| THE FARMERS' RIGHTS
Side Event on Farmers'
Rights at the Third Session of the Governing Body
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Pelegrina, Executive Director, SEARICE, the Philippines
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
- 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
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
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
Relevant links and documents:
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
Point presentation by Bert Visser
Coverage of the
side event in the Earth Negotiation Bulletin
Pages in this sub-section:
THE SECOND PHASE OF THE FARMERS' RIGHTS
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'
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