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A solution to the controversy on plant variety protection in Africa

African countries are fast-tracking the protection of plant varieties by embracing the 1991 Convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). The West-African Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle joined UPOV as its fifth African member in 2014. Around the same time, UPOV assessed a draft legislation of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization to be in conformity with its 1991 Act, paving the way for this East-African organization to become a UPOV member as well. The Southern African Development Community is currently drafting similar legislation. Together, these regional organizations represent 42 African countries. These decisions at the diplomatic level create controversy regarding possible negative impacts on smallholder farmers’ seed systems. We show in this commentary that African countries, by seizing the opportunity to implement a broad interpretation of one of the UPOV 1991 provisions, can overcome the controversy and establish a PVP system that supports commercial seed systems without negatively affecting smallholders.