The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture: toward the realization of farmers' rights as a means of protecting and enhancing crop genetic diversity

In Charles R. McManis and Burton Ong (eds), Routledge Handbook of Biodiversity and the Law. Abingdon, Routledte, 2018, pp. 135-153

Farmers have been custodians and developers of crop genetic diversity since the dawn of agriculture.  During the past century, plant breeding has been singled out as an own profession and the innovations have been protected by intellectual property rights. As a result, the legal space for farmers to continue to contribute to the genetic pool is being reduced. These challenges are addressed in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The chapter presents a historical overview of the process related to farmers' rights under the Treaty along with a model for understanding these developments through a 'stewardship' and 'ownership' approach. The stewardship approach describes the idea that agrobiodiversity as a principle belongs to the common heritage of mankind and that it should be shared for the common good as part of the public domain. The ownership approach evolved in response to the growing economic stakes of biotechnologies in the second half of the last century, followed by demands for intellectual property rights to protect and promote inventions. The emerging power asymmetries were met with the demands for securing the control over genetic resources for the purported owners of these resources. By understanding the different rationales behind the negotiations in the Governing Body of the Treaty, it might become clearer how they affect the conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources. A combination of the two approaches is required to solve the current situation. Awareness of the challenges, political priority, and international cooperation are required to make farmers’ rights a reality.



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