SEARICE demands farmers be recognized and supported as stewards
of agricultural biodiversity
MANILA, 12 October 2023--Under mainstream seed systems, which seek to privatize the development, use and distribution of crop varieties/seeds in favor of commercial seed companies, farmers’ rights are undermined because farmers are not recognized as “innovators,” but merely as “stewards.” However, SEARICE executive director Normita Ignacio declared that farmers, while playing a stewardship role, are also innovators and are entitled to rights without which they cannot perform their twin roles effectively.
At the Global Symposium on Farmers’ Rights held on 12-15 September in New Delhi, India, Ignacio said, “I agree that there is a need to reward plant breeders with their innovations. But we should not forget the collaborative nature of innovations. In most cases breeders source their materials for breeding from farmers with almost no restrictions. And these materials are usually the results of farmers’ innovation.”
Ignacio added, “Any reward system for innovations that does not respect farmers’ rights is not only unfair, it is also unwise. As farmers are an important source of genetic diversity, they should be supported and not marginalized so they can continue to conserve and sustain crop genetic diversity.
She took aim at the Digital Sequence Information (DSI) system, which facilitates access in regard to genetic resources by making plant genetic information freely and openly available online.
Open sharing of DSI is claimed to have broad benefits. However, the DSI system is anticipated to come into conflict with benefit sharing obligations. Individuals and companies can access and use these open data without entering into benefit-sharing agreements. Communities, whose innovations in crop breeding are routinely poached by the formal breeders and big seed companies without any form of benefit-sharing arrangements, risk further exploitation from the DSI system.
Ignacio questioned the “Protection by Sharing” model for DSI because none of the databases which allow for global access to DSI are accountable to Parties [to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)], to the Treaty itself or to farmers. “How can we say there is protection by sharing when there is no accountability?” said Ignacio.
Related to this, Ignacio challenged agrochemical corporations, seed and food processing companies, and other corporations engaged in food production to abide by the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which among others obliges them to adopt and implement policies that respect, protect and fulfil farmers rights.
Just as importantly, Ignacio called for a human rights-based approach which respects, protects, promotes and fulfills farmers’ rights. She cited international human rights instruments “which take precedence in the hierarchy of norms over other international instruments, such as those protecting intellectual property”.
She stated that “other international processes, including trade agreements, plant variety protection and other intellectual property laws, as well as national laws and policies including seed policies, certification schemes and seed marketing laws must be adapted to ensure the ongoing protection of human rights.”