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THE HISTORY OF FARMERS' RIGHTS IN THE FAO:

Global Plan of Action and State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources

The Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources was a major event in the 1990s. Here too the importance of the realization of Farmers' Rights was addressed. It was highlighted in the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable use of Plant Genetic Resources, as well as in the comprehensive State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which formed a basis for the conference.

It was evident already in 1996, when representatives from 150 countries met for the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources in Leipzig, Germany (the so-called Leipzig Conference), that national implementation of the International Undertaking was behind schedule. In a declaration from the meeting, the representatives stated that major gaps existed in national and international capacities to conserve, characterize, evaluate, and sustainably use plant genetic resources (FAO: The Leipzig Declaration adopted by the International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources in Leipzig, Germany, 17-23 June 1996). They also stated that access to and the sharing of both genetic resources and technologies were essential for meeting world food security and the needs of the growing world population. On this basis, the representatives adopted the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. In November 1996, the Global Plan of Action was endorsed by the FAO Council (Resolution CL 111/1, in CL 111/REP: Report of the Council of FAO, Hundred-and-eleventh Session, Rome), by the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (Decision CBD/COP III/11 in UNEP/CBD/COP/3/38: Report of the Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, Buenos Aires), and by the World Food Summit at FAO, where the heads of state and government committed their countries to implementing the Global Plan of Action (WFS Commitment 3, Objective 3.2(I), in FAO WFS 96/REP, Appendix to the Report of the World Food Summit, 13-17 November 1996).

FAO, 1996: Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, adopted by the International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, Leipzig, Germany 17-23 June 1996

The Global Plan of Action is a set of recommendations and activities intended as a framework, guide and catalyst for action at community, national regional and international levels. It is comprehensive, covering most issues of relevance for the management of crop genetic resources - including Farmers' Rights. One of the long-term objectives under the title 'Supporting on-farm management and improvement of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture' is to realize Farmers' Rights as defined in FAO Resolution 5/89 at the international, regional, and national levels (paragraph 32). It identifies several activities which would benefit farmers with regard to on-farm management and improvement of crop genetic resources. However, just how Farmers' Rights, as defined in the FAO Resolution, are to be operationalized and realized is not explicitly delineated.

The Global Plan of Action was prepared with the participation of 154 countries. Each country prepared comprehensive reports on the state of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture in its territories. These reports were compiled and analysed in a comprehensive and detailed report, covering biological, technical and institutional concerns, including Farmers' Rights, and formed the basis for the Global Plan of Action:

FAO (1998): State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Rome: FAO).

The report addresses the implementation of Farmers' Rights (pp. 299-301), focusing on the agreed international fund and on efforts to define the concept and components of Farmers' Rights. As for the international fund, suggestions are made for linking it with the Global Plan of Action, in an effort make it a reality. Concerning definition efforts, the report gives an account of the state of discussions under renegotiations of the International Undertaking as well as in the country reports provided for the FAO State of the World's (…) report. As such, it can be seen as a mid-term report of the negotiations pertaining to Farmers' Rights, and will be our last summary of discussions before we present the negotiation result. The section on Farmers' Rights reads (pp. 300-301, but without references in the footnotes):

"The concept of Farmers' Rights may include several dimensions: compensation for innovation in the development of farmers' varieties; compensation to farmers for making plant genetic resources available; provision of incentives for continued conservation of these resources; and support for particular conservation and utilization activities.

During the discussions and on-going negotiations for a revised International Undertaking, and during the preparatory process for the International Technical Conference, it has been suggested that Farmers' Rights may have other operational dimensions including (note, however, that FAO Conference Resolution 5/89 states that Farmers' Rights are 'vested in the international community'):

   The traditional rights of farmers and their communities to keep, use, exchange, share and market their seeds and plant reproductive material, comprising the right to reuse farm-saved seed known as the 'farmers' privilege';

   The needs of farmers and their communities as custodians of plant genetic resources and related indigenous and local knowledge (in line with Article 8(j) of the Convention) to have their rights protected and to share in the benefits derived therefrom.

Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also proposed that Farmers' Rights be developed as a 'bundle of rights', including rights to conserve, develop and protect plant genetic resources, the rights to receive financial support for conservation and utilization activities, the right to benefit from the commercial exploitation of resources under their stewardship and the right to determine the extent to which such resources and related practices, information and knowledge are made available.

Many countries argue that there is a need for a legal framework for the implementation of Farmers' Rights. Some have proposed that such a framework first be developed at the international level. Some countries have also suggested that certain aspects of Farmers' Rights be protected through the development of intellectual property rights, or similar systems, to protect indigenous knowledge (the difficulties of such a system are explored in Annexes 1- 4 of the
State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture). Some countries consider that the implementation of certain aspects of Farmers' Rights could be facilitated through an appropriate sui generis system, in line with the TRIPS Agreement. Such an approach could incorporate the 'farmers' privilege' (as is already the case with the UPOV 1978 Convention), and could also include benefit-sharing mechanisms, such as those under consideration in India. Benefits might be awarded to particular farming communities or accrue to a fund. All of these matters are under discussion in various forums, including FAO in the context of the renegotiation of the International Undertaking."

Finally, the report states that the Global Plan of Action can be viewed as a contribution to the realization of Farmers' Rights.



Pages in this sub-section:
   THE HISTORY OF FARMERS' RIGHTS IN THE FAO
   The history of Farmers' Rights in overview
   First use of Farmers' Rights
   Origin of the concept in FAO
   FR in the Keystone Dialogues
   Conference Resolutions on FR
   CBD and Agenda 21 on FR
   Global Plan of Action
   Breakthrough of the negotiations
Top top
 In this section:
  ABOUT FARMERS' RIGHTS
  Farmers' Rights in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
  Why Farmers' Rights matter
  The contents of Farmers' Rights
  History of Farmers' Rights in the FAO
  Farmers' Rights in the literature
  Civil Society Organizations' approaches to Farmers' Rights

Photo: G. Ulutuncok