Farmers call for suspension of Seed Treaty

by GRAIN | 2 Nov 2007

TITLE: Farmers call for suspension of Seed Treaty AUTHOR: Farmers' organisations supported by civil society groups present at the Second Meeting of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (FAO, Rome, 29 October - 2 November 2007) DATE: 1 November 2007 NOTE: Below is a press release followed by a statement issued by farmers groups and endorsed by civil society organisations present in Rome at the FAO meeting. For the French and Spanish versions, please check the following websites in the days to come: or

UPDATE: View the Farmers Rights resolution that was adopted at the end of the FAO meeting -

For immediate release | endorsed by the civil society and farmers' organizations present at FAO

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Governments fail to meet minimal Treaty obligations UN conference told

Disponible en español

Farmers' organizations who were invited to attend a United Nations meeting on the Treaty that governs the exchange of crop seeds for research and plant breeding late yesterday told the assembled governments that the Treaty would have to be suspended. Speaking on behalf of 30 farmers' and other civil society organizations, Ibrahima Coulibaly of ROPPA (regional farmers' organization of West Africa) said that, "the Treaty, hosted in Rome by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), must halt the exchange of crop germplasm -- the critical material for plant breeding. The suspension should remain in effect until governments meet the minimal obligations of the Treaty including its core financial arrangements", the African farmer leader concluded.

The second meeting of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture ("the Law of the Seed") began on Monday and is expected to run through Friday but has been blocked -- indeed, almost completely silent -- because its 115 member governments have been unable to find the $4.9 million necessary to keep the lights on in its Secretariat and to maintain fundamental monitoring mechanisms that could ensure equitable sharing of the benefits of the seeds to be exchanged for research. Governments have also failed to commit funding to support in situ ("on-farm") seed conservation or for capacity building in the global South.

"We are faced with the greatest case of institutional biopiracy ever seen," said Andrew Mushita of the Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Network (a network of conservation programs in 21 countries). "In effect, governments are now enabling multinational seed companies to impose a legally-binding regime that forces the exchange of farmers' seeds without reciprocal benefits," said Mushita who also addressed governments yesterday.

Another civil society representative in the meeting, Wilhelmina Pelegrina from a SEARICE, a Phillipines-based organization said, "We also expect the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to suspend its germplasm exchanges in order to remain compliant with the spirit of the Treaty." Eleven institutes of the CGIAR have distributed 100,000 seed samples under the terms of the Treaty so far this year. "We hope the suspension will be temporary and governments will come to their senses quickly", said Pelegrina.

Negotiations for the Treaty began in the mid-1990s because scientific researchers and multinational plant breeders were experiencing a substantial decline in their access to vital breeding material. Scientists and farmers, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, were denying requests from northern breeders because private companies were taking farmers' varieties, patenting and profiting from them. The decline in seed exchange was threatening world food security and governments decided to act. The Treaty -- after seven years of acrimonious negotiations -- includes provisions for Farmers' Rights and is supposed to guarantee an equitable flow of financial benefits to developing countries. Without funding for core administrative services, farmers and developing countries can have no confidence that there is equity in the system.

According to Pat Mooney of ETC Group headquartered in Canada, who also attended the meeting, "The global seed industry has annual commercial sales of $23 billion. Beginning in the 1970s multinational pesticide enterprises began buying seed companies. Today," Mooney said, "the top 10 seed companies have 57% of the commercial seed trade. Last year, a single company's biotech seeds and traits -- Monsanto's -- accounted for 86% of the total worldwide area devoted to genetically modified seeds." These multinational gene giants are thought to be the major beneficiaries in the current Treaty dispute.

"It's not all governments," said Guy Kastler, Via Campesina/Europe "the real biopirates at this meeting are France, Germany and Australia. These governments are making it impossible for the international community to fulfill its Treaty obligations. Although their seed industries are major beneficiaries of the Treaty, these three countries haven't contributed a penny to the Treaty's operations and they are actively blocking negotiations here."

Farmers' organizations -- who are attending the meeting at FAO's invitation but at their own expense -- sat stunned yesterday as governments refused to discuss the proposed program of work for the Treaty. Even the most contentious issues passed by without comment.

Farmers undertake the overwhelming majority of the world's seed conservation and plant breeding. This was confirmed Tuesday when the representative of UPOV, the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (the Geneva-based intergovernmental body that oversees intellectual property related to plant varieties) reported that breeders had only "protected" 70,000 varieties in recent decades. Farmers breed and adapt more than one million varieties every year.

"If negotiations collapse at FAO," said Maria Elza Gomez from a Brazilian small farmers' organization, "the matter might move to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, whose scientific subcommittee will meet at FAO in Rome in February 2008. Governments and FAO could lose control of the Treaty to a different UN body. This would be a serious mistake: the control over seeds -- the first link in the food chain -- would be left with a bunch of environmentalists who know nothing about agriculture."

For further information:

Guy Kastler, Via Campesina/Europe, + (33) 60-394-5721
Maryam Rahmanian, CENESTA, +39 (340) 821-9456
Pat Mooney, ETC Group, +1 (613) 261-0688
Ditdit Pelegrina, SEARICE, +63 917 793 8618
Antonio Onorati, Crocevia, +39 (340) 821-9456
Andrew Mushita, Community Technology Development Trust, +39 (338) 645-2819


Rome, 31 October 2007

[Español | français]

The organisations of farmers, indigenous peoples and NGOs, who participated in the meeting of the Governing Body of the Treaty (and whose participation was financed by civil society itself without any support of the governments or the Treaty), urge the members of the Governing Body of the Treaty to bear in mind the following:

1. Farmers cannot ensure the continuation of their indispensible contribution to the conservation and renewal of biodiversity without having recognition and respect for their rights of reusing, conserving, protecting, exchanging and selling their seeds and their right to freely access genetic resources. Seeds produced on farm, and their informal exchange, are the basis of this contribution, but are unfortunately forbidden in a number of countries which are signatories to the Treaty. It is the responsibility of the Treaty to assist States to implement legislation that upholds these rights. We call for a working group to be established for the definition of guidelines concerning the implementation by States of legislation that complies with the Treaty;

2. No plant variety and animal breed that is conserved, renewed or selected by farmers can be separated from the social, economic and cultural systems in which farmers develop their production. The rights of farmers include all of these systems of exchange -- land, water, animals, knowledge, etc. -- and not only plant genetic resources. Farmers do not envisage ownership of life, but borrow it from their children. The rights of farmers should not be reduced to individual private property rights on life which are in fact the opposite of their rights. The rights of peasants are collective rights concerning access to resources and their use, as envisaged by the essence of the Treaty.

We demand:

1. That a consultation and discussion process be put into place at the level of the Treaty allowing the effective participation of farmers, all food producers (indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, herders, nomads, etc.) and their organisations to the full range of decisions concerning plant genetic resources and especially the work on the rights of farmers;

2. The revision of any legislation that presents obstacles to the realisation of the rights of farmers, including the rights to reuse, conserve, protect, exchange and sell their seeds;

3. That the in situ conservation of plant genetic resources, on farm, and the associated work of participatory breeding should benefit from the same financial support from the international community as ex situ conservation. Financing for the Treaty should not be reduced to a sum -- which can never be recuperated -- originating from benefit-sharing of intellectual property rights from resources coming from the multilateral system, especially since these property rights are often a barrier to the rights of farmers. Governments cannot sign the Treaty and then refuse to dedicate the resources necessary for its functioning and implementation. A responsible response could be a mechanism of taxation on the commercial exchange of seeds.

In the absence of a decision from member states which would assure the effective functioning of the Treaty, we suggest that both the Treaty and the exchange of genetic resources which it facilitates be suspended.

We thank the Secretariat of the Treaty for its willingness to dialogue and recommend the maintenance of this dialogue in a stable manner -- regular and open -- to respect our reciprocal responsibilities.


Organisations of farmers and indigenous peoples:
Associazione Italiana per l'Agricoltura Biologica (AIAB), Italy
ANOPACI, Cote d'Ivoire
Asociacion Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP), Cuba
Associazione Rurale Italiana (ARI), Italy
Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network
Confédération Paysanne, France
Coordination Nationale des Organisations Paysannes (CNOP), Mali
Coordination Paysanne Européenne (CPE)
CPF, Burkina Faso
Ehne, Basque Country
Farmer Consultative Council, Phillipines
Mocase, Argentina
Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores (MPA), Brazil
Réseau des Organisations Paysannes et de Producteurs Agricoles de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (ROPPA)
Réseau Semences Paysannes, France
Seeds, Phillipines
Via Campesina

AS-PTA, Brasil
Cenesta, Iran
Centro Internazionale Crocevia, Italy
CEPA, Mali
Commitech, Zimbabwe
Development Fund, Norway
ETC Group
EOSA, Ethiopia
Instituto para la Producción e Investigación de la Agricultura Tropical (IPIAT), Venezuela
Practical Action/ITDG, UK
SEARICE, Phillipines


Photos and summaries of the debates held at FAO this week have been published by Earth Negotiations Bulletin (International Institute for Sustainable Development) in English, French and Spanish

Speech of Guy Kastler on behalf of La Via Campesina at the Second Meeting of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Monday 29th of October 2007 | Discours de la Via Campesina à la 2e réunion du Traité de la FAO sur la biodiversité végétale (TIRPAA) du 29 Octobre 2007 par Guy Kastler, France
English: ntent&task=view&id=454&Itemid=1
Français: ntent&task=view&id=230&Itemid=1

ETC, "Updated: The world's top 10 seed companies 2006", table updated on 31 October 2007, ETC Group, Ottawa. id=656

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, "International plant gene pool becomes operational: Multilateral system boosts the exchange of plant genetic material", FAO, Rome, 29 October 2007.

Bioversity International, "CGIAR genebanks distributing more material", press release, Rome, 29 October 2007 99

GRAIN, "The FAO seed treaty: from farmers' rights to breeders' privileges", GRAIN, Seedling, October 2005.

Author: GRAIN
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