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Rome, 19 - 23 April 1999


Report by Patrick Mulvany, ITDG

Governments Terminate Farmers' Rights to Seeds? CSO Press Release

Interventions by ITDG on Farm Animal Genetic Resources

Intervention by Ghana on Agricultural Biodiversity

Key paras from CGRFA Report

Via Campesina - Statement on Farmers' Rights (12/96)

Link to FAO provisional report, papers and information documents

Report by Patrick Mulvany, ITDG

The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) is on the point of formally recognising Farmers' Rights while simultaneously creating an internationally binding opportunity for Governments to deny Farmers their inalienable Rights to save seeds.

Civil Society Organisations, including Southern NGO participants and the Farmers' organisation - Via Campesina (supported by RAFI and the UK Food Group) were effective at the April Commission meeting in keeping issues of Farmers' Rights, Terminator technology and other biotechnologies, and the future of the Leipzig Global Plan of Action on the Plenary agenda.

Side meetings were also organised by ITDG, IATP and RAFI on the future of the Leipzig Global Plan of Action and by FAO on the Convention on Biological Diversity expert paper on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs, which include Terminator Technologies). But CSOs were not effective in getting substantial commitments by the CGRFA to actions that would support the majority of farmers in the world.

The completion of inter-governmental negotiations for the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources [IU] in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity was the main item on the agenda.

This was not achieved and the outcome was 'fudged' to accommodate divergent views (multilateralists vs bilateralists?) and Farmers' Rights were poorly treated but there was a welcome commitment by Governments to meet again…

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", however, so there are still opportunities in another 3 or 4 negotiating sessions to ensure that the International Undertaking is a document that will have weight, credibility and value for the sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture with full implementation of Farmers' Rights.

But the Commission needs to speed up its deliberations. It needs to ensure that it is in a position to guide the genetic resources Titanic, crewed by the WTO and UPOV with OECD Upper Deck passengers and steerage class CBD hopefuls, away from disaster to a food secure haven. All should benefit from the sustained use of these vital resources, but especially the millions of creative farmers, noted on the ship's manifest but forgotten in the bilges.

There was some progress but there were set-backs. There continues to be a wide consensus among governments that the IU should take the form of a legally-binding instrument, closely linked to FAO and the Convention on Biodiversity. Some progress was made on two Articles- Articles 11 (Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing) and 12 (Coverage of the Multilateral System). The Commission noted that, in discussing Article 13 (Facilitated Access within the Multilateral System) it had been agreed to integrate Annex II of the Composite Draft Text into the text of the Article, although there is no agreement on which species should be included in the Annex.

On Article 15 (Farmers' Rights) there was late-night agreed text but disagreements about the implications of this - Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were very dismissive of the outcome of this negotiation (see CSO Press Release - Governments Terminate Farmers' Rights to Seeds?) and some countries may re-open the debate. CSOs stressed the imperative that the IU includes implementation of legally-binding, internationally recognised and meaningful Farmers' Rights, not the watered-down acknowledgement that Farmers' Rights are strictly in the gift of Governments. The CGRFA agreed UPOV-like wording that is not acceptable.

The 'progress', as measured by seasoned insiders, is slow and potentially terminal. The revised IU - the first international instrument to regulate access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the sharing of benefits derived from them - will not be ready for adoption by the FAO Conference in November 1999, as planned. Rather, resources are being sought for two meetings of the 40 Country (+ the EU) Contact Group this year, a further meeting next year and an Extraordinary Session of the CGRFA (before May 2000). Will the Commission miss the boat?

While the A team of the Contact Group wrestled with the IU in the heat of the Lebanon Room, other key areas of the agenda were relegated to the B team in the Red Room. These included Farm Animal genetic resources, wider aspects of sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, biotechnology, the implementation of the Leipzig Global Plan of Action, the future programme of work of the Commission and so on. If the negotiations of the Undertaking were going as slowly as an ocean liner changing course, the B Team's issues, of equal importance in many people's eyes, were raced through at the speed of a high speed catamaran fleeing an antipodean typhoon.

Farm animal genetic resources were dealt with effectively with a commitment to carrying out a Global Assessment in the next Biennium. The Commission wants to engage in deliberations about the Code of Conduct on Biotechnology. All would like to see more implementation of the Leipzig Global Plan of Action with increased FAO commitment.

Some details slipped from the final report and, disappointingly, the Commission did not push FAO to accelerate the exciting agenda on Agricultural Biodiversity, being developed by the FAO with the CBD, which the FAO Conference in November would do well to heed - a priority not only for universal food and livelihood security but a lifeline for FAO itself.

The issues being dealt with by the Commission are too important to be skewed by corporate and proprietary interests. They are fundamentally about Rights - Farmers' Rights, the Right to Productive Resources, the Right to Food, Human Rights. Civil Society needs to clamour for these Rights to be recognised and implemented in the interests of the many.

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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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Farm Animal Genetic Resources


Farm Animal Genetic Resources:


Thank you Chair for allowing the opportunity to make an intervention. As you well know NGOs participate actively in many practical activities for the safeguarding of domestic livestock breeds.

We are alarmed, as you are, at the rate of erosion of these resources - in our lifetime we have seen the dairy cows of my country (UK) turn mainly black and white. It is through the actions of farmers and herders and concerned civil society groups that most domestic livestock breeds are safeguarded.

Whether it is the pastoralists of northern Kenya whose unique sheep and goat breeds can withstand harsh environments or the seaweed-eating sheep breeds of the outer islands off the north coast of Scotland - it is farmers and herders who have developed these breeds and maintain them in production.

Examples of excellent work by NGOs includes: ·

As the distinguished delegate from Germany has already said, EC Directive 1467/94 is a measure that is being used for safeguarding domestic livestock breeds in Europe. NGOs collaborate in this, as possible.

I would like to end by stating 3 areas of concern: ·

Thank you


... We welcome the decisions of the Commission on this important topic and would like to express our support for the work programme, as agreed.

We consider it important that there is regular funding to underpin this programme of work including the preparation of the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources. With respect to this, we are concerned that it provides tools to help in the assessment of the impact of change in production systems and the introduction of new animal genetic resources on existing livestock breeds and livestock production: the 'State of the World' assessment needs to be a dynamic tool.

We are also very concerned that the Working Group consider the important issues surrounding the use of modern biotechnology and in particular contribute to the debate on the development of a Code of Conduct (or Practice) on the use of Biotechnology within food and agricultural systems. ...

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Intervention By Ghana


... requested that the next meeting of the Commission receive a report on the progress of the joint FAO/CBD programme of work on Agricultural Biodiversity and in this regard welcomed the report of the International Workshop on Agricultural Biodiversity provided to the Commission as CGRFA-8/99/Inf.12 (Sustaining Agricultural Biodiversity and Agro-ecosystem Functions) and the contribution it makes to thinking on this subject.

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Key Paragraphs from the CGRFA Report


6. The Chairman noted that, following the Fourth and Fifth Extraordinary Sessions of theCommission, in 1997 and 1998 respectively, given that there was a desire among countries to complete the negotiations as soon as possible, the FAO Council, at its meeting in November 1998, had unanimously supported his proposal to convene an informal meeting, which was held in Montreux, Switzerland, in January 1999. (The list of participants is given in Appendix C). This meeting was very productive, and the results of the meeting were available to the Commission in the Report of the Chairman of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture on the status of negotiations for the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity. [CGRFA-8/99/Rep 2]1 The Chairman thanked the Governments of Switzerland, the United States of America and Germany, for their financial support for that meeting.

7. The Chairman's Elements derived from that meeting (Appendix F) were incorporated into the appropriate Articles of the Composite Draft Text for the revision of the International Undertaking incorporating the Chairman's Elements.2 The Commission agreed to establish a Contact Group, to continue negotiations for the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, using the Composite Draft Text as the basis for the negotiations. Mr. F. Gerbasi chaired the Contact Group. (The membership of the Contact Group is listed in Appendix D). The Commission agreed to work on the rest of the agenda in parallel. The Vice-Chair, Mr. R. Rose, chaired the Plenary, while the Contact Group was in session.

8. The Chairman reported to the Commission during the final Plenary, that the Contact Group had undertaken wide-ranging discussions of Articles 11 (Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing), 12 (Coverage of the Multilateral System), 13 (Facilitated Access within the Multilateral System) and 15 (Farmers' Rights), and that it had established texts for Articles 11, 12 and 15. These Articles were reviewed by the Commission, and are attached as Appendix E. The Commission noted that, in discussing Article 13, it had been agreed to integrate Annex II of the Composite Draft Text into the text of the Articles. The Commission recognized the very significant progress that had been made, and thanked the members of the Contact Group for their efforts. It expressed great appreciation for the commitment and skilful leadership of the Chairman.


9. The Commission considered the Report of the First Session of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which had met from 8-10 September 1998, to further develop the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources. Ms. Elzbieta Martyniuk (Poland), the Chair of the Working Group, presented its Report to the Commission, noting that it already had been endorsed by the FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG).

10. The Commission noted that animal genetic resources are of crucial importance in sustainable utilization in many production systems, and are essential components in achieving global food security and rural development. The Commission welcomed the Report of the Working Group, and its three recommendations. In particular, it recognized the work already done by countries, stakeholders and non-governmental organizations in animal genetic resource management, and the work already done by FAO in developing the animal genetic resources global strategy, and agreed that FAO should continue to shape more clearly the framework, and further develop the constituent elements, of this Global Strategy, in consultation with countries.

11. The Commission agreed that work on animal genetic resources is a core activity, and thus that FAO should provide adequate Regular Programme budgetary funds to develop the constituents of the Global Strategy. If necessary, extra-budgetary support should be sought from all sources, to assist in building capacities and enabling regional and national level characterization, in situ and ex situ conservation, and the sustainable utilization of farm animal genetic resources. [CGRFA-8/99/Rep 3]

12. The Commission recognized the important role of National Focal Points and urged countries that had not already done so to designate National Focal Points/Coordinators, and, where appropriate, Regional Focal Points. It emphasized the role of Focal Points in coordinating and facilitating activities at the national and regional levels. The Commission noted that some countries were actively supporting the establishment of Regional Focal Points, and these countries reported the progress achieved in this direction.

13. The Commission agreed that FAO should coordinate the development of a country-driven Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources. The process should be consultative and cost-effective. The Secretariat of the Commission reported that extra-budgetary funds would be required to carry out this work.

14. The Commission requested the Secretariat to collect existing information on capacity-building projects and networks, at the regional and country levels, and to utilize the networks for future activities on animal genetic resources. …


34. The Commission noted the important developments in biotechnology/genetechnology as they relate to the conservation and use of genetic resources for food and agriculture, and requested the Secretariat to continue to report on these matters. It also requested the Secretariat to provide, to its Ninth Session, a report on the status of the draft Code of Conduct on Biotechnology as it relates to Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and the International Code of Conduct for Plant Germplasm Collecting and Transfer, so that the Commission could consider what action to take in the future on these Codes of Conduct, in the light of the revised International Undertaking. In addition, the Commission recognized that future developments with respect to a biosafety protocol, and ongoing activities in FAO relating to biotechnology, could influence its future work in this area.


Article 11 - Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing

11.1 In their relationships with other States, Parties recognize the sovereign rights of States over their own plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including that the authority to determine access to those resources rests with national governments and is subject to national legislation.

11.2 In exercise of their sovereign rights, Parties agree to establish a multilateral system, which is efficient, effective, and transparent, to facilitate access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and to share, in a fair and equitable way, the benefits arising from the utilization of these resources.

Article 12 - Coverage of the Multilateral System1

12.1 In furtherance of the objectives of conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use, as stated in Article 1, the multilateral system shall cover the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture listed in Annex I, established according to criteria of food security and interdependence.2

[12.2 The multilateral system shall also cover: (a) material held in ex situ collections by International Agricultural Research Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research3[international centres]4 that accept the provisions of [Annex V to] this Undertaking; [(b) material held in collections of other international institutions that accept the provisions of this Undertaking, and with the agreement of the Governing Body of this Undertaking.]5E2 CGRFA-8/99/Rep

12.3 The Governing Body6 shall keep Annex I under periodic review as well as Annexes II, III and IV on the conditions of access, benefit-sharing and financial resources respectively, taking into account the inter-relationship among those annexes.]


Article 15 - Farmers' Rights

15.1 The Parties recognize the enormous contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world, particularly those in the centres of origin and crop diversity, have made and will continue to make for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources which constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world.

15.2 The Parties agree that the responsibility for realizing Farmers' Rights, as they relate to Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, rests with national governments. In accordance with their needs and priorities, each Party should, as appropriate, and subject to its national legislation, take measures to protect and promote Farmers' Rights, including:

(a) protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;

(b) the right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;

(c) the right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

15.3 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.

NOTES: 1 For further consideration: the issues of the identification and of the end use of material in collections. 2 Adopted ad referendum, and pending the adoption of Article 21, including the issue of the adoption of annexes by consensus. 3 For further consideration: The CGIAR Centres shall respect the rights of countries that provide material or from which material is collected. 4 For further consideration: Specific Conditions shall apply to international centres other than CGIAR Centres. 5 For further consideration. 6 In the text, the term "Governing Body" has been used to designate the intergovernmental body that will implement the revised International Undertaking as a legally binding instrument, without prejudice to the actual status of the instrument. See Article 17.

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