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Approaches to ensuring equitable benefit sharing

Measures to ensure the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources can be designed in various ways.

With an ownership approach, direct benefit sharing would be the avenue. Here benefits from the use of genetic resources would be shared between the 'owners' and 'buyers' of genetic resources – directly, upon prior informed consent on mutually agreed terms, as set out in the CBD.

Under the stewardship approach, an indirect way of benefit sharing would be chosen. Here the thinking from the early days of the FAO negotiations is evident: Benefits should be shared between 'entire peoples', all stewards of plant genetic resources in agriculture – and society at large. The idea is that it is their legitimate right to be rewarded for their contributions to the global genetic pool, from which we all benefit; further, that it is an obligation of the 'International Community' to ensure such reward. Benefit-sharing mechanisms would be the Multilateral System of the ITPGRFA, its Funding Strategy, and Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Proponents of the stewardship approach maintain that it would be difficult to identify exactly who should be rewarded if an ownership approach is used. In addition, because the demand for farmers' varieties among commercial breeders is limited, relatively few farmers would benefit, and most of the contributors to the global pool of genetic resources would remain unrewarded. Also this approach to sharing benefits could lead to disincentives to share seeds and propagating material among farmers, because of benefit expectations. Although several countries in the South have enacted legislation on direct benefit sharing, no instances of such benefit sharing have been reported so far with regard to agro-biodiversity. By contrast, there are many examples of indirect benefit sharing, normally non-monetary.

On the other hand, the transaction costs of establishing access and benefit-sharing legislation in many countries have been considerable. The ownership approach has not proven very promising with regard to benefit sharing so far, even though some stakeholders would opine that it is the most fair and equitable approach. These serious concerns must be taken into account in designing measures to ensure benefit sharing – in line with the intentions behind the ITPGRFA.

Pages in this sub-section:
   Two approaches to Farmers' Rights
   Approaches to protecting farmers' traditional knowledge
   Approaches to ensuring equitable benefit sharing
   Approaches to ensuring farmers' participation in decision-making
   Approaches to farmers' customary use of propagating material
   Conditions for the combination of approaches
   Towards a common ground of understanding
   What this may mean in practice
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 In this section:
  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

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