Plant Breeder’s Rights In Africa: A Personal StoryJune 26, 2024

I am freshly back “in country” from Accra, Ghana; and the sights, the sounds, and the frenzy of Africa still linger with me. My trip was a personal and professional highlight, as I was honored to be an invited faculty member at a joint conference between the USPTO, UPOV and ARIPO on the benefits and particulars of Plant Breeder’s Rights. The meeting was organized to help encourage African countries to sign on to the ARUSHA protocol, legislation that provides a “one stop shop” for Plant Breeder’s rights in Africa for all countries who choose to ratify the same.

The Republic of Ghana submitted its Instrument of Ratification with the Director General of ARIPO on November 24th of 2023. And with the fourth country acceding, (the Republic of Rwanda in June 2019, the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe in September 2020 and the Republic of Cabo Verde in July 2022), the protocol will now come into full force and affect later this year. Hence the selection of the location for the conference in Accra, Ghana. The workshop was a chance to gain momentum and to “teach the teachers” how to educate and persuade the many passionate factions of Africa’s political landscape, so that they might ratify the protocol.

The group of attendees, included 60 dignitaries, political allies, farmers, and faculty presenters from all around the world. All singularly united by our mutual belief in the power of Plant Breeder’s Rights to change the economy of food insecure countries.

We heard the story of Grace Ama Issahaque, the Registrar-General, Ministry of Justice for Ghana who battled for 20 years to bring forth the ARUSHA protocol. Her fight led her all the way to the Supreme Court, where her opponents preyed upon GMO fears of stakeholders. They urged that the legislation would open the door to GMO crops. They even argued that it would allow their food crops to be impregnated with the genes of frogs that would render those who consumed the food to become short, like frogs!!

Feeding the world must include a demonstration by countries of their commitment to the value of IP rights. Private industry requires assurance that their investment in crops will be secure and will be recouped, or at the very least, that their efforts will not be stolen by others. Indeed, UPOV’s data shows that the enactment of plant breeder’s rights incentivizes development of new varieties by industry and also provides up and downstream economic benefit for countries.

A Study from Steffen Noleppa on the impact of plant variety protection in Viet Nam, after its tenth anniversary of UPOV membership, was published in 2017, and it reported (see that for rice, corn (maize) and sweet potatoes, productivity was increased by 16%, 19%, and 27% respectively. Income for farmers was increased by 24% and the annual value added for arable farming was increased by 2.3 billion USD. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was increased by 1.5 billion USD, meaning that the total added value to the economy of Viet Nam amounts annually to 5 billion (>2.5 percent GDP).

Over and over again we discussed how Plant Breeder’s rights incentivize investment in plant breeding and enables the development of new plant varieties to combat climate change, to reduce poverty and to encourage economic development. I have seen as much in my 30 plus year career as an IP attorney specializing in plant related technology.

Carry on my friends and colleagues in Africa, we are here for support and encouragement, and I pray in some small way, when the impact of this legislation comes to fruition, I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I had a small part in making it so.

Heidi Sease Nebel is a Partner, Patent Attorney and Chair of the Chemical and Biotechnology Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. She is also Vice Chair of the Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC).  For additional information please visit

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