Ottawa, September 27, 2016- Today, a three day Global Consultation on Farmers’ Rights (Sept. 27-30, 2016) started in Bali organized by the Government of Indonesia and  The Government of Norway, under the aegis of The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). USC Canada, like many other Civil society organizations and farmers from around the world, is attending this consultation to help contracting parties of the Treaty (governments) recognize and implement farmers rights, and to reject the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) legislation and patent laws that endanger food sovereignty.

Why Farmers’ Rights?

For millennia, farmers have selected, saved, used, exchanged and sold seeds. In doing so, farmers have enabled the free movement of germ plasm and nurtured the diversity that has formed the basis of global agriculture today. Yet, the once free movement of germplasm is now very much restricted, namely due to the:

  • Increased concentration of private ownership of seeds– for instance, if Bayer’s recent offer to buy Monsanto for $66 billion is approved, the merged Bayer-Monsanto company would control 29% of the seed market.  With other impending mergers in the seeds and agri-chemical industry (Dow & Dupont as well as ChemChina and Syngenta), only three companies would control up to 61% of the seed market.
  • Pushed by trade agreements and economic imperatives, National seeds policies and laws are increasingly infringing on farmers rights, and not recognizing farmers’ seed system.

Our food security and ability to adapt to climate change are intimately linked to farmers’ access to a diverse range of peasant seeds and their right to keep, use, exchange and sell farm seeds. Indeed, many reports, such as the latest IPES report, have shown that on-farm crop diversity, nurtured by peasant farmers , is not only crucial for food security, it contributes to more resilient food and ecosystems, and reduces the risk of crop failures. As shown by the latest Compendium by the Global Alliance on the Future of Food, stronger recognition and support for farmers rights in  public policies  is required, in order to move towards a more sustainable, food secure, and resilient food system.

Farmers’ Rights and the International Seed Treaty

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Farmer in Kharpunath (Humla) showcasing some of the different varieties of maize and millet that he grows and saves on his farm in the steep Nepal highlands. Credit: USC Canada

The International Treaty defines Farmers’ Rights as the right “to save, use, exchange and sell farm-save seed and other propagating materials, and to participate in decision making regarding the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture”.  Farmers Rights are currently embedded in only one major legal instrument- Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). But Farmers’ Rights play an important role there.  Farmers’ Rights are actually a cornerstone in the implementation of the International Treaty.

Yet, fifteen years since the Treaty came into force, the realization of Farmers’ Rights, which rest on national governments and on voluntary terms (each country is free to choose the measures deemed necessary and appropriate, in accordance with its own needs and priorities), has been painfully slow.

The implementation of Farmers’ Rights has been addressed at each sessions of the Governing Body of the Plant Treaty but with very little progress. At its Sixth Session, in October 2015, the Governing Body invited contracting Parties and relevant organizations “to take initiatives to convene regional workshops and other consultations including with farmers’ organizations, for the exchange of knowledge, views and experiences to promote the realization of Farmers’ Rights as set out in Article 9 of the Treaty”, and present results at the next session of the Governing Body in 2017. On this basis, the Governments of Indonesia and Norway offered to co-host a global consultation on Farmers’ Rights in Indonesia.

What is the Global Consultation on Farmers’ Rights All About?

Building on the outcomes of the previous consultations held in Zambia in 2007 and in Ethiopia in 2010, the consultations in Indonesia will again bring together a broad range of stakeholders for constructive dialogue. The consultation will address why Farmers’ Rights matter, explore different challenges for their realizations and identify possible ways of further strengthening the realisation of Farmers’ Rights. The outcome of this global consultation will be presented at the Seventh Session of the Governing Body in October 2017.

As we know, rights are very important but not enough. Rights need to be coupled with the power and capacity to exercise these rights. During the Global consultation, Civil Society and farmers hope to work with the Governing Body to identify concrete measures and guidelines that could be taken to protect, promote and realize these rights, especially in the following areas:

  • The protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;
  • The right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;
  • The right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and
  • The right that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate.

The Seedmap team is following the consultations. Keep your eyes peeled for our next blog posts with highlights from successes and challenges coming out of the Global Consultation.

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