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RESOURCES:

Farmers' Rights and Genetic Conservation in Traditional Farming Systems

Brush, Stephen (1992):
Farmers' Rights and Genetic Conservation in Traditional Farming Systems
World Development, Vol. 20, No. 11, pp. 1617-1630

Summary

This article argues that intellectual property rights such as plant breeders' rights or patents should not be used to protect crop genetic resources. Rather, farmers' rights should be used as an alternate form of intellectual property rights, to compensate farmers indirectly by supporting genetic conservation. These conclusions are based on an analysis of the role of genetic resources in traditional farming, intellectual property rights over plant varieties and potentials of the concept of farmers' rights.

Brush highlights four reasons why intellectual property protection is not adaptable to the situation of traditional farming and crop varieties (p. 1628): (a) the usual criteria for recognizing plant breeders' rights (novelty, distinctness, uniformity and stability) do not apply to traditional knowledge systems as they are normally part of public knowledge, (b) severe accounting problems would accrue, since crop improvement is based on numerous genetic sources, and it would be unreasonable to assign proportional values to the resources from each relevant country, (c) the primary beneficiary would most likely be the nation state rather than farmer conservers, and (d) the focus on equity and compensation does not explicitly address the pressing problem of improving crop genetic conservation. Therefore, concludes Brush, farmers' rights should be embraced without the cumbersome baggage of intellectual property rights'. He warns, however, that extending farmers' rights is not without pitfalls. One of these pitfalls would be that farmers could be bypassed by the elite in their countries when compensation is to be organized. Another would be that the transaction costs would be too high and that the systems would prove inefficient.
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