The Provincial Legislature held a public hearing on the Plant Improvement Bill and Plant Breeder’s Rights Bill in Polokwane last Friday with the aim of shaping the agricultural sector and remind local farmers about their rights and opportunities in the industry. The acting Chairperson of the Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Johanna Aphiri said the purpose of the session was to give local farmers a chance to assess the new bills and make suggestions. She further said Section 118 of the Constitution encourages public participation.
The Constitution states that a provincial legislature must facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the legislature and its committees, conduct its business in an open manner and hold its sittings and those of its committees in public. According to Aphiri, new bills had to be drafted because the current bills are outdated and were drafted in 1976. The new bills were published on the Government Gazette in April 2013 and workshops started shortly thereafter.
“The old Plant Improvement Bill and Plant Breeder’s Rights Bill does not cater for smallholder farmers and the laws are somewhat difficult to be understood. Government wants to ensure that the bills are aligned with international standards.”
A further reason for the new bill is to give black farmers and entrepreneurs an opportunity to develop in the industry and contribute to the national economy and fight poverty. The new bills will help aspiring farmers to join the industry and be able to exercise their skills and knowledge to the best of their ability.
Aphiri further indicated that the old bills have inadequate penalties hence farmers break the rule deliberately just because they can afford to pay the fine. Harsh penalties were introduced in the new bills.
Several practical matters were discussed, including a suggestion that open pollinated seeds be added in the new bills because they can also be sold commercially. Khathutshelo Neluheni, researcher of the portfolio committee said the Department of Agriculture had indicated that the selected crops met the selection criteria but farmers are encouraged to submit their inputs and comments for consideration.
Another farmer suggested that black farmers should be given priority in the newly drafted bills because they have been oppressed for years. Farmers also suggested that both Plant Improvement Bill and Plant Breeder’s Rights Bill be written in all the official languages to cater for all the citizens.
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Story & photos: Endy Senyatsi