proposed legislation, centuries old farming practice of exchange including sharing and reusing seeds could be crippled entirely.

There was also need to further look into the clauses of the PBR bill to make it more farmer friendly and should not be used to safeguard the concerns of the seed companies. He stressed the need for the inclusion of damage clause in favour of farmers. He lamented the fact that damage clause for the benefit of the farmers was not inserted in the bill which was widely demanded by the farmers and the civil society, whereas the demand of deletion of damage clause by the major seed selling companies was accepted overnight. He further demanded that the exceptions included in the PBR bill should be accepted as a right of the farmers.

Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department Certification Officer Saeed Iqbal argued that the PBR legislation was in pursuance of Pakistan as a signatory of World Trade Organisation (WTO) and TRIPS. It would help to protect and promote research initiatives for the innovation and new varieties of seeds and plants for improved per acre yields. Dr Shahid further said that the PBR legislation would help to achieve the goals of food security in Pakistan. He added that the proposed legislation was important as it would regulate illegal practices of the seed mafia and companies.

PODA Executive Director Sameena Nazir appreciated the organizers for holding the consultation. She said agriculture was impossible without the contribution of women farmers. However, the proposed legislation did not refer to the concerns and requirements of the female farmers.

NCA Rawalpindi Director Dr Nadeem Omar Tarar said that passing the bill without ensuring bio-safety guidelines and farmers’ rights would be disastrous for the small farmers’ community in particular and the agriculture sector in general. He further added that all traditional knowledge and genetic resources were required to be properly documented and exclusive rights of the people should be conceded over indigenous knowledge. He also pointed out that Convention on Bio-diversity, of which Pakistan was one of the signatories, was referred to selectively, whereas all clauses which contained the rights of the people over indigenous resources were usually not quoted. Mushtaq Gaddi, lecturer at NIPS, Quaid-a-Azam University highlighted the importance of the PBR bill in the perspective of political economy and said that the bill was an attempt to give rights to the multi-national corporations to exploit the people and the resources of the developing world. He termed the bill a form of neo-imperialism. He said that the government should be urged not to pass the bill without ensuring rights of the farmers’ community. The participants appreciated the efforts of Actionaid-Pakistan for initiating the debate on the PBR, which was a crucial piece of legislation in the context of food security in Pakistan. They said that the issue needed to be debated further and farmers should also be consulted in this regard.