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Side Event on Farmers' Rights at the Third Session of the Governing Body

Seed regulations around the world are increasingly posing barriers to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. This was one of the main conclusions of a side event on Farmers' Rights held Tuesday 2 June, during the Third Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Plant Treaty) in Tunis. This side event, entitled "Farmers' Rights: Challenges, Success Stories and Ways Forward", was organized with the objective of providing guidance to the Governing Body with regard to possible steps to be taken to promote the realization of Farmers' Rights, as set out in the Plant Treaty.

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 about 80 participants from the Governing Body meeting.

The welcome address was given by Teshome Hunduma Mulesa, Programme Coordinator of the Development Fund, on behalf of the GTZ and the Development Fund.

Introduction on challenges, success stories and ways forward
Dr. Regine Andersen, Senior Research Fellow of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, and Director of the Farmers' Rights Project

Regine Andersen first outlined the most important features of Farmers' Rights as set out in the Plant Treaty, and the main reasons why the realization of these rights are central to the implementation of the Treaty. She then presented the contents of Farmers' Rights more thoroughly, along with the most important challenges to their realization and examples of best practices. Thereby she took the four elements of Farmers' Rights from Article 9 as points of departure.

For the first of these elements, Farmers' Rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed, she showed how a combination of intellectual property rights, variety release and seed certification rules limit these rights in an increasing number of countries. This is the most serious problem with regard to Farmers' Rights, because it prohibits the customary practices that are the basis of conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources in farmers' fields. As such it also represents a serious problem for the implementation of the Treaty itself. The Indian Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act of 2001 is an example of how national legislation can protect the rights of farmers to use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed. Norway's 'no' to stricter plant breeders' rights is an example of an industrial country that took steps to protect Farmers' Rights.

To the protection of traditional knowledge, the next element, there are two main approaches; protection against extinction, i.e. protection by sharing, and protection against misappropriation. Fear of misappropriation can lead to protectionism and make sharing of seeds and knowledge among farmers difficult. This could negatively affect farmers' livelihoods as well as their contribution to conserving and sustainably using crop genetic resources. A central challenge is therefore to remove this fear. A potato catalogue from Huancavelica in Peru was presented as an example of how traditional knowledge can be shared, while at the same time giving recognition to the farmers in question and protecting their knowledge against misappropriation.

There are also two different approaches to the right to participate equitably in benefit-sharing, the third element of Farmers' Rights. One focuses on direct sharing between 'owners' and 'buyers' of genetic resources, as derived from the CBD, while the other is based on the FAO approach where the focus is on indirect sharing between users in a broad sense and 'entire peoples of farmers'. Whereas no examples have so far been found of the first type of benefit-sharing when it comes to crop genetic resources, there are many examples of the latter. One of the challenges is scaling up promising benefit sharing models from local pilot projects to a national scale. A success story from Nepal showed how a combination of participatory varietal selection, plant breeding and marketing added value to farmers' varieties, thereby improving their livelihoods. In this case the benefit sharing is between Northern development cooperation organizations and a Nepali NGO at one side - and Nepali farmers at the other. Approaches of how to scale up these best practices to a national scale in Nepal are currently being developed.

As for the last element of Farmers' Rights, farmer participation in decision making at the national level, central challenges are to raise awareness among farmers and decision-makers, find the best ways and means to identify farmer representatives and ensure the necessary capacity to participate. An example from Peru showed how 180 farmers from various Andean regions were consulted on Farmers' Rights and chosen representatives were invited to a multi-stakeholder workshop in Lima. The result was the identification of elements for a comprehensive strategy on how to implement Farmers' Rights in Peru, which forms a basis for steps taken by the authorities.

As a conclusion to her introduction Regine Andersen drew the line from the first session of the Governing Body of the Plant Treaty through the informal international Lusaka consultations and to the Third Session of the Governing Body in Tunis. Based on the findings of the Farmers' Rights Project she outlined possible steps for the Governing Body, suggesting that it should encourage Parties to submit reports at a regular interval and provide a format for this purpose, establish an ad hoc working group for the development of voluntary guidelines, encourage Parties to develop national plans, facilitate guidance and assistance to Parties, encourage further documentation and research and attract funding for implementation. She thereby highlighted the importance of the Governing Body as the international arena at which joint norms for the realization of Farmers' Rights can be developed.

The paper on which the presentation of Regine Andersen was based can be found here.
The power point slides of the presentation can be found here (edited to allow for easier download).

Briefing on the results of an international e-group discussion on Farmers' Rights
Dr. Bert Visser, Director of the Centre of Genetic Resources, the Netherlands

Bert Visser presented the results of an online discussion group on options for Farmers' Rights that gathered 55 invited participants from all over the world, with a total of 138 contributions. The conference also produced 6 newsletters, an information document for GB3 and a farmer support document. The discussion was divided into three rounds with their own focus: objectives to be reached by creating legal space; current experiences with legal space; and future options for legal space. A number of general observations were made during these discussions and four major questions came out of it:

- Which laws need revision to realize Farmers' Rights?
- How to protect traditional knowledge?
- Which types of benefit-sharing are best?
- How to involve farmers and their organizations?

Four proposals were agreed upon by most participants:

- Requesting the Secretary and FAO to study the options for provisions in national seed legislation of contracting parties with a view to provide recommendations and/or guidelines for the introduction of legislation that would allow for the unrestricted or less restricted sale of farmer varieties.
- Requesting the Secretary of the Treaty and UPOV to study the possible means and mechanisms to streamline Article 9.3 into the UPOV 78/91 regarding protected varieties, in particular regarding the options for provisions in national legislation based on UPOV 78 or 91 that would allow small-scale farmers in developing countries to save, use, sell and exchange protected varieties within their communities.
- Encouraging donors to continue with the online conference group as a forum for further discussion and exchange on the implementation of Farmers' Rights, and to continue helping discussions on the implementation of Farmers Rights through any other means and approaches.
- Encouraging donors to provide financial assistance to help developing countries to organize farmers' workshops to gather inputs for policy decisions on the implementation of Farmers' Rights, seed legislation and intellectual property rights legislation.

The paper on which the presentation of Bert Visser was based can be found here.
The power point slides of the presentation can be found here.

Possible next steps for the Governing Body as seen by an NGO
Wilhelmina R. Pelegrina, Executive Director, SEARICE, the Philippines

Ms. Pelegrina emphasized how the subject of Farmers' Rights is part of the institutional history of SEARICE, and how their current work regarding seeds and food issues are anchored in Farmers' Rights and the right to participation. This work was first initiated in 1996 when SEARICE facilitated the participation of farmers in the preparations of the report on the state of plant genetic resources in the Philippines, and since then the organization has organized consultations and discussions on the content of Farmers' Rights and the realization of these rights. SEARICE also supports farmers in relation to on-farm conservation and the management of local seed systems and agricultural biodiversity, and Ms. Pelegrina said that it was these efforts that allowed her and SEARICE to advance some suggestions regarding what the Governing Body could do to advance Farmers' Rights.

Ms. Pelegrina underlined how the farmer suggestions from the Second Session of the Governing Body regarding recognition, participation, legal space and on-farm conservation were still relevant two years later because there is still only very minimal support to on-farm conservation and sustainable use. Allowing unhindered on-farm conservation and sustainable use by farmers protects traditional knowledge and the right of farmers to save, use, conserve, exchange and sell plant genetic resources. On-farm conservation and sustainable use are therefore important operational aspects of Farmers' Rights. She then presented the following wish list as to what the Governing Body should do:

- prioritize Farmers' Rights with regard to the funding strategy
- create a Global Fund that can support farmers and on-farm conservation
- link ex-situ conservation efforts to in-situ/on-farm conservation work
- link the work of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and their support to genebanks for the regeneration of unique collections and other activities to the distribution, 'regeneration' and strengthening of on-farm conservation
- ask the Global Crop Diversity Trust to conduct studies on the access of farmers to ex-situ material
- ask the CGIAR to conduct studies on the role of farmers in addressing climate change
- call for regular reports on the state of Farmers' Rights implementation, financed by the secretariat and with a special emphasis on reporting by farmers themselves
- ensure farmer participation at Governing Body sessions

Hoping that action would be taken by the Governing Body, Ms. Pelegrina also wanted contracting parties to find ways to support the efforts of farmers regarding on-farm conservation, local seed systems and the management of local biodiversity, as well as to facilitate farmer discussions to enable farmers to give Farmers' Rights the content they think this concept should have.

The side event was concluded with a plenary discussion. A representative from UPOV underlined that UPOV deals with new varieties and that in his opinion the UPOV convention does not represent a problem to Farmers' Rights, because there are time limits on the protected varieties and because of the breeders' and farmers' exemptions. A farmer from Honduras, on the other hand, did not agree with this presentation and said that the right to save, use and exchange seeds was a right he had been born with and not something that can be given to him, for example through a farmers' exemption, or taken away from him.

A representative from Via Campesina Brazil stressed the need for action and argued that farmers are at risk if nothing is done right now. She saw it as important to defend the rights of farmers in general and their rights to seed in particular, because without farmers there would be no seed. One participant felt that it is very important for the Treaty to take the old norms of indigenous societies into account and wanted there to be more talk about the obligations of multi-national companies.

A participant from France said that although he appreciated the collection of different views done by the Farmers' Rights Project at the FNI, he did not agree on the centrality of Farmers' Rights to the Treaty, but saw it as one of many components. He saw locally and nationally adapted laws as central to the implementation of the Treaty, but underscored that he did not view the Indian law from 2001 as a success story, as it would place intellectual property in the public domain and this would be in conflict with the Plant Treaty. The discussion was concluded by a participant who underlined what he saw as the difference between rights, which he thought of as natural and god-given and just affirmed by the law, and an exemption, the last one only being an 'allowance' that has been given from the authorities and not a right as such.

Relevant links and documents:
   Invitation and programme
   Paper on which the presentation by Regine Andersen was based
   Power Point presentation by Regine Andersen (edited to allow for easier download)
   Paper on which the presentation by Bert Visser was based
   Power Point presentation by Bert Visser
   Coverage of the side event in the Earth Negotiation Bulletin

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 7 July 2009