The right to seeds: a fundamental right for small farmers!

by Coordination SUD | 12 Jun 2017

Without seeds, there is no agriculture. [1] Since the beginning of farming, over 10,000 years ago [2], farmers have selected the best seeds from their harvests to plant in the next season, to exchange, or to sell informally. In this way they select the plants, from the varieties they have, that really correspond to their needs and to the usual diet of the local population. Owing to this selection, these varieties evolve over the years to adapt to the soil in which they grow and to climate changes. These practices are thus conducive to constant improvement and diversification of the biodiversity cultivated.

Access to seeds and the ability to not only choose them but also to produce, store, use, exchange, and sell them are therefore crucial issues for small farmers. Yet a growing number of them are currently being deprived of these rights, while powerful seed multinationals benefit from the situation. As a result, small farmer movements and other civil society organizations are struggling to secure the recognition of the right to seeds as a fundamental right for farmers, recognized by the law as a human right. This right should take precedence over other rights, such as intellectual property rights or freetrade agreements, which weigh against small farmers and benefit large seed companies. To ensure this, the right to seeds would need to be recognized by the United Nations as promoting human rights (Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly). This process of securing recognition has been underway since 2012. The right to seeds is actually at the heart of the draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas [3], an international document drafted by the Human Rights Council to protect small farmers from the discrimination and human rights violations to which they are subjected.

This information sheet is designed to answer the following questions:

1. Why defend peasants’ right to seeds? What threats are currently weighing on this right?
2. Why and how should small farmers’ right to seeds be given the legal status of a human right? 



[1] Seeds or other organs of reproduction of plants (such as plants, cuttings, grafts, bulbs, and tubers) intended to be sown and harvested.

[2] French Ministry of Agriculture:

[3] Coordination SUD, « Defending the rights of peasants: For a UN Declaration », C2A Notes n°23, november 2015:

Author: Coordination SUD
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