INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING ON
PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES (IU)
Keeping free access to the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture
Updated CSO Sign-on Letter, June
Updated CSO sign on letter Please sign and forward to other CSOs and Farmers Organisations
Between June 25 and 30 the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture will finalise the INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IU). It is a make-or break meeting.
We need to increase pressure on the negotiators to underline the importance of keeping these genetic resources free from property rights which would restrict access.
In April, 327 Organisations from 59 Countries signed a letter to the negotiators in Spoleto, Italy. See Spoleto Letter.
This letter has been updated and we ask you to sign this new letter on behalf of your organisation (an email confirming that you will sign up is sufficient) and pass it on to other organisations, networks and listserves.
The letters, with all the signatories, will be presented to the CGRFA on June 25.
Please send further endorsements with the full name of your organisation and the Name of the country where you are located to email@example.com by June 24.
The following websites provide a lot of background information and should help you to formulate your messages for your contacts and the media: RAFI www.rafi.org; GRAIN www.grain.org; UK Agricultural Biodiversity Coalition www.ukabc.org; Berne Declaration www.evb.ch/bd/food.htm; Greenpeace www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/.
In brief: the INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING is an important legally-binding international agreement that aims to ensure that for the genetic resources of the worlds most important food crops there is:
The IU has the potential to be a prime example of responsible global governance of access to genetic resources that underpin social needs. The resources covered by the IU are our life insurance against future adversity be it from climate change, war, industrial developments or ecosystem collapse.
Failure in these negotiations could be extremely serious. NGOs that have been following this issue for the last 7 years conclude that failure would:
We look forward to hearing from you and if you have any questions about this issue, the letter, media coverage or the process, do not hesitate to get in touch
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG <Patrick_Mulvany@Compuserve.com>
Francois Meienberg, Berne Declaration <firstname.lastname@example.org>
27 June 2001
To: Members of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IU)
FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD SECURITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT RESTS ON ACHIEVEMENT OF AN EQUITABLE, JUST AND COMPREHENSIVE IU
As civil society organisations, we write to urge you to achieve an equitable, just and comprehensive International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at the Commission meeting in Rome, 25-30 June 2001. This letter complements that which was sent in April to the Chair's Contact Group by 327 organisations from 59 countries.
This crucial international agreement now stands at the brink of a precipice, and the stakes could not be higher. Private greed could push the IU off the precipice in the name of a "progressive step forward".
If you fail to achieve agreement, it will for ever afterwards be impossible to claw back to already negotiated safe ground. The future will be one of increasing privatisation of the genetic resources upon which global food security depends. This will result in an accelerating loss of agricultural biodiversity, the loss of public genebanks, and a further threat to publicly-funded agricultural research and development. Most perverse of all would be the loss of farmers access to, control over, and free use and exchange of the plant genetic resources which they have evolved over the centuries. Already there has been massive genetic erosion and failure would increase this and lead to further environmental degradation, destruction of millions of livelihoods, increasing food insecurity and destitution.
If you succeed, then for the first time there can be full legal protection to keep open access to these life-systems, which underpin food security.
Nor should recent positional changes by the commercial seed industry distract attention from the public interest.
As you contemplate these scenarios, you should be aware that the eyes of farmers, agricultural researchers, anti-poverty organisations and environmental conservation and international development groups are upon your deliberations. We urge you not to allow private greed to kill the IU nor allow a small number of dissenting countries acting against the global public interest to undermine the IU and let it fall from the precipice.
We therefore urge you to strengthen the IU once and for all to ensure that it is a serious contribution to achieving open access and greater equity for present and future generations:
With this strengthening we will look forward to your achievement of an IU which can be presented for ratification by the FAO Conference in November 2001.
GLOBAL SEED TREATY THREATENEDPDF version
A Treaty to Save the World's Seeds for the Benefit of All may Fall at the Last Hurdle
At the end of June, the World's governments will meet in FAO Rome to conclude negotiations on a legally-binding agreement that will govern the use of the crop seed varieties and genetic resources which underpin global and local food security. It is urgently required because of the rapid loss of these varieties-- more than 75% in the past century-- and because of the increasing use of intellectual property rights to claim sole ownership over crop seeds and their genes, which is restricting farmers access.
This agreement is called the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, or IU for short. It covers many of the major food crops in the world. It aims to ensure the conservation, sustainable use and free flow of the genetic resources of these crops so that they are "preserved and freely available for use, for the benefit of present and future generations". It recognises Farmers' Rights to access and use seeds.
It also ensures that when these genetic resources are used commercially by industrialised countries for plant breeding or food, farmers in developing countries receive a fair share of the profits generated, in return for their contribution to the crops development.
For centuries, farmers have developed crop varieties within their diversified agricultural systems - varieties to suit every possible social, economic and environmental requirement. This has been achieved through the free exchange of seeds between farmers who, by planting them in different conditions thereby generate greater diversity .Under challenging conditions, this diversity provides greater food security by spreading risk through the use of many different varieties. The food security of two thirds of humanity is still based on these traditional agricultural technologies and seed exchanges rather than industrial agriculture.
Furthermore, the hundreds of thousands of local varieties of the main food crops developed by these farmers constitute an invaluable part of the worlds agricultural biodiversity, which the international community has pledged to protect. Under the Convention on Biological Diversity it is recognised that this conservation must be an active process of sustainable use by farmers in their fields in other words, farmers are the custodians of this vital source of food and ecological security and manage this on behalf of us all.
At present, the IU only covers 30 food crops. It should cover all those food crops that are important for food security - some 100 or more crops.
Two substantial problems arise.
First, 'Biopiracy is rife. Intellectual Property Rights regimes create private ownership rights which remove locally adapted varieties from communal ownership and exchange, threatening future development of these varieties. Universities and corporations are claiming unjustifiable intellectual property rights on them, and industry is now seeking to extend the IPR system as far as it can to seize control of the genes contained in these varieties.
The commercial seed industry held its World Seed Congress in South Africa in May 2001 and, under pressure from the Canadian and US governments, has hardened its attitude against the IU, reneging on its support for "commercial benefit sharing" -- that is, paying back a little of the profits it makes from the genetic resources into a system which helps conserve them.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) regard this as unacceptable and urge countries to stand firm in their demand that those who benefit from the commercial use of genetic resources should pay. These negotiations are meaningless if there are no tangible benefits to farmers in developing countries, who are guardians of these resources.
Second, some Latin American countries are failing to recognise the essential need for a multilateral agreement to cover the complex international composition and origin of most crop plants' genes, which know no national boundaries. These countries prefer to cling on to bilateral deals between countries despite the fact that the stronger always wins. CSOs see no benefit for the world's farmers and consumers in bilateral agreements and criticise those who are destroying the agreement for the unrealisable dream of potential national gain. The views of these countries fly in the face of nearly 10 years of international debate that has recognised the distinctive nature of these crop genetic resources requiring different, multilateral treatment because of their complex cross-boundary nature.
PRICE OF FAILURE
US pressure on the seed industry is part of a concerted attempt to stall or dilute the IU negotiations. These have come close to collapse since November 2000, with the US and its allies repeatedly trying to re-open negotiations in areas which are already agreed by a majority of countries.
If the IU is not achieved there will be serious consequences for:
Failure would result in paralysis of the free flow of genetic resources for food and agriculture, as they become increasingly privatised and controlled by the private sector. By privatising, access and use are inhibited, which stops the free-flow of crop genetic resources that are the very basis of their evolution.
The IU will provide the mechanism for benefits to be shared with farmers. It will also keep these vital resources in the public domain -- free from privatisation and dominant commercial control. This includes the half a million samples of crops and forage species taken from farmers and already held in trust in international genebanks by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research centres as well as the many hundreds of thousands of varieties in national collections and farmers fields.
The International Undertaking on plant genetic resources (IU) will be legally binding. It will be governed under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). All countries will have the right to participate in its governance together with Civil Society.
Furthermore, the IU has the potential to be a prime example of responsible global governance, ensuring that those genetic resources which underpin social needs are maintained in the public domain. This agricultural biodiversity is our life insurance against future adversity be it from climate change, war, industrial developments or ecosystem collapse. As these threats grow, so does the need to maintain the free-flow of seeds and thereby the agricultural biodiversity on which we will be even more dependant on in times of instability.
Thus, if agreed, the IU should:
CSOs insist governments should achieve a just, equitable and effective IU that facilitates universal access to the genetic resources essential for food and agriculture.
MAKE OR BREAK MEETING
From 25 to 30 June, 160 governments will be locked in final negotiations in the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, Italy. CSOs observing these proceedings will be reporting regularly on Governments' performance (see www.ukabc.org/iu2.htm).
Failure is unacceptable and irresponsible - present and future generations are depending on you.
For further information see: