Seed Treaty: Civil Society Statement


Bali 18 March 2011

[I am speaking on behalf of Via Campesina and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) present at this fourth session of the Governing Body of the Seed Treaty (GB)


We are pleased to take this opportunity, Chair, to say a few words of reflection on the progress of this fourth session of the GB. We thank you for your considerate approach that has made us feel welcome.

At the second meeting of the Governing Body, civil society organizations suggested that it might be more realistic to suspend the treaty than to continue to work without adequate resources. At the third meeting we remained optimistic and pressed for a programme that assumed that governments who ratified the treaty would take the responsibility to make it work. Now, we expected at this 4th session of the GB that Contracting Parties would resolve to find the means and political commitment to make the Treaty work in the interests of the majority users and developers of PGRFA – the world’s small-scale farmers.

We do not need to remind you that the purpose of this Treaty is to promote the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA. The Treaty also commits to support farmers, as primary beneficiaries of the Treaty. It is only through our work on-farm in conserving and developing crop biodiversity that is resilient to respond to threats such as climate change, that the higher objectives of the Treaty to feed present and future generations in ways that sustain the environment will be realised. But we, small-scale farmers and peasants, as threatened as the PGRFA we sustain, require support and protection that will be enhanced through the realisation of our inalienable Farmers Rights to save, use, exchange and sell our seeds and protect our knowledge.

Farmers’ Rights and Funding

We have called on you, the GB, repeatedly and urgently, to deliver on Farmers’ Rights as expressed in Article 9 and supported by Articles 5 and 6 (on conservation and sustainable use) and to ensure there is sufficient funding for this. We are pleased that support has been maintained on certain aspects such as the request to convene regional workshops and involve the collaboration of farmers’ organizations.  However, we hope that it will be a priority to make funding available in order to translate this resolution into reality. This action is still needed not only for us but also for the Treaty in the long term. We also hope that you will work to facilitate the publication of a periodic State of the World’s Farmers Report with the active participation of farmers.

We proposed an Ad Hoc and inclusive working group to ensure the interconnection between sustainable use and Farmers’ Rights. Although this did not materialise at GB4, we hope that this will become a reality at the next meeting of the Governing Body.

A more complete implementation of Farmers’ Rights is very important. Farmers Rights, which you ‘affirm’ in the Treaty should be promoted at an international level, are being eroded by the clamour for securing internationally promoted monopoly privileges for industrial plant breeders.

The MLS “benefit sharing” mechanism is not and is unlikely to deliver real benefits in the future as loopholes exempt industrial plant breeders from paying, while only delivering varieties protected by its industrial property rights. There should be adequate protection, developed in consultation with farmers and peasants, for farmers’ materials that might be included in the MLS, in view of the continuing mis-use, mis-appropriation and biopiracy and the application of the seed industry’s monopoly privileges (industrial property rights).

The financial mechanisms and funding strategies under the Treaty must not be attached to patents and plant breeders’ rights. Other mechanisms should be used and all funding, including that used by the CGIAR, Global Crop Diversity Trust ad others should be allocated primarily to in situ conservation on-farm rather than in large centralised genebanks and digital DNA libraries. The seed industry that has benefitted, without payment, from our seeds collected for free from our fields, and continues to benefit from the erosion of plant genetic diversity, through variety replacement, and from its increasing monopoly control over commercial seed sales, should be required to pay compensation to the farmers who developed the world’s agricultural biodiversity, especially PGRFA.

Although we appreciate the efforts of a few CPs to provide funds for projects, any finance mobilised is of little systemic use in the struggle to conserve PGRFA, in the absence of legal and public policy to implement Farmers’ Rights.

We agree with some of you that the lack of funding through the Treaty and the failure to implement effective Farmers’ Rights must be regarded as cases of non-compliance.

Sustainable Use

We have urged you to avoid the distraction of ‘toolboxes’ geared to manipulating seeds and follow the advice of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food who has called on governments to implement a fundamental shift away from input-intensive conventional farming towards agroecology, as a way for countries to feed themselves while addressing climate- and poverty challenges, re-enforcing the need to support the implementation of sustainable use of diverse PGRFA which is an important component of agroecology.

New Threats

The need for continued action is ever more urgent. Since GB3, the threats to PGRFA have worsened – hundreds of ‘climate ready’ multi-genome patents are being claimed by the Gene Giant corporations; and digital DNA libraries will facilitate gene synthesis technologies, potentially circumventing the Treaty. These will further increase the appropriation of the PGRFA in Annex 1, and more, and this undermines the trust of those farmers who put seeds into the MLS. The GB is silent as the genepool dries up. And Encouraging developments in long-term seed storage that may make it possible to conserve orthodox seed, locally, without stringent temperature controls over some decades while maintaining high germination rates at low cost. This game changing technology that would release significant funds for on-farm conservation seems to be passing you by.

Way Forward

We have offered you many proposals for ways forward. This will be enhanced by improved engagement of civil society and especially farmers’ organizations on a more equal footing, based on the successful model agreed by FAO Members in the reformed CFS. Without effective inclusion, the Treaty will not be able to achieve its objectives and reach out to the wider public who you need to support you. For this GB we organized ourselves autonomously and ensured coherent interventions by CSOs. We believe that the GB would be enhanced by internalising this approach, which provides an excellent model to achieve the inclusive participation by civil society including representatives of small scale farmers who conserve, use and develop PGRFA on-farm.

We would also like to work with you in the cooperation between the Treaty and international organisations, specifically FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) – the ‘mother of the Treaty’; the UN/FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – that has oversight of food and agriculture governance; the CBD – that defends agricultural biodiversity; the Global Crop Diversity Trust – that focuses on ex situ collections; and Bioversity International – the CGIAR’s agricultural biodiversity research arm. We would hope that you, like us, will find ever more effective ways of collaborating at policy levels with these organisations in order to improve the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA, especially on-farm.

We said at the beginning of this GB that we were looking for a sign of real change. We know that you, Chair, and all here, share our passion for seeds and for the Treaty. We can see that the Secretariat is trying its best. But the signals coming out of this meeting are not encouraging. The survival of the Treaty requires the recognition and international implementation of our Farmers’ Rights and sufficient funding to back this.

Is the Treaty to abandon us, who are the primary users and developers of PGRFA, to our fate and our struggle to keep alive the resilient agricultural biodiversity that feeds the world.

We must not and will not give up – we will resist the onslaught that threatens us and our seeds and food sovereignty – but we would wish to do so safe in the knowledge that the one legally binding instrument in the UN system that should defend our Farmers’ Rights to our seeds – the International Treaty – is backing us all the way.

We would request that our full statement be added to the record of this meeting. Thank you.