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RESOURCES:

Farmers' Rights and Plant Genetic Resources

Swaminathan, M. S. (1998):
Farmers' Rights and Plant Genetic Resources
Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 36, September/December 1998, pp. 6-9

Summary

The point of departure for this article is the fact that tribal and rural families conserve genetic diversity for the public good at their own personal cost. It is this 'inequity inherent in the current recognition and reward systems that the concept of farmers' rights seeks to end', M. S. Swaminathan states, before proceeding to discuss the practical implications.

He compares relevant provisions from the International Undertaking, the CBD and the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and draws the attention the need for states to reconcile their obligations to these different agreements in terms of equity and ethics in intellectual property rights claims. He also highlights effects of new technological inventions, like the so-called 'terminator technology' which enables seed companies to produce seeds which cannot be used for a second generation of crops. Such a technology would further reduce farmers' rights. The author suggests that legislation which addresses breeders' and farmers' rights simultaneously should be introduced in all countries, ensuring plant-back rights for farmers. Such legislation should provide for a community gene fund, which would draw its resources from a one percent levy on the sales of agricultural commodities. Plant breeders should have to disclose the sources of origin of their breeding material; and, on this basis, funds could be channelled back to these communities. A similar approach should be sought for the distribution of benefits between and among countries, based on a bilateral approach where applicable, and a multilateral approach when more than one country is the source of origin. A multilateral system should be established under FAO. Finally, Swaminathan draws the attention to the many revisions of the UPOV Act since 1961, and states that we should have the will to wait and learn also with regard to farmers' rights.
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