Ghana--Coalition For Farmers Rights And Advocacy Against GMOs (COFAM)
The Coalition For Farmers Rights And Advocacy Against GMOs (COFAM) a grass-roots movement of farmers, labour unions, religious, political and civil society organizations held a public demonstration against the introduction of Genetically Modified Foods and the Plant Breeders Bill on Tuesday January 28 through the principal streets of Accra. The demonstrators later paid a courtesy call on the Nuumo Sakumo, the Chief Priest of the Ga Mashie people. The leading organizations of the coalition including Food Sovereignty Ghana, Convention Peoples Party, Centre For Indigenous Knowledge (CIKOD), The General Agricultural Workers Union of TUC and Rastafarian Council) took advantage of the demonstration to launch the coalition at the Arts Centre. Attached are some photos of the demonstration.
Below is the press statement read at the launch of the coalition:
COALITION FOR FARMERS RIGHTS AND ADVOCACY AGAINST GMOs (COFAM)
P. O. Box NT 272,
January 28, 2014.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the press we have called you here to announce the formation of a coalition to spearhead the campaign against the creeping attempts at the imposition GMOs on Ghanaians.
COALITION FOR FARMERS' RIGHTS AND ADVOCACY AGAINST GMOs (COFAM)
We have more organisations joining us by the hour, so we cannot as yet provide an exhaustive list of our membership. We remain optimistic that by the time the various rounds of consultations going on are over, we shall proudly have an overwhelming segment of Ghanaian civil society, professional bodies, students’ movements, workers’ unions, and religious bodies firmly represented. This has been rather done at very short-notice with good reasons. The situation is an urgent one. We are confident that there are many civil, professional, and religious organisations out there whose members overwhelmingly support the objectives of this coalition. We welcome all of them.
The growth of our coalition itself will bear testimony to the overwhelming concerns that many well-meaning citizens have, not only with the issue of GMOs, but also the way they are being introduced into the country, and the GMO-enabling legislative agenda of the government. We call on every Ghanaian who eats food to make sure that any group of which he or she is a member, joins this coalition.
SAY NO TO THE PLANT BREEDERS’ BILL!
Ghana is in serious danger from the Plant Breeders’ Bill currently before Parliament. The bill is a give-away of our agricultural heritage and our agricultural future to western multinational corporations. In return, Ghana gets nothing but false and empty promises. Our MPs have been promised investment will come from the bill. It will be the same extractive investment that has plagued African countries for centuries, investment designed to extract wealth from Ghana.
THE BILL WILL ELIMINATE JOBS AND CREATE UNEMPLOYMENT.
The bill will require farmers to buy new seed every year and buy the toxic chemicals that are required for use with these corporate seeds. This will drive many farmers into debt. Burdened by debt, farmers are likely to lose their farms, and those working on farms will move to the cities, where there are no jobs to replace the lost farming jobs.
WILL MAKE GHANA DEPENDENT ON FOREIGN CORPORATIONS FOR OUR SEEDS AND FOOD
Farmers will be forced to buy the limited variety of seeds available from multinational corporate plant breeders.
WILL DESTROY THE RICH VARIETY OF FOODS WE LOVE
The Plant Breeders’ Bill aims to replace traditional varieties of seeds with uniform commercial varieties and force the dependency of smallholders on commercial seed varieties. The effect of these laws in other countries has drastically reduced the number of varieties of plants. If the Plant Breeders Bill is to be passed at all, it is critical to amend it to protect farmers’ rights and Ghana’s sovereignty:
1. An amendment that guarantees and protects farmers’ sovereign right to seed. Farmers are the first breeders and their rights come first.
2. Delete or amend Clause 23 so that plant breeders’ rights (foreign corporation rights) are not above the laws of Ghana.
The Plant ‘ Bill is written in opaque legalese English and is very difficult to understand. That is partly why many MPs don’t know what is in it or the likely effects if it passes. There is much flowery language in the introduction about how important farmers are. Then the actual language of the bill proceeds to strip Ghanaian farmers of their rights to freely use, save, and share seeds.
Clause 3 describes the characteristics of plant varieties protected by the bill. Clause 20 specifically names genetically engineered plants as protected varieties and enumerates in detail the breeders’ rights that are protected above the rights of Ghana’s farmers. And Clause 23
puts plant breeders’ rights above the laws of Ghana so that Ghana will not be able to regulate them.
The language in Clause 3 defining what can be protected is so restrictive, it creates huge financial barriers to Ghanaian breeders. To breed seeds in quantity that hold these characteristics over many plant generations costs in the millions of dollars. This astronomical expense will drive Ghanaian breeders out of business and assist the multinationals to consolidate their power.
Clause 20 defines those activities, applied to the varieties of plants protected by the bill, including GMOs, which require authorization from the breeder. When a farmer uses protected varieties of seeds, including GMO seeds. These activities are all the ways in which
farmers traditionally freely use, save, and share seeds. Breeders make their profits by charging fees and royalties for all of these uses, including saving and replanting seeds. The legal language is opaque and difficult to understand, but it covers all the traditional ways in which farmers freely use, save, and share seeds, and awards all the rights over these activities to the plant breeders. Farmers no longer have these rights if the bill passes. One purpose of the bill is to stop farmers saving and replanting seeds, and require them to buy new seeds from the breeder corporations every season.
Clause 23 puts the rights of the plant breeders, most often multinational corporations, above the laws of Ghana. “A plant breeder right shall be independent of any measure taken by the Republic to regulate within Ghana …”
The Plant Breeders’ Bill, does not protect plants and does not protect farmers. It will not even protect Ghanaian plant breeders. It only protects the multinational Agribusiness corporations hungry to control Ghana’s agriculture. The bill leaves Ghana completely vulnerable to
their corporate assault.
Samia Yaba Nkrumah
Note: Food First executive director, Eric Holt-Giménez is currently in neighboring Burkina Faso visiting "We are the Solution" projects which Food First is supporting in the region.