By Terkimbi Vange & Folarin Okelola

IN Nigeria, there is this popular story of how some Asian countries came to Nigeria and left with our palm seedlings and other plant resources. Today, Nigeria imports oil from those countries.

Many of such stories abound, especially if you are close to technicians that work with most foreign experts in forests across the country. These stories which we considered bizarre and unfortunate won’t happen in the country if we had in place a Plant Variety Protection law.

From example, it is practically impossible for anyone to cross the borders of the USA or other developed countries with their plant varieties; but can we say such of Nigeria?This and many other reasons are why Nigerians should be celebrating the recent passage of the Bill by the National Assembly and subsequent assent by President Muhammadu Buhari of the Plant Variety Protection Act 2021 to create a functioning regime for the protection of plant varieties in Nigeria.

This is the perfect icing on the cake for Nigeria, as the country turns a new page that speaks of progress in the right direction. The Act, which contains very important segments that highlights the active participation of the private sector and inter-governmental agencies in the Nigerian seeds industry, was specifically passed to promote increased staple crop productivity for smallholder farmers in Nigeria and encourage investment in plant breeding and crop variety development through the promotion of increased mutual accountability in the seed sector and protection of new varieties of plants.

In the past, the lack of a PVP law in Nigeria limited the country’s ability to harness opportunities embedded in its seed sector, a major challenge, which left farmers with low-quality and adulterated seeds and seedlings that portend uncertainty for agricultural productivity and food security.

For the Nigerian farmer and plant breeder, it is the dawn of the era that, hitherto, existed in the wish-land as intellectual properties of plant breeders were recklessly breached. With no legal cover, plant breeders would watch as the products of their hard work would be stolen and converted to someone else’s vault, so long they have the money to buy them off.  The Act also has a detailed process of procuring breeder’s right in a transparent way.

The days of intellectual property breach for plant breeders is seemingly over in Nigeria. With the new law, the protection of varieties “shall” apply to all plant genera and species. The Act specified that the breeder’s right “shall” be granted with respect to a variety which is new, distinct, uniform and stable.

It also stated that, while granting the breeder’s right, it “shall” not be subjected to any further or different conditions, provided that the variety is designated by a denomination in accordance with the provision of the Act and the applicant must comply with provisions of the Act and pays the fees prescribed.

A major reason for plant breeders in Nigeria to celebrate is the fact that the Act may have provided a perfect cover for them, as it protects plant varieties just as it is a platform that encourages investment in plant breeding and crop variety development. To trickle this down, a Plant Variety Protection Office domiciled in the National Agricultural Seeds Council, NASC, has been established for the promotion of increased staple crop productivity for smallholder farmers in Nigeria. The Plant Variety Protection Office will be administered by a Registrar who will be recommended to the Board by NASC Director-General.

Presently, there are 157 registered seed companies in Nigeria, with the majority producing fewer than 1,000 metric tonnes of seeds annually. The Seed Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria is the country’s main private seed trading body, with approximately 67 registered members.

The new seed law gives breeders intellectual property rights over a new plant variety with exclusive rights to commercialise seeds and propagate material. This latest development will encourage national and multinational investments in the seed sector.

Arguably, the gains of the Plant Variety Protection Law for Nigeria are manifold. For one, it will provide legal intellectual property rights to plant breeders who develop new and improved seeds for increased crop production. Analysts believe that the law will help Nigeria move from generating the current zero forex earning from seeds export to generating over $2 billion from seeds export within the first five years. 

With a population that is projected to nearly double to 400 million by 2050, Nigeria is at the precipice of food and related crisis. The situation could only be saved if urgent steps are taken to enhance strategic investments in the agriculture sector, especially by providing high-quality seeds to farmers to boost food production and strengthen national food security.

With the PVP law, this may have been achieved as it will give breeders and investors in the seed sector the assurance and confidence to invest in Nigeria. It also will help in addressing the lingering problem of low yield per hectare of crops produced by farmers.

Furthermore, the law creates an enabling environment for agricultural research conducted by the private sector. This situation will lead to a competitive agricultural sector considering thatNigeria is a prime destination for foreign investment, attracting scientists, breeders, farmers and other agricultural stakeholders.

The United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, in a June 23 report hailed the PVP law, stating that it will attract new investments into Nigeria. “The new seed law will attract new investments into the country’s seed industry and bridge the production gaps by encouraging plant breeders to develop improved varieties,” the article stated in part.

It’s a new dawn in the Nigeria seed industry. The existence of a legal framework and administrative structure as enshrined in the PVP law will spur private sector investment in developing new and novel varieties. Furthermore, Nigeria’s evolving seed sector will foster better access to high-quality varieties, which will play a key role in boosting agricultural production.

 Prof. Vange is the President, Plant Breeders Association of Nigeria, while Dr. Okelola is PVP desk officer, National Agricultural Seeds Council, Abuja.

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