Plant Breeders’ bill continuous delay is destructive

Stakeholders in the tomatoes value chain have repeated a call for speedy passage of the Plant Breeders’ bill as a major prescription to salvage the ailing tomatoes production in the country.

The bill’s passage, they argue, will among others help resource scientists at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to develop new tomato varieties that will be adaptable to the dynamics of local tomatoes cultivation climate – such as soil types and weather conditions in production zones across the country.

Currently, farmers have been desperately experimenting with every available variety in order to meet market demand; but the ‘trial and error’ practice has not been successful. For instance, the varieties that produce high yields in certain soils and climates do not have market preference qualities for traders and processors; they are either too watery or do not have thick and hard outer layers to guarantee longer shelf-life.

This situation, according to the Federation of Tomatoes Growers Association of Ghana, has been the greatest motivation of traders who travel to Burkina Faso for the desired fresh tomatoes – at the expense of local products which are left to rot or be sold at giveaway prices.

Scientists have over the years advocated passage of the bill to make the country more competitive in the global seeds industry and ensure food security. When passed, the bill will give scientists and research institutions intellectual property rights over new plant varieties they develop to guarantee them royalties. This is expected to encourage more private investments in the seed sector for the benefit of farmers and the nation as large.However, a section of the agriculture public has raised concerns about the bill – hence the delay in its passage. Some are of the view that the bill in its current form has certain ‘loopholes’ that will not promote the interests of an average Ghanaian farmer; and also have a tendency to compromise the country’s biodiversity.

Speaking at stakeholders’ forum held at Dumasua in the Sunyani West district of Bono Region, Dr. John Akparep – Senior Lecturer at the University of Development Studies (UDS), said one major step in salvaging domestic tomatoes production is to make suitable varieties available to farmers, and “this can only be achieved if we make resources available for scientists to come out with the desired varieties; hence the need for swift passage of the Plant Breeders’ bill”.

He said: “The tomatoes sector has failed to reach its potential: in terms of attaining yields comparable to other countries, in terms of the ability to sustain processing plants, and in terms of improving the livelihoods of those households involved in production and the commodity value chain. It is therefore important that we explore the mechanisms needed to rejuvenate the sector through provision of certified and buyer-desired-variety seeds.”In the wave of increasing effects from climate change on the agricultural space, Dr. Akperap also advocated comprehensive irrigation systems to ensure all-year round production of tomatoes in the country. This, he noted, will be a game-changer so as to discourage the excessive importation of fresh tomatoes from Burkina Faso, as well as create more job opportunities.

A 41-year-old farmer at Toubodum, Kwasi Nyarko, said the susceptibility of available seeds to pests and diseases – coupled with the ignorance of some farmers – has fuelled abusive use of poisonous chemicals as a way to protect their produce. “It will interest you to know that some desperate farmers mix as many as six different chemicals to control pests on their farms.”

The forum was attended by farmers, traders, MoFA personnel, food vendors, and civil society activists among others, and was organised by the Federation of Tomatoes Growers Associations of Ghana. The theme for the engagement was ‘Rejuvenating the tomatoes industry through provision of certified and buyer desired variety seeds’. It was one of many BUSAC-Fund sponsored advocacy actions to help transform the country’s tomatoes production sector.

By Edward Adjei Frimpong l Ghana