The Rwanda Agriculture Board (Rab) has drafted a bill seeking to promote the development of new crop varieties.
The Bill is expected to protect plant varieties developed by Rwandan researchers, according to Gervais Nkuriza Ngerero, the Director General of the seed department at Rab.
“Rwanda has developed iron-rich bean varieties that it exports to several countries, including Kenya. If we have copyright law, nobody can claim it is their discovery. Even other countries will supply us varieties knowing there is a plant variety protection law,” Nkuriza said.
He was speaking at a two-day seminar organised by the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (Alipo), in partnership with Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
The seminar brought together government institutions overseeing agriculture activities, breeders and agro-processing companies to discuss plant varieties protection.
Once enacted into law, the legislation will help improve agriculture productivity and industry development as it would serve as an incentive for researchers to develop superior varieties, said Blaise Ruhima Mbaraga, the division manager in charge of intellectual property registration at RDB.
Breeders say the proposed legislation will also help seed multipliers.
“As breeders we have developed new maize, rice, wheat, and sorghum varieties. There are also beans like the recently developed iron-rich beans, Irish, sweet potatoes and cassava, among others. If a copyright law is enacted, it will protect our rights and motivate us to boost agriculture,” said Dr Claver Ngaboyisonga, a senior maize plant breeder.
If you invest a lot in research, your new variety deserves protection, he said.
Fernando Dos Santos, the Director General of Alipo, stressed the importance of protecting new varieties of plant breeders.
“Africa is striving to overcome famine in the face of climate change effects like drought or pests. By 2050, Africa’s population will double to 2 billion and food demand will also double. It is, therefore, important to protect new varieties to cope with the increasing demand for food,” Fernando said.
He noted that many farmers are still living off subsistence farming, the reason variety protection is necessary to draw in more investors who can help double agriculture output.
Mbaraga said the development will increase the number of those who register for intellectual protection and make it difficult for one to duplicate plant variety developed under another person’s name, he said.
In Rwanda, there are over 200 varieties of beans, 10 varieties of maize, one variety of soya and 10 varieties of cassava, among others which were developed by Rwandan plant breeders.
The role of plant variety protection is to improve varieties of plants which are drought resistant.
Meanwhile, MP Gabriel Semasaka, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, told The New Times that the Seed Bill will be reviewed by the committee mid April before it can be forwarded to the plenary.
“It also addresses plant varieties breeder protection, seed multipliers, among others. We know well that it is a challenge for the Agriculture ministry not to have this law in place,” he said.