BY REGINE ANDERSEN and TONE WINGE, editors of Realising Farmers' Rights to Crop Genetic Resources
Farmers’ Rights are essential for maintaining crop genetic diversity, which constitutes the basis of all food and agricultural production in the world. Realising Farmers’ Rights means enabling farmers to maintain and develop crop genetic resources, and rewarding them for their indispensable contribution to the global genetic pool. The realization of Farmers’ Rights, as they are recognized in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Plant Treaty), is therefore closely linked to sustainable development.
The Plant Treaty aims at the conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources, their accessibility, and the sharing of benefits arising from their use. The enormous contributions of farmers in conserving and developing plant genetic diversity, and in making this diversity available, is recognized. However, the Treaty stipulates that the responsibility for realizing Farmers’ Rights rests with national governments, which are free to choose measures according to their own needs and priorities. Despite this, three potential measures 'to protect and promote Farmers' Rights' are listed: protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of such resources and participation in decision-making related to the conservation and sustainable use of these resources. In addition, the rights of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed are mentioned.
Although much remains to be done with regard to the realization of Farmers' Rights and many obstacles to progress still exist, achievements have been made, and the new book 'Realising Farmers' Rights to Crop Genetic Resources: Success Stories and Best Practices' shows how further progress can be achieved by highlighting successful projects and initiatives. This book shows that in many countries there is a close connection between Farmers’ Rights, food security and poverty alleviation, and that efforts to realize Farmers' Rights can contribute to improved livelihoods and sustainable development. Concrete activities and approaches include participatory plant breeding, documentation and dissemination of traditional knowledge, community seed fairs, seed banks and gene banks and value-adding. It is central to facilitate improved access to a wide array of varieties adapted to local environmental conditions. Farmer participation and farmer-scientist collaboration are elements that have both proved crucial to improved livelihoods, and extension services and other government institutions, universities, farmer groups and organisations, NGOs and intergovernmental organisations have all demonstrated that they have a role to play.
It is also important to secure the necessary legal space for seed-saving and exchange, and in many countries this means ensuring that plant breeders' rights legislation and seed legislation do not create obstacles to the realization of Farmers' Rights and limit the choice of farmers in ways that affect their food security and the conservation and crop diversity.
If the realization of Farmers' Rights is to gain momentum, increased awareness of the importance of such realization, as well as the obstacles and challenges that need to be dealed with, is needed. For decision-makers and practitioners there are many ideas and examples to drawn on, and if expanded these could have a great impact on the livelihoods of millions of farmers, as well as contribute to sustainable management of plant genetic diversity.