| FNI NEWS
Farmers as Custodians of Plant Genetic Resources: Need
for Legal Space
(23.06.06) Farmers are the custodians of
agrobiodiversity worldwide, crucial for food security and poverty alleviation.
However, the legal space for farmers to maintain this role is rapidly
decreasing due to the proliferation of various forms of rules and regulations.
This is documented in the Farmers' Rights Project, led by the Fridtjof Nansen
Institute. Project results were presented during a recent FAO meeting, and may
have contributed to a small breakthrough in the work towards realisation of
FAO's International Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) provides for the realisation of
Farmers' Rights, but it does not define the concept and there is uncertainty as
to how this can be done.
Since March 2005, the Fridtjof Nansen Institute
(FNI) has led the international Farmers' Rights Project, with affiliated
experts in India, Peru and Ethiopia, aimed at providing an empirical basis for
constructive proposals to ITPGRFA's Governing Body on how Farmers' Rights can
At a side event during the Governing Body's First Session
in Madrid 12-16 June 2006, FNI Project Leader Regine
Andersen presented the project's main conclusions so far:
- The active use of diverse plant genetic resources in
agriculture is currently at risk in more and more countries. Various forms of
legislation (like certification rules, intellectual property rights and access
legislation) increasingly restrict farmers' legal space to continue these
customary agricultural practices. Farmers' Rights represent a strategic
instrument to create sufficient legal space within the legislative contexts in
the various countries to ensure that farmers' practices of maintaining
agro-biodiversity can continue.
- With the rapid genetic erosion in agriculture, distinct
incentive structures are needed to ensure further maintenance of plant genetic
diversity. Farmers' Rights represent a strategic instrument also in this
regard, as they involve rewarding farmers for their contributions to the global
pool of genetic resources.
Following the side event, Norway proposed in the
Governing Body that Farmers' Rights be included in the programme of work, and
requested the Secretariat to prepare for the consideration of this issue at the
Second Session of the Governing Body. The proposal was supported by many
developing countries and subsequently adopted.
- There are different, and potentially conflicting,
approaches to farmers' rights, which can be divided into two main directions of
thought: The ownership approach emphasizes the right of farmers to be
economically rewarded for genetic material obtained from their fields which is
used in commercial varieties and/or protected with intellectual property
rights. The stewardship approach, on the other hand, emphasizes the
rights that farmers must be granted in order to enable them to continue as
stewards of agricultural plant diversity. If the main objective of Farmers'
Rights is to maintain agro-biodiversity and to eradicate poverty, then the
stewardship approach is clearly the most suitable, and any measures to ensure
farmers' ownership rights to plant genetic material should be subordinate to
Farmers' rights have been a controversial issue
since it was first brought up in the FAO in 1986, says Project Leader Regine
Our aim has been to build bridges across old
controversies and seek to develop a common understanding of how these rights
can be realised. The Farmers' Rights Project has succeeded in the endeavour and
the results were very well received at the side event. Bringing farmers' rights
back in on the agenda of the Governing Body provides unique opportunities to
promote the realisation of these rights, she ends.
Farmers' Rights Project
Farmers' Rights Project summary
of phase 1 findings (PDF)
release from the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food (in
news release on the side event
FNI research on biological
|The Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) is an
independent foundation engaged in research on international environmental,
energy, and resource management politics.
The Institute maintains a
multi-disciplinary approach, with main emphasis on political science,
economics, and international law.