A sizeable Step Towards a Real Commitment to Farmers’ Rights at the FAO?

Press release from the civil society

After four days of difficult negotiations among 121 governments at a UN Food and Agricultural Organization Treaty meeting on the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture held in Tunisia, a Canadian effort to block progress was overturned. At midnight on Thursday, Brazil read an amended resolution on Farmers’ Rights to a tired plenary, shifting the prevailing tension amongst delegates into relief and enthusiasm.

Following corridor negotiation, in which Europe, Latin America and Africa confronted Canada’s effort to derail the implementation of Farmers’ Rights, governments agreed to:

  • encourage member countries to review all measures affecting Farmers’ Rights and remove any barriers preventing farmers from saving, exchanging or selling seed;
  • To involve farmers fully in national and/or regional workshops on the implementation of Farmers’ Rights and to report back on the implementation of farmers’ rights at the next meeting of the seed treaty in about 18 months;

The plenary resolution broke from conventional UN diplomatic practices by calling for the full involvement of farmers’ organizations in every aspect of the Treaty.
Angola, Brazil, Ecuador, The Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland deserve special thanks for championing farmers’ critical role in the conservation and enhancement of plant genetic resources. Honduran farmer, Don Luis Pacheo, summarized the importance of the Treaty when he said, “conserving plant genetic diversity is essential to our ability to adjust agriculture to the new threats of climate change. If we don’t get the global system for seed conservation right at this meeting in Tunisia, the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen at the end of this year can’t succeed.”

As Wilhelmina Pelegrina, Executive Director of  SEARICE– a civil society organization that has long lobbied for farmers’ rights, who has tracked the negotiations closely, put it: “Although short on firm commitments, and dependent on financing, the resolution is a sizeable step forward in the decades-long struggle to recognize and implement Farmers’ Rights at the FAO. “

Critical to this growing commitment to farmers’ rights during this third meeting of the government body were the many interventions made by representatives of farmers’ organizations, such as the world’s largest peasants’ organizations, La Via Campesina. These spokespersons not only emphasized the central role that small farmers play in the conservation of agricultural biodiversity but also made concrete proposals about the rights and support these farmers, farm communities, indigenous peoples organizations and pastoralists require.  Not the least of these rights are access to national and international gene bank materials and the right to financial support for on-farm biodiversity conservation.

The Treaty’s emphasis on national sovereignty over the conservation of plant genetic resources and farmer’s rights is also of concern. National seeds laws can, for example, prevent farmers from saving, exchanging, and selling their seeds. And as Jorge Stanley, a member of a Panamanian indigenous youth organization and spokesperson for the International Planning Committee on food sovereignty told the plenary earlier in the day:  “‘Consent’ and ‘benefit sharing’ for farmers who are the key custodians of our genetic crop heritage, maintaining thousands of local varieties of plants within their territories, are not respected in patent laws that allow, for example, farmers’ varieties to be pirated”.

While the farmer and civil society organizations present are encouraged by this development, discussions and decisions to date fall short of the support required to make the Treaty work. The funding objective of $116 million USD is the bare minimum to sustain it and contributions remain voluntary. Civil society is determined to monitor developments closely and will return to their national homelands with plans to promote the implementation of Farmers’ Rights. “We will be back”, said Brazilian farmer, Soniamara Maranho, of La Via Campesina. 

Press release issued by some organisations taking part in the International Planning Committee (IPC)