Ben Ramos is a board member of MASIPAG (Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development), a farmer-led network of people's organizations, non-governmental organizations and scientists working towards the sustainable use and management of biodiversity through farmers' control of genetic and biological resources, agricultural production and associated knowledge. It is based in the Philippines. A right has come to mean a power or a privilege of one person or a group of persons, as a rule demandable of another; a capacity residing in one person or a group of persons to control, with the assent and assistance of the State, the actions of others. In another sense, it also refers to an interest or title in an object or property, an interest recognised and protected by the law, respect for which is a duty, and disregard of which is a wrong. However, a right always has corollary obligations or responsibilities. The concept of rights may be as old as society itself, yet rights are a mere invention of human society. As society has continued to develop since ancient times, so the concept of rights has continued to evolve up to the present. Recognition by States and societies of rights, especially human rights, resulted from the people’s struggles against injustices perpetrated by despotic rulers and governments, from the tyrannical rulers of ancient Greece, to the royal autocracy of kings and princes of the Middle Ages, up to recent dictatorships in several countries. At present, it is mainly the government of every State which determines and defines not only the individual and collective rights and obligations of its own people, but also more particularly the rules of access to, and usage of, biodiversity, land and other natural resources in its own territorial jurisdiction. At the international level, international bodies increasingly define such rights, obligations and rules applicable to natural and/or juridical persons, government and natural resources of a country in relation to those of other countries. Rights and biodiversity On the question of biodiversity, MASIPAG holds the view that farmers, especially in the mega-diverse regions of the world, whether belonging to indigenous peoples or not, in their practice of agriculture and food production, have for centuries contributed greatly to the conservation, nurturing and improvement of biodiversity, especially of plant and animal genetic resources that form the basis of food and agriculture. They have developed agricultural innovations, practices, knowledge and technologies in relation to these resources. They have been producing the food consumed by society since time immemorial. For these great contributions, farmers should be recognised, respected and protected by society. However, the basis of the relationship of human beings to nature, like farmers to biodiversity, is not rights but the sheer necessity of survival. Human beings may have come a long way in acquiring the ability to control and even completely destroy nature, yet the reality remains that the former have no possibility of survival without the latter, rather than the other way around. After all, the former are merely a part of the latter. Moreover, the source of the seeds and animals that farmers have conserved and developed is not the farmers themselves but nature. Finally, the same seeds, animals, and associated knowledge are not the products of labour of any single farmer or farming community but are the collective products of many farming communities through many generations. For these reasons, the farmers are not the owners of, but rather in the position to lead the stewardship over, biodiversity including genetic resources for the continued survival of humanity. On the other hand, for the same reasons, a farmer, or anybody for that matter, may justly own the specific physical product derived from nature through his or her own labour, but not the associated knowledge or what is referred to as the intellectual property, inherent in the same product. The “Green Revolution” In the Philippines, which is an agricultural country, farmers have for generations maintained, improved and reproduced different varieties of rice, using mainly their indigenous knowledge improved through generations. However, chemical farming was introduced under the “Green Revolution”, and has been promoted among the farmers in the country by no less than the government itself. Experience has proved that this farming system has brought enormous profits, from the sales of certified seeds, chemical inputs and machineries, to transnational agrochemical companies, which have been increasingly controlling agriculture and farmers’ lives since then. On the other hand, the same farming system has brought impoverishment to the majority of the Filipino farmers, adversely affected their health and environment and greatly eroded biodiversity by supplanting indigenous knowledge and practices, thereby alienating new generations of farmers from their traditional role as stewards of agricultural biodiversity. It was amid, and in response to, this situation that MASIPAG was established in 1984. Since then it has combined scientific and indigenous knowledge in training and supporting farmers to regain and further improve their knowledge of, and access to, genetic resources – especially of rice – and other factors of agricultural production. With the advent of globalisation, including agricultural liberalisation policies, the same transnational agrochemical companies and/or their successors, ever greedy for more profits, are tightening their control over agriculture and food production in the country. Their combined use of modern biotechnology or genetic engineering and intellectual property rights over genetic resources has already shown signs of being not only much more exploitative of farmers, but also irreversibly more damaging to agricultural biodiversity and much more harmful to the health of the farmers and the consuming public. Clearly then, the interest of these companies on the one hand, and that of the farmers on the other hand, in agricultural biodiversity, including genetic resources, are irreconcilable, and conflict between them is intensifying. Unfortunately for the farmers and the consuming public, the elite-dominated and corrupt government of this country has often been subservient to the dictates of the government of the United States of America, where the biggest transnational agrochemical companies are based. Hence, the Philippine government has the strong inclination to serve the interests of these companies rather than those of the Filipino farmers and consuming public. The assertion of rights In the context of the foregoing, for the purpose of conserving agricultural biodiversity for the benefit of the many, and drawing from the lessons of history, there appears to be no more effective way for the farmers and the consuming public to attain the said purpose than to assert the internationally and constitutionally recognised civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of the people, and collectively to demand that the government protect and uphold the said rights over and above the narrow economic and proprietary interests of the transnational agrochemical companies. After all, as the Philippine Constitution provides, sovereignty resides in the people and all government authorities emanate from them.