Last month, the National Assembly at last passed the long-awaited Seed Amendment Bill 2014, which was cleared by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research back in October 2014. The bill now remains to be passed by the Senate to become a law.
The new law is expected to bring much-needed changes in the agriculture sector and particularly in the seed policy.
New laws or amendments to existing laws are introduced to meet the ever-changing needs. And the Seed Act of 1976, which provided the basis for the legal and institutional framework of the seed industry, overlooked large areas of the seed provision system, creating legal gray areas that have been filled by outside actors.
Firstly, the Act assigned no role to private seed companies, nor did it provide for their registration or regulation. On the matter of private sector participation, it only discussed seed multiplication. While the Act applied certain restrictions on the sale of approved seed varieties, it did not consider the production, storage, or sale of unauthorised varieties. There were no provisions to ban the sale or production of a seed variety on any grounds.
Also, variety registration with Federal Seed Certification & Registration Department (FSC&RD) did not confer associated intellectual property rights to the breeder. According to the government itself, “The amendment to the Seed Act 1976 was required as the act did not fulfill the requirement of the modern seed industry.”
The Seed Bill 2014 is basically designed to improve the existing law so as to enable it to meet the requirements of the modern seed industry and the country’s obligations under the WTO regime
Basically, the Seed Bill of 2014 is designed to improve the existing law so as to enable it to meet the requirements of the modern seed industry and the country’s obligations under the WTO regime. The prime purpose is to create a larger space for the private sector in the seed sector and introduce latest developments in seed technology in the country’s agriculture. The foremost thing is the registration of companies at pre-basic seed stage and the company, which originates new seeds; they have a greater say in the marketing of their varieties. Under the new law, only those seed dealers and companies would be allowed to undertake commercial activity of seeds which would be registered with the relevant authorities.
The amendments would also facilitate establishment of the accredited seed laboratories in the private sector. Presently, due to the monopoly of public sector companies, the private sector does not come forward to establish such laboratories for developing new seed varieties. This bill will also allow global agricultural input provider companies to invest in the sector to produce basic seed for its multiplication and certification, and also set up accredited seed testing laboratories besides allowing them to register GM varieties.
According to the amended law, the unauthorised hybrid and semi-hybrid seeds will be banned. It will be a punishable crime with prescribed fines and imprisonment. The proposed amendments also envisage the formation of a committee, which would have the authority to register seed companies in the private sector. The registration of these companies would be renewed every year after evaluation of their performances. The Seed Act 1976 did not have a proper mechanism to register seed importers and the imported seed varieties.
Agriculture is the only sector that has the potential to turn around Pakistan’s sluggish economy, but suffers from low agricultural productivity.
The proposed amendments will promote research and development in the field of agriculture and attract private-sector companies to invest in introducing new seed varieties with the potential to increase productivity that will give technology-hungry farmers access to the world’s latest agricultural technologies.
The writer is executive director CropLife Pakistan
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, April 27th, 2015