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• 21•07•2011 •

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International Seed Treaty

4th session of the Governing Body, Bali, 14 - 18 March 2011

Negotiating global rules for Agricultural Biodiversity in support of Food Sovereignty;
Recognising Farmers' Collective Rights - enabling on-farm conservation and development of PGRFA

Updated 21 July 2011

4th session of the Governing Body, 14 - 18 March


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The Governing Body has to galvanise action to save the world's Agricultural Biodiversity

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As intended by architects of the Treaty, its principal outcomes should be to staunch the haemorrhage of the on-farm diversity of seeds and related agricultural biodiversity and to ensure that this diversity is freely available to future generations of farmers who defend diversity.

The Treaty recognises that this diversity has been developed in fields and gardens by farmers, gardeners, indigenous peoples and other food providers, over millennia, and that they continue to manage and develop it. Without their unrestricted participation in these activities, agricultural biodiversity, enhanced through the free exchange of seeds and other planting material between growers, communities, countries and continents that produced a myriad of varieties suited to every social, environmental and food need, will continue to be eroded.

This participation will not be achieved without international recognition of farmers' inalienable rights over agricultural biodiversity and support for their continued production of food crops in diverse environments. Achieving this should be the key task for the Governing Body of the Treaty.

The translation of farmers' inalienable rights over agricultural biodiversity to the limited interpretation, within national law, of “Farmers' Rights” – as expressed in Article 9 – should not preclude the Governing Body from deciding on actions related to other Articles that also impinge on the rights of farmers in relation to the realisation of the purposes of the Treaty: for example:

•  Conservation and Sustainable Use (Articles 5 and 6);

•  The proscription of monopoly privileges being granted on any farmers' varieties (Article 12.3.d);

•  Sharing of benefits derived from the commercial use of seeds for food (MLS); and the

•  Funding mechanism – that should primarily support on-farm conservation (Article 18).

Realisation of their inalienable rights over agricultural biodiversity will require recognition of the collective rights of farmers and other food providers and support for their activities.

These collective rights encompass a broader range of issues than simply access to and use of seeds. La Via Campesina, in 1996, articulated these eloquently at the fourth extraordinary meeting of the CGRFA.

The Governing Body should, therefore, through legally-binding decisions about the implementation of several Articles in the Treaty, find ways of involving and supporting small-scale farmers and other food providers and their organisations, and promoting the diversity that is managed by them.

To do this, the Governing Body will need to find ways, including through influencing the implementation of other instruments such as those of the CBD, of recognising farmers' collective rights to, inter alia : agricultural biodiversity, its sustainable use and the benefits derived from this; territory and land; water; local markets; services including research; as well as rights to organise and to be decisively involved in relevant decision making processes.

It is 13 years since the agreement of the Leipzig Global Plan of Action for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. This shifted the priority of activities from ex situ to in situ and on-farm conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA as the mechanism for sustaining agricultural biodiversity related to crop plants. There was little or no progress in implementing the GPA, pending the agreement of the Treaty. The Treaty is now 5 years old – time to start growing up and doing all the things needed to save agricultural biodiversity (on-farm, of course).

Patrick Mulvany

1996 Intervention to the FAO/CGRFA by Via Campesina


Intervention of Vía Campesina to the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, on the Revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources

Last June, in Leipzig , Vía Campesina had the opportunity to present the proposal that Farmers' Rights , the Global Plan of Action, and the terms of the International Undertaking should be implemented through a broad-based consultation process with producer's organisations, peasants, indigenous people, and farmers. The fact that our declaration was incorporated in the Leipzig conference report in paragraph 30, recording our request for a permanent and flexible consultation process that will permit the participation and adequate representation of all stakeholders, is very important to us.

Now, we wish to ask you to bring about this consultation, and we restate our position that this Commission and the FAO, as representatives of the international community, should support a consultation process at national, regional and international levels that guarantees the integral participation of farmers, as the best mechanism that governments have to develop policies for implementing the Rights of their peoples.

It is appropriate now to describe the principles on which the international community should recognize Farmers' Rights , among which should be included:

  1. Farmers' Rights have a deep historic character, have existed since humans created agriculture to serve their necessities, have remained vital through our conservation of biodiversity, and we endorse them with our constant generation of new resources and their improvement. We are the guardians of these genetic resources, which support the evolution of species. We are the inheritors of the skills and knowledge of the generations that have created this biological wealth, and for this we only ask that you recognize our Rights.
  2. Farmers' Rights include the right over resources and associated knowledge, united indivisibly, and mean the acceptance of traditional knowledge, respect for cultures and recognition that these are the basis of the creation of knowledge.
  3. The right to control, the right to decide the future of genetic resources, the rights to define the legal framework of property rights of these resources.
  4. Farmers' Rights are of an eminently collective nature and for this reason should be recognized in a different framework from that of private property.
  5. These rights should have a national application, and the Undertaking should promote legislation to this effect, respecting the sovereignty of each country, to establish local laws based on these principles.
  6. Rights to the means to conserve biodiversity and achieve food security, such as territorial rights, right to land, right to water and air.
  7. The right to participate in the definition, elaboration, and execution of policies and programmes linked to genetic resources.
  8. The right to appropriate technology as well as participation in the design and management of research programmes.
  9. The right to define the control and handling of benefits derived from the use, conservation and management of these resources.
  10. The right to use, choose, store and freely exchange genetic resources.
  11. The right to develop models of sustainable agriculture that protect biodiversity and to influence the policies that support it.

Vía Campesina rejects intellectual property rights and the patenting of any form of life or of knowledge associated with these genetic resources because it is a threat to biodiversity and results in the legalization of the expropriation of knowledge and resources by industrial companies and transnational corporations. The fact that 95% of food-related patents are concentrated in only 7 countries and a few companies serves as sufficient example. We want to alert our governments to the danger that the monopolization of knowledge by a few transnationals threatens the future of humanity.

Food security is now one of the great concerns of humanity. Eliminating the hunger of 800 million poor people in the world is a task intimately linked to the work of this Commission. Food security is only possible if there is sufficient support for agricultural biodiversity, whose conservation and sustainable use we farmers have achieved through generations of implementing Farmers' Rights . Now, ladies and gentlemen, all that remains is to recognize them. Thank You. FAO, Rome , December 10, 1996

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The increase in frequency and seriousness of food, economic and energy crises and also climate

change is forcing small scale farmers worldwide to adapt their cropping systems to the rapid

changes taking place in their environment. Dynamic conservation and the sustainable use of

cultivated biodiversity, agricultural systems, social systems and associated traditional knowledge are

at the heart of this adaptation on which the food of future generations depends. Many local

initiatives in Europe are already developing a variety of dynamic conservation practices linked to the

sustainable use, development and valorization of cultivated biodiversity.

The undersigned organizations from different European countries:

1) Acknowledge the importance of implementing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic

Resources for Food and Agriculture negotiated under the FAO framework (organization of

the United Nations), which recognizes the invaluable past, present and future contribution of

farmers to the conservation and sustainable use of cultivated biodiversity

2) Recall that the European Union and its Member States ratified it

3) Note that despite the numerous political and scientific declarations on the necessity to

develop on farm conservation:

3.1. The Member States and the European Commission do not recognize the local

initiatives of seed networks, peasant farmer and civil society organizations. In addition,

their laws and rules, which are only adapted to large-scale distribution, industrial

agriculture and its seeds, are blocking these initiatives. The national governments and the

European Commission forget that there exists in Europe a non-industrial seed system

referred to as „informal”. Hence, they do not respect the signature of article 6 of the

Treaty on the sustainable use of cultivated biodiversity, the application of which is


3.2. The current European directive on „conservation varieties” will only allow the

cultivation of a limited number of fixed local varieties based on one old phenotype. The

requirements for the registration of these varieties have the same logic as the official

catalogue. They exclude all intra-varietal diversity and variability, which are necessary

conditions for the renewal and sustainable use of biodiversity and the maintenance of a

more economic and autonomous agriculture.

3.3. The current legislation on seeds for organic farming enhances the erosion of

cultivated biodiversity.

3.4. The collective rights of farmers defined by article 9 of the Treaty, whose application is

entrusted to national governments, are still not recognized in European countries. We

observe that these rights do not prevent ‘Farmer's Privilege' which allows farmers to

resow a part of their harvest as payment for breeding.

4) Demand from the European Union and the Member States to:

4.1. Recognize in their Directives, rules and laws farmers' rights to conserve, use,

exchange and market seeds originating from past, present and future peasant

farmer breeding, to protect their traditional knowledge and to participate to

national decisions on the management of agricultural biodiversity,

4.2. Facilitate public information and farmers' access to resources in public collections

and ensure protection against contamination from genetic manipulation,

4.3. Apply fully article 6 of the Treaty by politically and legally acknowledging local

initiatives and by applying the following measures:

a) Elaborate agricultural policies encouraging the introduction and the maintenance

of diversified agricultural systems that foster the sustainable use of agricultural


b) Reinforce and conserve cultivated biodiversity by maximizing intra- an interspecific

variation for the benefit of farmers, in particular those, who create and

use their own varieties and/or apply ecologic principles in the maintenance of

soil fertility and fight against diseases, weeds and harmful organisms,

c) Promote participatory research and breeding for farmers' varieties specifically

adapted to different social, economic and ecologic conditions

4.4. Make public each country's complete report they will present at the meeting of the

Treaty's Governing Body in Tunisia in June 2009 on the sustainable development of

biodiversity and on the respect of farmers' rights in Europe .

Organizations that have promoted the letter:

1. Heritage Seed Library ( England / United Kingdom )

2. IG für gentechnikfreie Saatgutarbeitt (Germany)

3. Protect the future (Hungary)

4. Red de Semillas “ Resembrando e Intercambiando” (Spain)

5. Réseau des semences paysannes (France)

6. Rete Semi Rurali ( Italy )

Organizations that have signed the letter are listed below:

7. Friends of the Earth Europe

8. GM Free Cymru ( Wales , UK )

9. Syndicat d'Agriculture Biodynamique (France)

10. Confédération Paysanne (France)

11. Amis de la Terre France (France)

12. Nature & Progrès (France)

13. Fédération Nationale de l'Agriculture Biologique (France)

14. Union Nationale de l'Apiculture Française (France)

15. BEDE (France)

16. Semeurs de biodiversité Hérault (France)

17. AMAP Ile de France (France)

18. Erable 31 (France)

19. Université Nomade (France)

20. Pomologen-Verein (Germany)

21. Linda-Freundeskreis (Germany)

22. ABDP – Assoziation biologisch-dynamischer Pflanzenzüchter e.V. (Germany)

23. Arche Noah (Germany)

24. Bingenheimer Saatgut AG – Ökologische Saaten (Germany)

25. Dreschflegel e.V. (Germany)

26. Kultursaat e.V. (Germany)

27. ReinSaat KG (Germany)

28. Sativa Rheinau AG – Ökologisches Pflanz- und Saatgut (Germany)

29. VEN – Verein zur Erhaltung der Nutzpflanzenvielfalt e.V (Germany)

30. GM free Ireland Network ( Ireland )

31. Verdi Ambiente e Societa- VAS (Italy)

32. Centro Internazionale Crocevia (Italy)

33. Consorzio della Quarantina (Italy)

34. Civiltà Contadina (Italy)

35. Associazione Veneta Produttori Biologici-A.Ve.Pro.BI. (Italy)

36. Archeologia Arborea (Italy)

37. Associazione Rurale Italiana - ARI (Italy)

38. Coordinamento Toscano Produttori Biologici-CTPB (Italy)

39. Associazione Italiana Agricoltura Biologica-AIAB (Italy)

40. Associazione per la Solidarietà della Campagna Italiana-ASCI (Italy)

41. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms-WWOOF- Italia ( Italy )

42. Fondazione Diritti Genetici-FDG (Italy)

43. The Development Fund (Norway)

44. Asociación "Llavors d'ací, per a la promoció i la conservació de la biodiversitat agrària del País Valencià" (Spain)

45. Red Andaluza de Semillas “Cultivando Biodiversidad” (Spain)

46. Observatorio de la Biodiversidad Agrícola (Spain)

47. Ecologistas en Acción (Spain)

48. Slow Food Terres de Lleida (Spain)

49. Assemblea Pagesa de Catalunya (Spain)

50. Red de Semillas de Cantabria (Spain)

51. Coordinadora de Agricultura Ecológica de Cantabria (Spain)

52. Associació de Productors d'Agricultura Ecológica de Menorca (Spain)

53. Col·lectiu ´Transgènics Fora´ (Spain)

54. Cooperativa “Impelte” (Spain)

55. Red de Hortelanos de Sobrarbe-Un Paso Atrás (Spain)

56. Cordinadora de Accines de Agricoltures y Ganaderos (COAG) (Spain)

57. La Alegría de la Huerta Sociedad Cooperativa (Spain)

58. Federación Andaluza de Consumidores y Productores Ecológicos (Spain)

59. Asociación de consumidores y productores de agricultura ecológica "La Borraja" (Spain)

60. Asociación de Amigos de la Naturaleza de Alozaina (Spain)

61. Grupo Soberanía Alimentaria y Genero (Spain)

62. Red Canaria de Semillas (Spain)

63. Entrepueblos (Spain)

64. Asociación Nueva Cultura Rural (Spain)

65. Asociación Medioambiental El Observatorio (Spain)

66. Associació de Varietats Locals-Illes Balears (Spain)

67. Asociación Albar (Spain)

68. Ecologistas en Acción de Castilla-La Mancha (Spain)

69. Ecologistas en Acción de Ciudad Real (Spain)

70. Triticatum (Spain)

71. Extremadura Sana (Spain)

72. Les Refardes – Gaiadea (Spain)

73. COAG-Canarias (Spain)

74. Asociación de Consumo Ético La Talega (Spain)

75. Centro de conservación de la Agrobiodiversidad y la Etnobotánica de las Sierras de Francia y Béjar (Spain)

76. Asociación para el Desarrollo y Estudio de la Agroecología (Spain)

77. Agrícola Pueblos Blancos S.C.A. (Spain)

78. La Verde S.C.A. (Spain)

79. Euskal Herriko Nekazarien Elkartasuna (EHNE) (Spain)

80. Asociación Cultura Permanente (Spain)

81. Muntanyes de la Valldigna (Spain)

82. Amigos de la Tierra España (Spain)

83. Asociación Vida Sana (Spain)

84. L'Era - Espais de Recursos Agroecològics (projecte Esporus) (Spain)

85. Asociación Rural Paulo Freire Sierra de Cádiz (Spain)

86. Asociación Medioambiental MEJORANA (Spain)

87. Red de Semillas de Euskadi- Euskal Herriko Hazien Sarea (Spain)

88. Grupo de consumo sostenible del Aljarafe (Spain)

89. Ecologistas en Accion-Ciudad Real (Spain)

90. Plataforma Mallorca Lliure de Transgènics (Spain)

91. Serranía Ecológica S.C.A. (Spain)

92. Plataforma Rural Alianzas por un Mundo Rural Vivo (Spain)

93. Veterinarios Sin Fronteras (Spain)

94. Plataforma Andalucía Libre de Transgénicos (Spain)

95. Asociación Enginyeria Sense Fronteres (Catalunya) (Spain)

96. Asociación RAMA (Spain)

97. A.D.V. Ecològica Gent del Camp (Spain)

98. L'Almàixera (Spain)

99. Banc de llavors de la provincia de Tarragona (Spain)

100. Cooperativa de consumo ecològico La Pera (Spain)

101. Plataforma Som Lo Que Sembrem (Spain)

102. Grupo del Decrecimiento de Tarragona (Spain)

103. Mesa Andaluza de la Producción Ecológica (Spain)

104. Grupo de Permacultura de Tarragona (Spain)

105. Sociedad Española de Agricultura Ecológica (Spain)

106. GRAIN (Spain)

107. ProSpecieRara (Switzerland)

108. Practical Action –ITDG- ( United Kingdom )

109. Sunseed trust/Sunseed Desert Technology-SDT- ( United Kingdom )

110. Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland FoE EWNI ( England Wales and Northern Ireland )

111. Sunseed Trust/Sunseed Desert Technology ( United Kingdom )

112. Scottish Crofting Federation ( United Kingdom )

113. The Soil Association ( United Kingdom )

114. The Agrarian Renaissance ( United Kingdom )

115. GM Freeze ( UK )

116. CSGR/Law University of Warwick (United Kingdom)

117. ECONEXUS ( United Kingdom )

118. FARM ( United Kingdom )

119. Friends of the Earth EWNI ( England , Wales and Northern Ireland )

120. GM Watch, ( United Kingdom )

121. Soy Alliance ( United Kingdom )

122. LandShare ( United Kingdom )


123. Red de Coordinación en Biodiversidad (Costa Rica)

124. Grupo Semillas (Colombia)

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