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Plant Improvement

At the dawn of agriculture, about 10 thousand years ago, the population of the world was about 5 million. It took the next 8 000 years for the population to grow to 200 million. However, whereas it had taken all of human history up to 1800, for the population to reach 1 billion, thanks to the Industrial Revolution it took only 200 years, until 1987, to reach 5 billion. Now, we are at 7,256 billion.1 By 2050, it is estimated that the global population will reach 9,6 billion. That is a problem.

More so than with most things, it is a food problem. By 2050, the world will need to produce 70% more food than we are expected to. That is not 70% more food than we are producing now – even that is a tough task – but 70% more than the experts say we are on course to produce. Yet, there is only so much crop-land, and many other factors play a role – dwindling water resources amongst the top issues.2

In South Africa, the Plant Improvement Act 19763 is one of the legislature measures aimed at addressing certain aspects of this problem – in particular, the cultivation, and certificate of propagating material,4 and its import and export. The Act falls under the Authority of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, but there is a Registrar of Plant Improvement,5 an officer in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries appointed by the Minister, who oversees the Act.

A. Varietal list and certification schemes

There are many different varieties of plants, particularly the ones we eat. For example, believe it or not, there are over 500 different varieties of potato6 – and that does not include the 118 edible sweet potato cultivars.7 The Registrar keeps a list of varieties which are generally known, or the denominations in respect of which a plant breeder’s right may be registered. This is called the varietal list.

  1. Any person who makes a false entry in the varietal list, or causes it to be made is guilty of an offence.8

  2. It is a crime to create a document (or cause a document to be made) which falsely purports to be a copy of, or excerpt from, the varietal list.9

  3. Any person who produces, or tenders (or causes to be produced or tendered) as evidence any such entry, copy or excerpt is guilty of an offence.10

  4. Any person who offers, or provides an excerpt of an entry knowing it to be false, to the detriment of someone else, commits a crime.11

B. The sale of plants and propagating material

  1. It is an offence to sell plants and propagating material, for purposes of cultivation:
    • if they are not of a variety which is entered in the varietal list;12
    • otherwise than under their denomination as entered in the varietal list;13
    • if any qualifying term or reference is added to or used in connection with the denomination;14
    • if it does not comply with any prescribed requirements;15
    • unless, in the case of propagating material, it is prepackaged, or is packed in containers which comply with the prescribed requirements and are sealed and marked in the prescribed manner with the prescribed information;16
    • unless, in the case of a plant, the prescribed information appears on a label affixed to the plant, or on the container in which the plant grows or is packed.17
  2. The Registrar may give exemption from compliance with one or more of the above requirements. It is an offence to contravene or fail to comply with any conditions as he may determine for the exemption.18

  3. The Minister can establish certification schemes for plants and propagating material. The object of these schemes is to maintain quality and ensure the usefulness of the products for agricultural or industrial purposes. Any person who fails to comply with a provision of a scheme, while under an obligation to do so, is guilty of an offence.19

  4. It is an offence to distribute any plant or propagating material contrary to a prohibition or condition issued by the Minister.20

C. Registration of premises

  1. Anything to do with the sale or cultivation of plants, or the cleansing, sale or prepacking of propagating material (even running a test laboratory) may only be conducted on premises which have been registered in terms of the Act (or which have been exempted by the Minister). It is an offence to contravene this provision.21

  2. Any person who fails to display a certificate of registration for his premises is guilty of an offence.22

  3. When the registration lapses or is terminated, it is an offence not to return the certificate of registration to the Registrar.23

D. The Registrar and inspectors

  1. An officer in the department, or an authorised person may (on the authority of a warrant) at any reasonable time enter and inspect any place, premises or vehicle in or upon which any plant or propagating material (or other substance or article) is suspected to be, and inspect books and records, seize samples, require information, and so forth. Anyone who fails or refuses to make any statement or to give any explanation to that person is guilty of an offence.24

  2. It is a crime also to make a false statement or representation, or furnish false information.25

  3. Any person who obstructs or hinders the Registrar, or an officer, or an authorised person in the exercise of his powers, the performance of his functions, or the carrying out of his duties under the Act is guilty of an offence.26

  4. Any person who has been summoned to appear in an appeal against any decision or action taken by the Registrar commits an offence if he fails to appear.27

  5. Any person who refuses to be sworn (or to make an affirmation about his evidence) or to produce any document, or answer any question is guilty of an offence.28

  6. Any person who tampers with any sample taken or any plant, propagating material, substance or other article seized in terms of the Act is guilty of an offence.29

  7. Any person who discloses information acquired by him in the course of his duties or the performance of his functions under the Act is guilty of an offence.30

  8. Any person who sells or removes any plant, propagating material, book, document, substance or other article seized in terms of the Act is guilty of an offence.31

  9. Any person who tampers with an identification mark, or seal attached to anything seized in terms of the Act is guilty of an offence.32

E. Import and export

  1. It is an offence to import into the Republic, for cultivation purposes, any plant or propagating material unless it:
    • is of a variety of which the denomination is entered in the varietal list;33
    • complies with the prescribed requirements;34
    • is packed in a container which is sealed and marked in the prescribed manner with the prescribed information; and35
    • is imported through a prescribed port of entry or such other place as the Registrar may determine.36
  2. In any event, even if all those requirements are met, it is an offence to import any plant or propagating material under a denomination other than that entered in the varietal list.37

  3. It is an offence to use any plant, or propagating material, imported into the Republic under the above conditions, for a purpose other than cultivation (except immediate re-export).38

  4. If you import a consignment of plants or propagating material you must furnish the Registrar with the particulars (which he may determine) regarding such consignment, and it is an offence to fail to do so.39

  5. It is also an offence to remove such consignment from its port or place of entry unless the Registrar has authorised the removal.40

  6. The person importing plants or propagating material other than for purposes of cultivation (or immediate re-export) shall, prior to or on arrival thereof in the Republic, furnish to the Registrar a declaration to that effect in the prescribed manner. It is an offence to fail to do this.41

  7. No person shall export from the Republic any plant or propagating material unless he is in possession of a certificate from the Registrar authorising such export. It is an offence to contravene this provision.42 43

F. False representations

  1. Any person who furnishes any particulars in connection with a plant, or propagating material, on any container in which it is sold (or on a label which is attached to such plant or container) which do not correspond with its true properties is guilty of an offence.44

  2. It is an offence to publish, or distribute (or cause, or permit to be published or distributed) any false or misleading advertisement concerning plants, propagating material or premises.45

  3. Any person who falsely holds himself out to be the Registrar, or an authorised officer or other authorised person, is guilty of an offence.46

  4. Any person who forges a document (or causes a document to be forged) which purports to be a certificate, authorisation or other document issued in terms of the Act, is guilty of an offence.47

  1. Reproduced from www.worldometers.info ‘World Population Clock’. Have a look – the clock ticks exceedingly fast … 

  2. See the World Resources Institute research reports at www.wri.org – This data is taken from ‘Crop Breeding: Renewing the Global Commitment’. 

  3. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 88 of 1996. 

  4. Cuttings, seeds, roots – anything from a plant that can be used to multiply more plants. 

  5. The offices of the Registrar are at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at Agriculture Place, 20 Beatrix Street, Arcadia, Pretoria and can be contacted at 012 319 6000. 

  6. www.potatoes.wsu.edu (Washington State University). 

  7. Wikipedia – ‘Sweet Potato Cultivars’. 

  8. Section 35(1)(a)(i). 

  9. Section 35(1)(a)(i). 

  10. Section 35(1)(a)(ii). 

  11. Section 35(1)(a)(iii). 

  12. Section 35(1)(g)(i) read with section 13(1)(a). 

  13. Section 35(1)(g)(i) read with section 13(1)(b). 

  14. Section 35(1)(g)(i) read with section 13(1)(c). 

  15. Section 35(1)(g)(i) read with section 13(1)(d). 

  16. Section 35(1)(g)(i) read with section 13(1)(e)(i). 

  17. Section 35(1)(g)(i) read with section 13(1)(e)(ii). 

  18. Section 35(1)(g)(i) read with section 13(2). 

  19. Section35(1)(j). 

  20. Section 35(1)(g)(v) read with section 27A. 

  21. Section 35(1)(f) read with section 6. 

  22. Section 35(1)(i) read with section 12(1). 

  23. Section 35(1)(i) read with section 12(4). 

  24. Section 35(1)(b)(i). 

  25. Section 35(1)(b)(ii). 

  26. Section 35(1)(c). 

  27. Section 35(1)(d) read with section 32(4)(a). 

  28. Section 35(1)(e) read with section 32(4)(a). 

  29. Section 35(1)(h). 

  30. Section 35(1)(k). 

  31. Section 35(1)(m). 

  32. Section 35(1)(m). 

  33. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(1)(a)(i). 

  34. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(1)(a)(ii). 

  35. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(1)(a)(iii). 

  36. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(1)(iv). 

  37. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(1)(b). 

  38. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(6)(a). 

  39. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(3). 

  40. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(3). 

  41. Section 35(1)(g)(ii) read with section 26(6)(b). 

  42. The provisions do not apply to the export of plants and propagating material intended for purposes other than cultivation; and propagating material which does not exceed the prescribed quantity. 

  43. Section 35(1)(g)(iii) read with section 27(1). 

  44. Section 35(1)(g)(iv). 

  45. Section 35(1)(l) read with section 33(1). 

  46. Section 35(1)(n). 

  47. Section 35(1)(o).