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Governments Terminate Farmers' Rights to Seeds?


National governments could use intellectual property laws to prevent farmers from saving and exchanging seed - a 12 thousand year-old custom - if they do not change their minds at crucial negotiations in Rome, where 161 countries are negotiating new rules covering the seeds of food crops and the rights of farmers at the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at FAO.

The new rules will be part of a treaty on the exchange of agricultural germplasm called the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, which was first formally adopted by FAO in 1983. Farmers' Rights were added in 1989. They were endorsed by the 1992 Earth Summit of Rio de Janeiro and the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Until now, most South governments negotiating the Undertaking have championed Farmers’ Rights, especially the right of farmers to save, exchange, and sell seeds - patented or not.

"If this text stands, it could be used to establish the primacy of national patent laws over Farmers’ Rights. Government negotiators at FAO are legislating away the human rights and food security of 1.4 billion rural people to the monopoly interest of agribusiness", said Silvia Ribeiro of Uruguay.

The rules tar all types of seeds - traditional and patented -- with the same brush. "It could be even worse than the World Trade Organisation’s patent and agriculture policies," said Alberto Gomez Flores of Via Campesina, the global peasants’ organization. "It would allow governments to prevent farmers from using seeds we have bred ourselves."

"We know this was not their aim," concedes Pat Mooney of RAFI "but the problem now is whether diplomats can climb off their high horses, admit they made a mistake late at night, and fix it."

Via Campesina and other civil society organizations attending the FAO meeting as observers have drafted alternative text reinstating the right of farmers to save, exchange and sel1 seed as well as their complementary rights to land, water and their cultures.

The crunch comes tonight during the final plenary. "If they change the text as we have proposed," said Kristin Dawkins of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, "they will deserve the respect and appreciation of farmers around the world."



The following segments of key text on Farmers’ Rights show the situation as described above.

At the beginning of the week, the draft read:

"… the right to use, exchange, and, in the case of landraces and varieties that are no longer registered, market farm-saved seeds…"

On Wednesday night, the diplomats changed the text to:

"Nothing in this Article shall be interpreted to limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate."

On Thursday, farm and rural advocacy groups proposed as an alternative:

"…the right to save, use, exchange and sell seeds and other propagating material and, in the case of seeds and other propagating material restricted by National law, the right to sell them in their customary manner and markets…"

For more information contact:

In Rome, Pat Mooney: +39-06 513 4955 Room 303

In Winnipeg, RAFI: +1 201453 5259

In UK, Patrick Mulvany: +44 1788 66 11 00

In Minneapolis, Kristin Dawkins: +1 612 870-3410

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