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Side event on Farmers' Rights at the Conference of the Parties to the CBD

During the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)'s COP 9 in Bonn 19-30 May 2008, a side event entitled "Agricultural biodiversity: Implementing Farmers' Rights in Practice" was organized with two objectives: To launch the new Farmers Rights Website, and to present a workshop module on Farmers' Rights as well as a report on success stories from the realization of Farmers' Rights.

The side event was organized by the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway, in co-operation with the German GTZ (commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany) and the Development Fund, Norway. It was attended by 70 participants from the Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

Annette von Lossau, Coordinator of the GTZ project 'People Food and Biodiversity', and Bell Batta Torheim, Program Coordinator of the Development Fund, gave the welcome addresses where they emphasized the crucial importance of realizing Farmers' Rights.

Implementing Farmers' Rights in Practice
Regine Andersen, Senior Research Fellow of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, and Director of the Farmers' Rights Project

Regine Andersen started by pointing out what Farmers' Rights are, how they are recognized in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and why they are so important for the conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic diversity, global food security and poverty alleviation in the South. She further highlighted that there are not yet any guidelines for the implementation of Farmers' Rights as provided in the International Treaty, and that national governments are free to choose the measures they deem required, according to their needs and priorities. However, as expressed from many developing countries, guidance is urgently needed.

Responding to this request, based on the International Treaty and through research from the Farmers' Rights Project, Regine Andersen presented a framework for implementation of Farmers' Rights. This framework consists of eight steps, and for each one of them the available options for implementation were outlined (read more about the steps here). Various success stories were highlighted illustrating the steps, before the report with 17 success stories was presented (read more about the report here).

Furthermore, Regine Andersen officially launched the new website, which you are visiting right now,, and invited all participants to comment on, and contribute to, this new tool for the implementation of Farmers' Rights. She also presented a draft workshop module that has been developed as a framework for dialogue on the implementation of Farmers' Rights, and invited the audience to participate in an informal reference group on the finalization of the module.

Regine Andersen concluded her presentation by saying that Farmers' Rights are crucial for the conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources and in the fight against poverty. She stressed that implementation is urgent, due to mounting barriers and challenges, and that implementing Farmers' Rights is feasible. Guidance and tools are there and the success stories from the realization of Farmers' Rights provide models, positive lessons - and lots of inspiration.

The Bean Seed Catalogue in Costa Rica as a Participatory Mechanism to Guarantee Farmers High Quality Seeds by Using Traditional Knowledge
Eduardo Rojas, Farmer from Costa Rican farmers' organization ASOPRO, and Eduardo Aguilar, Policy Advisor of the Participatory Plant Breeding in Meso America Programme (PPB-MA) in Costa Rica

Eduardo Aguilar started out presenting the collaboration between PPB-MA and the local organization ASOPRO in Costa Rica, which involves 500 farmers engaged in participatory plant breeding (PPB) using local varieties as breeding material. A major result of their work is the development of eight new varieties of bean between 2000 and 2005. One major challenge for the farmers was their lack of access to seed markets to sell the new varieties.

In order to overcome these obstacles, the farmers together with ASOPRO and technicians developed a "seed protocol" to set up a mechanism for controlling and distributing the seeds developed and multiplied by the farmers involved in the PPB activities. The Seed Protocol is managed by the farmers and they define the quality criteria for approval of seeds for distribution, thereby making use of their traditional knowledge. The National Seed Bureau has acknowledged the Seed Protocol.

Among the advantages of the Seed Protocol, Eduardo Aguilar mentioned farmers' guaranteed access to high quality seeds at affordable prices; the effective promotion of farmers' participation; farmers' collective ownership of genetic materials; active use of improved local varieties; as well as income generation for the local organization ASOPRO.

Participatory Plant Breeding for Adding Value to Traditional Crops in Nepal: An Approach to Realizing Farmers' Rights to Benefit Sharing
Pratap K. Shrestha, Executive Director of Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD), Nepal

Pratap K. Shrestha started out by highlighting the ecological features and the livelihood systems of Nepal. Particularly important in this context, is that farm-saved seed meets more than 90 percent of the seed demand and that there is high reliance on local crops. He continued by explaining some of the roles that farmers play in participatory plant breeding, including providing genetic material with associated knowledge and deciding on the selection of parents and breeding lines for specific traits. The motivation for PPB initially was to increase breeding efficiency to develop new plant varieties suitable for farmers' diverse needs and production systems. Another important goal has now become to add value to local plant varieties. This creates incentives for on-farm conservation while at the same time improving the livelihoods of farmers.

Pratap K. Shrestha showed examples of how this was done with various varieties, and how the process as well as the breeding lines were carefully documented. For example, he explained how a popular local landrace of maize with excellent cooking qualities and high yield was crossed with a lodging tolerate variety. He also showed how farmers organized themselves in groups to facilitate community-based seed production. He concluded by stating that participatory plant breeding is one of the effective means of implementing Farmers' Rights through the protection of traditional knowledge, the participation in decision making, the sharing of benefits from increased varietal choice and by enabling farmers to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed. Particularly, he stressed how participatory plant breeding is an effective tool in adding value to local plant varieties.

South East Asian Examples of Strengthening the Right to Participate in Decision Making
Wilhelmina R. Pelegrina, (Executive Director, Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), the Philippines

Wilhelmina Pelegrina presented examples of different policy processes in Bhutan, the Philippines and Vietnam that proved cases on various ways in which farmers could participate in decision making. In the case of Bhutan, she explained how greater awareness among the government officials was spurring a review process of the national seed laws. Among the achievements of the farmers is the development of 27 farmer varieties in six years as well as purification of traditional rice varieties that have lead to a 30 % increase in yield. The recognition of farmers' contribution in conserving and developing crop diversity is also evident in the national gene bank, which have labeled the seeds with the names of the farmers of whom the seeds were collected from.

The strong farmer movement in the Philippines makes the country an interesting case for Farmers' Rights. SEARICE has organized regional consultations on Farmers' Rights for years in order to involve farmers in defining what Farmers' Rights mean to them. This led to the adoption of the Cebu Declaration on Farmers' Rights. Based on this, the farmer movement engaged in dialog with the Congress and they demanded financial support to on-farm conservation from the national budget. This shows how lobbying and farmers' involvement goes beyond the mere drafting of seed legislations.

Finally, Pelegrina showed how Vietnam is a case of up-scaling of Farmers' Rights as local initiatives on farm conservation and development of plant genetic resources are implemented in 550 communities in 26 provinces. The local experiences of the development of farmers' varieties have motivated a process of rethinking seeds program at the provincial level and the relationship between Farmers' Rights and Plant Variety Protection regulation as the PVP laws were drafted without consulting farmers. To combat this weakness of the PVP law, a Decision on Regulations on on-farm PVP was adopted in February 2008 aiming for the registration of farmers' varieties.


The side event was concluded with an open discussion among all the participants. Regassa Feyissa from Ethio-Organic Seed Action (EOSA), Ethiopia, pointed out the challenges created by the lack of clear definition of Farmers' Rights in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and his concern about the role of industry and their lack of clear obligations to share benefits with farmers. Morgan Ody from Via Campesina reminded the meeting that farmers are the main breeders of the world creating far more varieties than industry. She considered the ITPGRFA to be a dynamic and positive agreement, but raised concerns about the fact that compulsory benefit sharing was linked to patents as this is incompatible with the realization of Farmers' Rights. She was also worried about how free trade agreements with developing countries reduce their opportunities to implement Farmers' Rights. Finally, she stressed that Farmers' Rights are strongly linked to the right to land and water. If farmers disappear, agricultural biodiversity will inevitably also be lost.

Huib Ghijsen from Bayer Crop Science stressed the need to distinguish IPR laws from seed laws, referring to the previous discussion. According to him, seed laws have been too strictly implemented in developing countries. He was in favor of the UPOV system since it allows unprotected varieties to be freely produced and sold and that it provides for breeders' exemption on protected varieties. Regarding the benefit sharing obligations in the ITPGRFA, he stressed the importance of free access to genetic resources. Kamalesh Adhikari from SAWTEE in Nepal was critical to the narrow definition of Farmers' Rights in Article 9 of the ITPGRFA as he was concerned about the consequences for agricultural biodiversity if Farmers' Rights are viewed as only an issue in the South. He also raised the challenge for developing countries to implement Farmers' Rights since they have obligations to implement Plant Variety Protection as WTO members. Regine Andersen concluded the side event by saying that even though the ITPGRFA has a limited definition of Farmers' Rights, this does not mean that other aspects of Farmers' Rights are not important. The ITPGRFA, however, addresses Farmers' Rights as they are related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and is thus an important international instrument in this regard. Whether this potential will be used depends on the initiatives of stakeholders and on political will. Finally, she said that creating legal space for Farmers' Rights was crucial for ensuring the continuation of farmers' on-farm management of plant genetic diversity and thus for their contribution to the global pool of genetic resources.

Read more:
    Invitation and program

Pages in this sub-section:
   The Lusaka informal international consultation process on Farmers' Rights
   Side Event on Farmers' Rights at the Second Session of the Governing Body
   Website on Farmers' Rights
   Report on Success Stories from the Realization of Farmers' Rights
   Side event on Farmers' Rights at the Conference of the Parties to the CBD
   Book on Success Stories from the Realization of Farmers' Rights
   Research project on civil society strategies for the implementation of Farmers' Rights
   Side Event on Farmers' Rights at the Third Session of the Governing Body
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Photo: Fulvio Eccardi

Page last updated 26 May 2009