A breeder’s brief: Protecting plant varieties in Indonesia via Plant Variety Protection
It’s a typical statement that Indonesia is rich in diversity. However, it is clear that we still lack the hands to manage and exploit all via breeding activities. To my knowledge, these days most of the crossings and selection is done by big companies, hobbyist (especially ornamentals) and some from the academia. In a lot of cases, a lot of our diversity is being exploited by foreigners. That’s why our country is very strict on material exchange which leads to the discussion on the Nagoya Protocol. This time, I won’t elaborate on the genetic resource sharing agreements, but rather on how to protect varieties produced by breeders in Indonesia.
Before I continue on, I’d like to define a few keywords which are important to know:
- Variety: They occur in nature and most are true to type which means that they have the same unique characteristic of the parents.
- Cultivar: Stands for cultivated varieties, which means that the plant as been cultivated and selected by humans. In most cases, offsprings are hybrids or a result from a cross of two different parents. Therefore they will need to be propagated vegetaively via cuttings/graftings/tissue culture.
- Hierloom: Very old traditional variety.
- Landrace: A plant variety developed by farmers by adopting various traditional agronomic practices.
- Accession: A group of related plant material from a single species collected from a particular area.
- Wild plants: Also refer to native plants indigenous to a given area in geologic time that have developed naturally. Most wild plants are not directly utilize for daily human consumption, but they harbour genetic materials which may be useful for breeding.
Why do we need to protect varieties?
Breeders compete to create the best variety in the market. A perfect variety would be one with high productivity (quantity and quality) under minimal input, resistance towards abiotic and biotic stress. No wonder some breeding companies release more than a dozen of new cultivars in the market every year for a single type of product for instance lettuces, tomatoes or ornamentals such as orchid (e.g. CVPO-EU accepts more than 3000 applicants in the year 2017!). Though, it doesn’t mean all cultivars could last long in the market. I could imagine that breeders should not only follow the demand of the market, but they also need to be creative/innovative and build demand/be a trendsetter.
As a person working in the plant breeding field, it is crucial to at least know how to protect an invention = new cultivar. These cultivars have undergone a series of selection and crossing. It requires time (could be a few years or more!), effort and more importantly money/capital. Imagine if someone else opens up a store next to you and selling the exact same product from your blueprint without your permission just because it’s making a good profit? Or another example your classmate copy pasting your thesis with or without you permission? Would you be upset about that? Therefore, there is a need to protect your investment and you can obtain it by applying for Plant Variety Protection (PVP) or Plant Breeders' Rights (PBR).
PVP/PBR, UPOV & CVPO?
During my masters in the Netherlands, we had a few sessions on plant intellectual property rights in one of our plant breeding modules. It was my first time learning about Plant Variety Protection (PVP) or Plant Breeders' Rights (PBR) and about the UPOV and CVPO.
- PVP/PBR are rights granted to the breeder of a new plant variety by providing exclusive control over the propagating material (e.g. seed, cuttings, grafting, tissue culture) and harvested material (e.g. cut flowers, fruit, foliage) for a number of years.
- UPOV stands for The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, based in Switzerland. It is an intergovernmental organization that was established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. They aim to facilitate an effective system of plant variety protection for the benefit of the society.
- CVPO on the other hand stands for The Community Plant Variety Office which is an agency of the European Union that administer the system of plant variety rights.
As the largest horticulture hub in the world, it makes sense for the Netherlands to have organization that provide services to assess whether a variety is novel, distinct, uniform and stable (DUS). This is necessary for registration purposes and granting Plant Breeders' Rights (via the Board for Plant Varieties). There are a few entities that perform such assessment depeding on the type of products you would like to protect:
- The Naktuinbouw (The Netherlands Inspection Service for Horticulture)
- Nederlandse Algemene Keuringsdienst (Dutch General Inspection Service for agricultural crops such as potatoes, cereal crops and grasses)
- Bloembollenkeuringsdienst (The Flower Bulb Inspection Service)
- Kwaliteits Controle Bureau (The Quality Control Bureau, inspection service for so-called end products such as fresh fruit and vegetables traded in supermarkets and green groceries)
How are varieties protected in Indonesia?
Before we answer this question, we should first ask who is providing the service. In Indonesia, we do not have an independent service who is organizing this. All the organization is under the Ministry of Agriculture (Pusat Perlindungan Varietas Tanaman dan Perizinan Pertanian, Sekretariat Jenderal Kementerian Pertanian). Currently, the Indonesian variety protection is covered under the Acts No.29 the Year 2000 on Plant Variety Protection. Moreover, Indonesia is not yet part of the UPOV. Along with 12 other countries, they currently take part in The East Asia Plant Variety Protection Forum, aiming to establish effective PVP systems consistent with the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention in the long term.
Currently, information on the procedure to obtain PBR on a cultivar is as follow:
(PVTPP SETJEN Pertanian, http://pvtpp.setjen.pertanian.go.id/tentang-ppvtpp/layanan/perlindungan-varietas/ [24th April 2019])
Public can also view the database on the listed varieties (example screenshots):
(Pengumuman Pendaftaran Varietas Hortikultura, http://varitas.net/dbvarietas/indexa.php [24th April 2019]
(Sistem Informasi Database Varietas Tanaman, http://aplikasi.pertanian.go.id/varietas/tamu/utama.as [24th April 2019])
If a breeder would protect all their invention, how could others obtain materials for crossing? Should they only work with landraces and wilds or pay a certain amount of fee to use protected varieties? You must know that Acts No.29 the Year 2000 on Plant Variety Protectionchapter 6 verse 10 mentioned about the breeder's exemption similar to that of the UPOV. Breeder's exemption allow other breeders to use protected plants for non-commercial purposes, research activities, plant breeding and for constituting new cultivar. Furthermore, it is also exempted when the protected plant is used by the government through policy for the supply of food and medicines without infringing the economic rights of the PVP rights owner.
To my knowledge, Indonesia has already a system that is providing PVP to breeders. An online platform is already available allowing the public to easily access information. However, since I have never experienced in applying for PVP on a plant, I could not fully judge how robust is the implementation. How to control that your protected plants are not being propagated illegally for commercial purposes? It’s quite common enough that traditional farmers tend to propagate the seeds they buy and replant them for a few generation just to reduce the seed cost. Would you as a breeder sue them? Therefore, its is necessary to involve people coming not only from the agronomic sector but also from the economic and law to come forward with a better solution regarding this issue.
What is best for now is for people who are involved in testing cultivars, e.g. researchers and government, to provide effective and efficient method as well as facility to test DUS on all different plant species through research activities. These testing areas should not be limited to one location but a few hubs in different islands with well-trained professionals. This leads back to the important role of education; training not only from the managerial side but also the people who are digging up the ground and measuring in the field.