Farmers’ rights and agrobiodiversity

Farmers’ rights and agrobiodiversity

The role of farmers' rights in protecting agricultural plant diversity

In 2004, the members of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) adopted the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which includes an article on Farmers’ Rights (FR). This paper looks at what is meant by FR, how these rights have been implemented in a different contexts and what development organisations can do to support their implementation.

The concept of FR seeks to recognise the important role farmers play in safeguarding and enhancing agricultural and plant diversity, and to ensure that it is possible and worthwhile for them to continue this. The paper argues that continued access to genetic resources is of key importance to the fight against poverty.

Although there is no binding set of measures for implementing FR, the paper lists the following points as particularly important:

• seed legislation must permit farmers to store seed and planting material, to use, develop, exchange and sell it
• indigenous varieties must remain publicly accessible and not protected by plant breeders’ rights. This can be achieved through plant registers that document all known varieties
• farmers must be rewarded for the contribution that they make to biodiversity. This can include ensuring access to seed suitable for improving traditional varieties, support in conserving seed and planting material and sustainable utilisation of these resources
• in order to safeguard these rights, farmers must participate in decision-making processes.

The paper outlines a number of ways that development organisations can support the implementation of Farmers’ Rights. These include:

• programmes for on-farm conservation of genetic resources
• setting up local seed banks and registers of varieties
• programmes to improve farmers’ knowledge of breeding
• information and training on farmers rights
• support to local organisations involved in protecting farmers’ rights
• ensuring farmers’ organisations can participate in relevant international institutions.

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