| STATE OF FARMERS' RIGHTS PER
The state of Farmers' Rights
India is among the first countries in the world
to have passed legislation granting Farmers' Rights in the form of the
Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001. India's experience
is important due to its international contribution to negotiations on Farmers'
Rights, its position as a centre of biodiversity, and the complexities of
agriculture in India within which the country is attempting to implement these
rights. India's law is unique not only because of its far-reaching rights for
farmers, but also in that it simultaneously aims to protect both breeders and
farmers. This attempt to evolve a multiple rights system could, however, pose
several obstacles to the utilization and exchange of plant genetic resources
among farmers. India has framed a unique legislation, but still faces the task
of implementation. This should serve as a signal internationally that
establishing legislation is insufficient to effectively promote Farmers'
Rights. Failing to implement Farmers' Rights in India would be a heavy loss for
all the farmers who need Farmers' Rights to protect their livelihoods, secure
their access to resources, protect their rights to seeds, and, above all, lift
them out of poverty.
In a study written by
Dr. Anitha Ramanna, University of
Pune, India, and published by the Farmers'
Rights Project in 2006 provides an overview of the state of Farmers'
Rights, and opinions of over forty stakeholders in India including farmers,
NGOs, industry and government representatives, on the prospects for the further
realization of these rights. The study analyses the achievements, barriers and
limitations of India's approach. The following text is the executive summary
from the report.
Farmers' Rights in India: executive summary from
a case study by Anitha Ramanna (2006)
The International Treaty on
Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture recognizes Farmers' Rights and
obliges the countries being Parties to the Treaty to protect and promote these
rights. Countries, however, have not yet been able to evolve any consensus on
how to define or implement Farmers' Rights. International coordination in this
regard is also lacking. These are serious drawbacks that could prevent Farmers'
Rights from becoming a realistic and workable mechanism. This report attempts
to evolve options for the practical implementation of Farmers' Rights through a
case study of India. Over forty stakeholders, including farmers, NGOs, industry
and government representatives in India have been interviewed to explore
methods to realize Farmers' Rights.
India is among the first countries
in the world to have passed legislation granting Farmers' Rights in the form of
the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001 (PPVFR).
India's law is unique in that it simultaneously aims to protect both breeders
and farmers. The Indian case assumes immense importance due to the country's
lead in establishing a legal framework on Farmers' Rights, its international
contribution to negotiations on Farmers' Rights, and the complexities of
agriculture in India within which the country is attempting to implement these
rights. India's case is also significant as the Indian gene centre is
recognised for its native wealth of plant genetic resources.
Agriculture plays a key role in India's economy both from the point of
view of employment generation as well as its share in GDP. A recent economic
survey expressed concern with the decline in the share of the agricultural
sector's capital formation in GDP. The dismal situation in which many farmers
find themselves in India today was reflected in a study sponsored by the
Government of India, known as the 'Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers'
(SAS), which for the first time assessed the situation of farmers in 2003. An
alarming trend has been witnessed in India in recent years with rising rates of
farmers committing suicide. Newspapers echoing the 'crisis in Indian
agriculture' continue to report daily incidents of suicides in various parts of
the country. Several different reasons have been put forward as the cause of
suicides including: mounting debt of farmers, crop failures due to overuse of
pesticides, imbalances of international trade, or social and psychological
Agriculture was generally excluded from intellectual property
protection in India and there was no legal system of Plant Breeders' Rights or
Farmers' Rights for decades. The Seed Association of India, formed in 1985, has
actively promoted the need for plant breeders' rights in the country. With the
adoption of the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property
Rights (TRIPs), bilateral and multilateral pressure was also exerted on India
to establish intellectual property rights in agriculture. There was enormous
protest against implementing TRIPs by non-governmental organizations and
farmers' lobbies in the country. The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers
Rights Act (PPVFR), 2001 arose amidst this controversy. The PPVFR Act initially
emerged as a result of the demands of the seed industry for breeder's rights. A
chapter on Farmers' Rights was added to the Act due to pressure by
India's PPVFR Act not only upholds farmers' rights to save, use
and exchange seeds and propagating material but also attempts to enable farmers
to claim special forms of intellectual property rights over their varieties.
The Act grants plant variety protection on new varieties (largely modelled on
UPOV), extant varieties and essentially derived varieties. Extant varieties
include farmers' varieties, varieties in the public domain and varieties about
which there is common knowledge. Nine rights can be said to have been given to
farmers under the Act including: the rights to save, exchange and (to a limited
extent) sell seeds and propagating material, to register varieties, to
recognition and reward for conservation of varieties, to benefit sharing, to
information about expected performance of a variety, compensation for failure
of variety to perform, availability of seeds of registered variety, free
services for registration, conducting tests on varieties, legal claims under
the Act, and protection from infringement.
The National Biodiversity
Act, 2002, based on the Convention on Biological Diversity, regulates access to
and use of genetic resources in India. This Act also focuses on benefit
sharing, protection of traditional knowledge and prior informed consent. The
Geographical Indications Act, the Patents Amendments Act and the Seed Bill also
have implications for Farmers' Rights in India. The Seed Bill could restrict
farmers' right to sell their seeds, and the Patent Amendment Acts could pave
the way for further extensions of patentability in agriculture that may
restrict farmers' rights to save, use or exchange seeds. The Geographical
Indications Act may enable farmers to claim rights for agricultural goods
originating in a specific region, or it could restrict access of farmers to the
protected goods depending on the way it is implemented.
A large number
of diverse stakeholders influence India's policy on Farmers' Rights. The views
of various stakeholders on the importance, barriers and options for
implementing Farmers' Rights were compiled and analyzed in this study.
Forty-two interviews were conducted among representatives from NGOs and
farmer's lobbies, the government, the seed industry, experts and among farmers.
Interviews were conducted in various parts of India: New Delhi, Chennai,
Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune and Uruli Kanchan.
various categories acknowledge the importance of Farmers' Rights nationally and
globally. A majority of the respondents expressed that Farmers' Rights must
incorporate rights beyond the farmer's right to save, use and exchange seeds.
Various issues were addressed as important rights for farmers, such as support
for inputs, access to technology and farmer's participation in decision-making.
While some favoured the government as the main agency to facilitate benefit
sharing, others pointed to the need for NGOs or for an independent agency to
promote benefit sharing. The stakeholders place a great deal of responsibility
on the Authority established to implement Farmers' Rights in India to overcome
the barriers. In addition, stakeholders are looking to the Governing Body of
the International Treaty to provide guidance and direction for the
implementation of Farmers' Rights.
India's case holds some lessons for
developing countries. Two broad approaches to defining Farmers' Rights in India
reflect the options facing developing countries: 1) Farmers' Rights as a form
of intellectual property rights 2) Farmers' Rights as a development right. The
first approach poses Farmers' Rights as a counter to Plant Breeder's Rights and
argues that if commercial breeders can acquire intellectual property over their
inventions, then farmers' innovations must also be recognized and rewarded. The
second encompasses a range of concerns including food security, livelihood
rights, social justice and access to resources. India's policy largely adopts
the first approach, but also acknowledges the second view. Many respondents to
the survey felt that Farmers' Rights should move beyond ownership rights to
incorporate development rights. Yet, even among NGOs, farmer leaders, and
individual farmers, there were differences regarding the nature of development
rights to be addressed. NGOs focused on conservation and access to seeds, while
individual farmers pointed to guaranteed prices, electricity, low interest
credit and reducing the role of middlemen.
The approach of defining
Farmers' Rights as intellectual property rights may provide political rather
than economic benefits for developing countries, whereas defining Farmers'
Rights as development rights may ensure greater economic/social advantages.
While defining Farmers' Rights as a kind of intellectual property rights could
provide a tool for negotiating at the global level, it may not be of great
utility in ensuring rights for farmers in developing countries. Legal and
economic costs of establishing the system, the difficulties of legally claiming
rights for farmers, and the limited returns from plant variety protection
itself are some of the reasons why IPR-based Farmers' Rights approaches are
unlikely to provide significant economic returns to farmers. In addition,
developing countries may not gain much from seeking royalty payments for
ownership of germplasm and may gain more from effectively utilizing genetic
resources. Domestically, there is a need to gradually incorporate more
development-oriented rights within the Farmers' Rights framework. Developing
countries could attempt to forge a strategy that takes advantage of both
approaches by utilizing the IPR type approach as a strategic tool to argue for
Farmers' Rights globally, while domestically incorporating greater development
Another important lesson in defining Farmers' Rights is
the need to avoid an 'anticommons tragedy'. An 'anticommons tragedy' arises
when governments grant too many people rights over a resource with no one
having an effective privilege of use. India's PPVFR Act is an attempt to evolve
a multiple rights system that could pose several obstacles to useful
utilization and exchange of resources. Developing countries need to evolve
mechanisms to ensure exchange of agricultural resources as part of Farmers'
India and other developing countries could explore options to
further develop the International Treaty's Multilateral System approach. The
International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources establishes a specified list of
crops on which there are agreed rules for access and benefit sharing. In a
sense, the Treaty attempts to redefine the principle of common heritage. India
could not only support this initiative by making more crops available on the
terms and conditions of the Multilateral System, but could also explore the
option of developing a parallel national system which includes crops
significant for India's food security. Such systems could provide the means for
promoting farmers' and breeders' access to resources.
India's ability to
be one of the first countries in the world to forge a national legislation on
Farmers' Rights is a significant landmark. India has evolved a unique
legislation, but still faces the task of implementation. This process is likely
to be fraught with difficulties not only in balancing intellectual property
rights with Farmers' Rights, but also in ensuring coordination between various
legislations such as the PPVFR and the National Biodiversity Act. It is also
evident from the study that no clear agreement exists among the various
stakeholders in terms of how to implement the Act. This should serve as a
signal internationally that establishing legislations is insufficient to
effectively promote Farmers' Rights.
The Governing Body of the
International Treaty must now take up the task of establishing clear guidelines
for defining and implementing Farmers' Rights. An international movement for
Farmers' Rights would have to tread carefully to respect the sovereignty of
nations while promoting global cooperation. However, Farmers' Rights must be
promoted at the international level and cannot be left only to national
governments to design. If each country, under Farmers' Rights, sets up barriers
to access of genetic resources, limits exchange of resources, and competes to
stake claims over innovations, the implications would be severe for
The Farmers' Rights movement has witnessed a long and chequered
history. An international mechanism is urgently required to promote some level
of consensus on defining and implementing these vital rights. If the global
community does not face up to the challenge of unambiguously articulating
Farmers' Rights, what has been achieved so far in the battle to establish these
rights may be lost. Such a loss would be heavy for farmers in India and other
developing countries who need Farmers' Rights to protect their livelihoods,
secure their access to resources, protect their rights to seed, and, above all,
lift them out of poverty.
Download full-text version (PDF) of
the case study:
Ramanna, Anitha: The Farmers'
Rights Project - Background Study 4: Farmers' Rights in India - A Case
Study. FNI Report 6/2006. Lysaker, FNI, 2006, 52 p.
pertaining to Farmers' Rights in India
Success stories from the realization of Farmers' Rights in
India, in terms of the development of legislation and
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OF FARMERS' RIGHTS PER COUNTRY