Dysfunctional Plant Variety Protection in Ethiopia: Professionals’ Perspective

Plant Variety Protection (PVP) is one of the areas of debate among professionals in the sector. Beyond protecting the right of the breeder, it is also linked to international trade and different countries follow different system of protection. Although proclamation 481/2006 was enacted as early as 2006 and it was revised without being implemented in 2017, so far Plant Breeders’ Right (PBR) was not implemented in Ethiopia. Many reasons can be listed for the delay of operationalization of PBR. There are also varied perceptions among professionals in the area of PVP implementation in Ethiopia.

While approval of the regulation and capacity of implementing institutions are the priority issues, understanding and exploring the diverse perceptions of professionals is critical to pave the way for implementing PVP. Thus, open discussion will help the government look into the prevailing understanding regarding PVP among professionals and collect feedback for implementing PVP in Ethiopia. Accordingly, Ethiopia Netherlands Seed Partnership (ENSP) has organized a workshop for professionals on December 23, 2022 at Bishouftu town. The workshop aimed to set a stage for open professional discussion so as to understand professionals’ view and perception on PVP and explore possible options to harness the benefits of its implementation. This will break the silence about PVP implementation in Ethiopia and facilitate its operationalization.

HE Mr. Wondale Habtamu, DDG of Ethiopian Agricultural Authority (EAA) making opening speech

Dr. Mohammed Hassena, ENSP project manager, welcomed participants and highlighted the purpose of the workshop. In his opening statement, HE Mr. Wondale Habtamu, DDG of Ethiopian Agricultural Authority (EAA), stated that despite the fact that Ethiopia was one of the first countries to begin agriculture, the sector remains backward. If we want to boost agricultural productivity and production, we must integrate with the global system to support the introduction of new agricultural technologies. For that Mr. Wondale said “A functioning PVP system is required to stimulate breeders and attract investment from competitive commercial seed companies.”.

Following that, presentations were delivered on the current Ethiopian PVP law and historical perspectives on the development of PVP, respectively by Medemdemiyaw Naknike and Dr. Amsalu Ayana. Following the presentations, participants reflected on the two presentations. The participants were then divided into 4 groups for discussions based on their background and affiliation with the PVP. The discussion themes emphasized on identifying the advantages and disadvantages of implementing PVP in terms of bio-diversity, agricultural production development, seed sector development, local/public breeding, local company development, and food/seed sovereignty from the perspective of participants. In addition, participants expressed their feeling regarding the reason why PVP implementation delayed, and suggested PVP should be framed in terms of farmers right and genera to be included. 

Participants’ perception varied with regards to the effect of implementing PVP on the above listed issues. For instance, while some believe implementing PVP may reduce genetic resource pool, others argue that it in fact increase the genetic pool as it creates access for breeder to use protected varieties. Similarly, while some consider implementing PVP increase agricultural production and thus ensure food security, others link it to monopoly and thus seed/food sovereignty. Thus, there is no consensus as such on advantage and disadvantage of protecting plant breeders’ right. 

Despite some variation in perception among the professionals on the negative and positive impact of PVP implementation, they all recommended the authority to start PVP implementation.  They remarked that during implementation the authority need to put in place a strong regulation system.

Ethiopia’s adherence to the UPOV 91 convention, which restricts farmers’ rights and requires a country to protect all genera, is the subject of a contentious debate. The main justification offered by those who favor adhering to the UPOV 91 convention is that, if varieties are not adequately protected, foreign companies will not be interested in entering the Ethiopian seed market, making the implementation of PVP less relevant. Others contend that farmers should have the right to save, use, and sell seeds of any kind for crops used as staple foods because of the dominance of the informal seed system. Although consensus was not reached, the discussion tended on not adhering to the UPOV 91 convention and instead evaluating the effect of implementing the second option.

Along with the capacity issue, participants discussed why the government has not yet adopted PVP since 2006. They listed several key reasons for not implementing PVP, including the policy environment, limited commitment of the government and stakeholders, a lack of common understanding among stakeholders, and frustration with its enforcement.

Finally, participants suggested that in order to fully implement the PVP, EAA should raise awareness among all pertinent stakeholders, staff itself with qualified technical personnel, create unique incentive strategies for attracting professionals, begin implementation with bilateral agreements/cooperation with actors (such as variety testing using an outsourcing mechanism, purchase/accept DUS test reports…), and strengthen itself with improved infrastructure facilities (lab, testing sites, logistics).

More than 25 representatives from Research institutes, Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute, CGIAR centers’, Bioversity International, GIZ, ATI, Ethiopian Agricultural Authority (EAA), private seed companies, senior professionals in the seed sector, ENSP project, and consultants participated in the workshop.