A Bill providing for the protection of Jamaica’s plant genetic resources was passed in the Senate on Friday (January 18).
The Bill, the Protection of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Act, facilitates Jamaica’s compliance with its obligations under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
The Treaty was approved by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in November 2001, and came into effect on June 2004. The main areas of the Treaty are the protection and realization of farmer’s rights on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits accruing from facilitated access under the multilateral system.
In piloting the legislation, Minister of Justice, Senator Mark Golding, noted that the Act was necessary so that Jamaica can fully benefit from the multilateral system through the exchange of these plant genetic resources.
“The Act will, among other things, seek to promote research, to assist farmers who generate and use their own varieties and apply ecological principles in maintaining soil fertility and combating diseases, weeds and pest,” Senator Golding said.
He noted further that the Bill seeks to promote plant breeding efforts to strengthen the capacity to develop varieties and to promote the broadening of the genetic base of crops, and expand the range of genetic diversity available to farmers.
“It also seeks to promote the expanded use of locally adopted crops and underutilised species,” the Justice Minister said.
In his comments, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator A.J. Nicholson, noted that the engine that will drive the provisions of the Bill will be the Management Authority.
“Clause six speaks to the Management Authority and if you read through, it points directly to south-south cooperation,” Senator Nicholson said.
Clause six of the Bill urges the Management Authority to, as appropriate: strengthen the capabilities of developing countries and countries with economies in transition with respect to conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources.
Opposition Senator, Marlene Malahoo Forte, raised concern about the length of time between the country signing the international agreement and passage of the accompanying domestic legislation.
“Once a country accedes to an international agreement, its citizens have a legitimate expectation to enjoy the benefits and share the burdens provided for in that international agreement. Unfortunately, we take a long time to do the necessary enactment to satisfy our international obligation,” Senator Malahoo Forte said.
She also questioned if the Bill, as drafted, will allow Jamaicans to enjoy the full benefits of the Treaty.
Responding to the concerns, Senator Golding said the Bill was not designed to incorporate all the treaty provisions into local law, but to provide a set of rights and obligations that operate on the international plain.
“The main scheme of it is that in order to deal and transact in research on the products in relation to plants that are listed in the Bill, one has to do so by way of a standard material transfer agreement, and the form of it is set out in the second schedule. If one does not proceed in that way, one is not going to be compliant with the Bill, and there is a criminal sanction for contravening sub-section three,” he explained.
The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives in October 2012.