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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Examining the linkages between trade and food security: What is your experience?

Sudhir Kochhar
Sudhir KochharARS (Retd.), Ex-ICARIndia

Last but not the least; I would like to address your question from the viewpoint of intellectual property rights and equity (farmers’ rights; access and benefit sharing), which are equally important in determining the availability of food resources for trade and development. My observations and comments are given in the attached file.

Availability of food is dependent on production wherein progressively enhanced productivity of crops, animals, poultry and fish is necessary to enhance production for meeting the ever-increasing demand. The trade agreements administered by the WTO do no directly determine the policies to ensure food availability but indirectly the agreement on trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) and the sanitary and phytosanitary agreement (SPS) affect the availability of food resources through innovative biological interventions and by ensuring their safe transboundary movement, respectively,

‘Food security and sustainable agriculture’ is one of the 7 priority areas of Rio +20. Further, the United Nations’ Agenda 21 as well as the FAO Global System have accorded priority to conservation and sustainable utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture (GRFA) including a time bound commitment for their integration into sustainable agriculture. Similarly, ‘conservation of habitats’ was advocated much earlier by the United Nations Environment Programme in the Stockholm Declaration wherein some of the habitats could be harboring wild relatives of crop plants.  Nonetheless, a grand challenge is to visualize and agree upon how to, where to, and how much In situ On Farm conservation of the existing conventional crop materials should be promoted, and the smallholder conservers incentivized for the same through policy interventions to ensure a progressive germplasm input for crop improvement for posterity. 

The non-legally binding FAO international undertaking (IUPGR) was transformed into the first legally binding international treaty (ITPGRFA) to accommodate the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) particularly the facilitated access, and a revised agreed interpretation of the IUPGR i.e. the realization of farmers’ rights. The WTO Agreements are neutral to these developments. However, the protection of plant breeders’ rights, a model brought forward from the UPOV Convention, which was another revised agreed interpretation of the IUPGR, could not be addressed in its successor ITPGRFA. The TRIPS Agreement under the WTO mandated the protection of plant varieties in member countries, either by patents, or a sui generis IPR or a combination of the two. However, the implementation of this part of the trade agreement by the WTO members has been selective. 

As of now, the UPOV membership is increasing. There are 72 members and 59 observer States in the UPOV Council, and some non-member countries are observers in its Administrative and Legal Committee (CAL) and/or the Technical Committee. In addition to the 59 observer states, UPOV Council also has 19 Intergovernmental Organizations and 31 International Non Governmental Organizations as Observers. On the other hand, inclination of some other countries to emphasize that they have adopted a non-UPOV model is affecting homogenization, which is urgently required. It is a fact that irrespective of the membership or models adopted, all countries that have their PVP laws in place have adopted the basics of the UPOV model law. This includes the standards for determination of eligibility of varieties for the grant of title (i.e. novelty, distinctness, uniformity, stability, and distinct denomination), the test guidelines (UPOV test guidelines or the national test guidelines that are also developed more or less based on UPOV guidelines), the reference varieties to compare candidate varieties (UPOV and national sets for respective crops), the research and breeding exemption, etc. The UPOV system is progressively developing argument and practices to accord farmers’ exemptions under its 1991 model. But there is much more to be done to bridge the gap in overall understanding of the PVP law for moving closer towards international harmony in context of sui generis PVP as per the TRIPS-UPOV. At the same time, realization of farmers’ rights could be strengthened under ITPGRFA.

In addition to PVP, another important area needing priority attention of the international community including the business world is international understanding on germplasm collecting and transfer to safeguard increased availability of food through breeding, plant improvement and business/trade in plant varieties. In 1994, during the consolidation of the IUPGR and its revised agreed interpretations, FAO also brought out an ‘International code of conduct for plant germplasm collecting and transfer’ (ICCPGCT). The intergovernmental body negotiating the revision of IUPGR in harmony with CBD had also recommended that the code should be reviewed and revised after the finalization and enforcement of the Treaty (ITPGRFA). Much has changed but the revision is still pending. On the other hand, enormous stakes are involved in generating progressively evolved germplasm and its access to breeders and researchers for utilization and benefit sharing.

The degree, variability and intensity of human intervention in agriculture is bound to increase with increased pressures from opposite forces shrinking the agriculture resource base. This could be detrimental to both trade and food security.  Small-scale farmers in agro-biodiverse settings have limitation in their understanding to develop their own niche markets and value chains that may have capability to scale up and are compatible with global markets. Protection of geographical indications (GI) could be ideal in two ways. First, for promoting dual protection of competitive farmer varieties, i.e. by GI in addition to their protection under the PVP law, and secondly to extend unlimited (on a time scale) protection to the promising ones through renewal of registration. However, for the time being, this is far from being an adequate preposition to safeguard food security beyond the real-time climate change scenario, and further indulgence is required.