Friday, April 20, 2007

Where are the plant breeders?

Horticulture thrives on novelty, and plant breeders are the people who create novelties, but breeders barely exist in Malaysia. I am a plant breeder; I breed cannas. I choose to breed cannas because cannas flower all year round and come in many colours and forms. Well-grown beds of cannas are like well-grown beds of tulips, but unlike tulips, they bloom all year round. My friend Gregori Hambali, breeds calatheas in Bogor. Gregori sends his plants to the US to be patented and marketed there by a big horticultural enterprise. None of his plants have ever been released in Indonesia. Having no US backer, I keep my new varieties of cannas to myself. Anybody who buys one canna (or calathea) can multiply it and soon it will be everywhere. I have no wish to spend money taking out patents and then spend more to enforce my patents. Our society is a long way from accepting the concept of plant varieties as intellectual property. I do not believe the newly enacted plant patent laws will encourage plant breeding in Malaysia.

I am trying to get funding by selling varieties for MR 2000 (USD 570) each. Ideally, the buyer should be a local government agency, which has a horticultural use for the plants and would not mind if the plants leak out to the public, as they eventually will. The money they spend is public money after all. I think cannas in Malaysia could be as popular as tulips in the Netherlands and become the flower of the people. New varieties should be bred and distributed freely but the breeder deserves to be compensated, like any public servant except that he is compensated not by salary in advance but by results upon delivery. If only the whole of the public service could be run that way . . .

1 comment:

The LawMan said...

Where I work (you know where that is!) a whole generational culture has developed whereby certain kinds of property are thought of as a free entitlement. The kinds of assets covered by this thinking include software, books, handphones, fellow classmates' assignments (the whole paper) and ideas, and probably plant varieties (though this will be very low indeed on a student's wishlist, unless he is a student at the School of Life Sciences). So you are not alone ;-)