The Graduate Institute Centre for International Environmental Studies in Geneva invited Graham Dutfield, professor of international governance at the University of Leeds, for a public lecture on 20 March on intellectual property, food security, and rural development. He talked about innovation in agriculture, the rationale of IP rights, and measures that could be taken to reconcile IP rights with farmers’ rights. According to Dutfield, there are different views on the role of farmers in terms of innovation. The conventional view since the Second World War is of a formal sector where farmers get seeds, agro-chemicals, credits, and expertise, and tend to be viewed as passive recipients, he said.

Another view, which Dutfield calls the “cooperative view” of farmers, is that farmers have the capacity to adapt. They can contribute to innovation, should benefit from it and be empowered to cooperate in innovative activity, for example participatory plant breeding, he explained. Yet another perception of small-scale farmers is to see them as innovators and priority-setters themselves, as farmers are then seen as important innovators.

A Latecomer in Agriculture: IP

The rationale for IP, as was said by him in his recent presentation, is several fold. It includes bringing scientific expertise into crop improvement, improving the supply of high yielding varieties for farmers incentivizing the overall investment in commercial crop breeding, and creating markets for foreign and domestic breeding material through  the possibility of licenses. However , potential use of IP rights are equally multifaceted , he said, including the fact that IP rights increase prices , that there is a risk of decreased relevance of local farmer knowledge and expertise, and a monocultural production which can increase risks and impacts of pests and plant disease outbreaks. IP rights do not incentivize investment in domestic staple food crops with small value market, even those crucial for food security such as neglected and orphan crop. There is also some evidence that nutritional quality may be reduced as varities are bred foe high yield .


Reconciling of IP rights and Farmers rights

According to Dutfield, measures to reconcile IP rights and farmers rights could include enhanced cooperation between the formal breeding sector and farmers, the inclusion of small farmers and the support of breeding targeted to nutritional needs of whole population without unduly disrupting existing tradition and farming system where they contribute to food security and sustainable use of agro-biodiversity. The growth of domestic breeding industry dedicated to supplying domestic needs should be encouraged, and foreign firms should be should be encouraged to transfer their high quality varieties with facilities to adapt these varieties to local condition.

UN declaration for rights of peasants

Article 19, paragraph 8,of draft declaration states,” states shall ensure that seed policies , plant variety protection and other intellectual property law, certification, schemes and seed marketing law respects the right peasants , in particular the right to seeds , and take into acount their needs and realities. Article 19 also includes a paragraph (1.d) providing for the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed or propagating material. This provision is as well included in Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. But Article 9 is only subject to national law and can be applied “as appropriate,” Bessa underlined.

The draft declaration is expected to be submitted to the fourth session of the Human Rights Council open-ended intergovernmental working group on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas from 15-19 May.

According to Bessa, Article 19.8 is not specific enough and there is hope that the provision will be better drafted during the next round of negotiations in May. It remains to be seen, she said, if the declaration is adopted by the Human Rights Council and if the right to seeds will remain in the final version.

The right to save, use, exchange and sell farm- saved seed or propagating material is not permitted under the international union for the protection of new varieties of plants (UPOV), in its 1991 convention.