Jun. 29, 2016
The age-old practice of farmers replanting harvested grain now goes against intellectual property laws adopted by the government. The practice, which is rife whenever formal seeds become expensive, is a violation of set standards.
Grain farmers may also not be aware that just five weeks ago, it became illegal to store copyrighted seed.
Kenya has updated accession to the 1991 Act of The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which came into effect on May 11.
Dr. Stephen Ndung'u Karau, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva, Switzerland, in April this year deposited the instruments of accession on behalf of Kenya upgrading it from the 1978 UPOV Convention.
"It shall be understood that, on depositing its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, as the case may be, each State or intergovernmental organisation must be in a position, under its laws, to give effect to the provisions of this convention," UPOV states.
The adopted regulations received by Dr Francis Gurry, Director-General World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva protects the patent or ownership of seed varieties, from cereals to grains.
The new Agricultural Growth Act essentially makes it a 'privilege' for farmers to stock seed for future use. Growers can no longer exchange, give away or trade planting material registered by a commercial developer such as Monsanto.
Storing of 'copyrighted seed is now regulated and is no longer a centuries-old right.
The move is unlikely to go down well with some civil society organisations that have been opposing control of the seed industry by a few multinationals.
The groups have opposed plans by 19 African States to introduce a regional protocol banning the use of uncertified seeds based on the 1991 Act of the UPOV convention.
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KePHIS) acting managing director, Ms Esther Kimani, said that while the 1978 Act allowed farmers to save, exchange and commercialise propagation materials of a protected plant variety, the new law carries stringent conditions.
"A country can restrict the breeders rights on conditions that the farmers use the seed on their own holdings, obtained from their own holding and subject to reasonable limits," she wrote on email.
The international obligation will make it difficult to export and import uncertified seed proposing a raft of tough measures to be implemented by the government.
Kenya will have to come up with ways of seizing and destroying counterfeit planting materials and even suspend any customs officials who causes the importation or export of counterfeited seed.
Kenya will also need to establish specialised courts to hear cases of infringement of breeder rights and ensure there is necessary reprisals in terms of fines and penalties for the crime.
The move aimed at protecting the intellectual property rights of plant breeders wants to outlaw the saving and sharing of uncertified seeds under the draft Arusha Protocol for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.