What are farmer's rights?
As an annex to the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (unanimously adopted through Conference Resolution 8/833) the Conference Resolution 5/894 defines Farmers' Rights as "rights arising from the past, present and future contribution of farmers in conserving, improving and making available plant genetic resources, particularly those in the centres of origin/diversity." The purpose of these rights is stated to be "ensuring full benefits to farmers and supporting the continuation of their contributions."
3 Extract of the Twenty-Second Session of the FAO Conference, Rome, 5-23 November 1983
4 Extract of the Twenty-Fifth Session of the FAO Conference, Rome, 11-29 November 1989As part of this Resolution, the 25th Session of the FAO Conference endorsed the concept of Farmers Rights with a view to:
· ensuring global recognition of the need for conservation and the availability of sufficient funds for these purposes;
· assisting farmers and farming communities throughout the world, especially those in areas of original diversity of plant genetic resources, in the protection and conservation of their PGR and of the natural biosphere; and,
· allowing the full participation of farmers, their communities and countries in the benefits derived, at present and in the future, from the improved use of PGR.
During the 26th Session of the FAO Conference, Resolution 3/915 was also adopted unanimously by over 170 countries, endorsing that:
· nations have sovereign rights over their plant genetic resources;
· breeders' lines and farmers' breeding material should only be available at the discretion of their developers during the Grind of development
· Farmers Rights wild be implemented through an international fund on PGR which will support PGR conservation and utilization programmes, particularly, but not exclusively, in the developing countries;
· in view of the pressing and permanent need for effective conservation and sustainable use of PGR, the resources for the international fund and other funding mechanisms should be substantial, sustainable and based on principles of equity and transparency; and,
· through the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the donors of genetic resources, funds and technology will determine and oversee the policies, programmes and priorities of the fund and other funding mechanisms, with the advice of the appropriate bodies.
5 Extract of the Twenty-Sixth Session of the FAO Conference, Rome, 9-27 November 1991
The concept of Farmers' Rights provides a measure of counterbalance to "formal' Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and patents that compensate for the latest innovations with little consideration of the fact that, in many cases, these innovations are only the most recent step of accumulative knowledge and inventions that have been carried out over millennia by generations of men and women in different parts of the world (FAO, 1 995a).
Farmers' Rights arise from the past, present and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving and making available PGR, particularly in centres of origin. They are not assigned to specific varieties, types of plants, or to specific farmers. Their purpose is to encourage farmers and farming communities to nurture and conserve, and to utilize and improve, plant genetic resources (FAO, 1996).
All modern plant varieties contain only those genes that have originated from farmers' traditional varieties (landraces) or wild crop relatives. Yet in many instances, the small scale fanning communities of women and men in the centres of crop diversity are not the farmers to whom improved crop varieties have been provided. Yet these are the women and men which have historically provided the germplasm upon which scientific plant breeding is based. It could be said that germplasm is provided by small-scale subsistence farmers to plant breeders whose varieties are then adapted/developed for medium to large scale commercial farmers (Spillane, 1996).
The contributions of communities to the conservation and regeneration of plant genetic resources (PGR) have been substantial and it has been widely agreed that there should be some form of recognition of their tremendous value, not only to the communities, but also to the nations and to the world as a whole. However, a number of key questions remain, including: how to recognize and attribute a "true' value to these contributions. Furthermore, there has been much debate on how to "activate" or "implement" Farmers Rights, particularly in a way that respects both the tangible, and the not so tangible, contributions of the various actors experimenting with, and conserving, PGR.