Right to food threatened





 Governments in industrial countries have been accused of regularly putting pressure on developing countries to introduce stringent plant variety protection (PVP) regimes and to adhere to the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention, without duly considering its consequences on the enjoyment of human rights of vulnerable groups such as small-scale farmers and in particular women. New research shows, the expansion of intellectual property rights on seeds might well restrict small-scale farmers’ practices of seed saving and use, exchange and selling in the informal seed supply system, limiting access to seeds and putting their right to food at risk.

 A pioneering research published in the Report “Owning Seeds, Accessing Food” by an international group of NGOs*)  made up of Bread for the World, Protestant Development Service, Community Technology Development Trust, Development Fund – Norway, Misereor, SEARICE and Third World Network has revealed worrying results. The human rights impact assessment of stringent plant variety protection and seed laws based on the 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91) provides convincing evidence of the threat to the right to food by small-scale farmers. Their widespread practice of freely saving, replanting, exchanging and selling seeds clashes with the UPOV 91’s provisions that restricts or even prohibits such practices for seeds arising from protected varieties of plants by plant breeders. Consequently, plant variety protection based on UPOV 91 will make it harder for small-scale farmers to access improved seeds as shown by the case studies in Kenya, Peru and the Philippines; access to seed is a key feature of the right to food of resource-poor farmers.


The report notes that while governments have not heeded calls from UN human rights bodies, academics and NGOs to carry out human rights impact assessments of new policies and laws, the new research findings report proves their value for policy-making in the public interest. The report warns governments that accelerated introduction of stringent plant variety protection based on UPOV 91 might threaten the right to food. Based on the findings, the report provides key recommendations to be urgently considered by governments. The research called upon governments to undertake a human rights impact assessment before drafting or amending a national plant variety protection law or before introducing intellectual property requirements in trade or investment agreements in the area of agriculture.

The report also calls upon industrialized nations to use the flexibility provided by the TRIPS Agreement to draft PVP laws and related measures that reflects the needs and interests of the most vulnerable groups such as small-scale farmers as well as promote implementation of other legal obligations such as realizing farmers’ rights, the protection of the rights of indigenous people and traditional knowledge. “Industrialized nations must also ensure national PVP laws allow small-scale farmers to freely save, use, exchange and sell all farm- saved seeds/propagating material, ensure that governments abide by a transparent and participatory process that includes all potentially affected stakeholders, especially small-scale farmers and public interest groups, when drafting, amending or implementing seed laws and related measures,” said the group of NGOs.  Failing to do so risks the violation of the right to food of small-scale farmers and their families.

The report “Owning Seeds, Accessing Food - a human rights impact assessment of UPOV 1991 based on case studies in Kenya, Peru and the Philippines” can be downloaded at www.bernedeclaration.ch/hria-upov-report.

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