MINISTRY of Agriculture Director for Agriculture Moses Mwale has dispelled assertions that multinational companies are patenting indigenous seed varieties as they are not owned by anybody.
And Mwale has advised farmers to avoid re-using hybrid seeds so that they are guaranteed a good yield.
Farmers recently expressed concern that they were unable to re-use hybrid seeds as they could not afford buying new seed every year.
In an interview, however, Mwale said that companies can only patent what they produced as is the case with hybrid seeds.
“You can patent what you make. So, these multinational companies, the seed that they patent is what they make because what it is, is: those are hybrids like the seed being sold by Zamseed, SeedCo and so on. They actually create it, in other words they go through a breeding process and because they made it, that’s why they patent it to protect it. So, even for ZARI (Zambia Agriculture Research Institute), as a national research institute, they also do their own research to come up with varieties and what they do is that they combine what is there as traditional seed and then go through a breeding process and come up with a variety. And as ZARI, they patent what they also create, but what it is that, ZARI being a research institute, it’s not into marketing so whatever they make, they then license out to seed companies to make certified seed to commercialise and sell the seed, but you cannot necessarily patent the local varieties because seriously speaking, nobody owns it. It’s there, it’s indigenous and how do you patent something that you didn’t make? So, that’s where I think the issue is,” Mwale said.
And he advised farmers to avoid re-using hybrid seeds so that they were guaranteed a good yield.
“So, there are two types of seed that you can come across: there are self-pollinated varieties of crops like groundnuts, beans, rice and so on. So, those kinds of crops, like beans, you can actually grow the same crop the next year, the same seed you keep. Of course, when you go to hybrids, those are the ones, which lose viability over time because you see they are created through a scientific process, and that scientific process is supposed to last for just one year. Farmers may still want to grow in the second year, but they will definitely see a loss in yield in the second year, the third year, and at a certain point, it can’t grow anymore because it’s created for that purpose. Like I said, self-pollinated, even maize itself, there are some varieties, which are called local varieties so those you can actually grow year in, year out, as long as you keep it in a nice way in terms of maintenance and storage,” said Mwale.