The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in public awareness and of political debates on the subject of PGRs. These resources (within the contexts of biodiversity and biotechnologies) have become the focus of many international negotiations (including TRIPS/WTO, the CBD, UNCED's Agenda 21, the CGIAR restructuring), as well as a bridge between environment and development.
The concept of farmers' rights is even more important and more urgent following the TRIPS (Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, Including Trade in Counterfeit Goods) Agreement outcome of the GATT Uruguay Round, which will oblige parties to it (nearly all countries, developing as well as developed) to protect the rights of commercial breeders and biotech-nologists and their companies.
Some developing countries are considering the inclusion of a mechanism for farmers' rights as part of the development of sui generis legislation, following the TRIPS Agreement. Proposed legislation in India envisages returning a share of the royalties on seed sales to a fund for strengthening farmers' PGR activities. This is an interesting proposal that deserves careful consideration.
However, to be truly meaningful, the implementation of farmers' rights requires international action and international resources because, in every country, most of the germplasm used in agriculture comes from other countries. There is great interdependence among countries for PGRs for food and agriculture. At the regional level for instance, and for major crops, the average inter-dependency has been estimated to be more than 70%, and at a national level it may be estimated that, for its major crops, every country depends more than 90% on genetic resources that originated in other countries.
Without the implementation of farmers' rights at the international level the present inequities will increase, and the present forces driving genetic erosion are also likely to be magnified.
Farmers' rights may not be in themselves, strictly speaking, an IPR mechanism. However, nothing prevents new sui generis IPR legislation incorporating the concept as in the proposed Indian legislation.
The implementation of farmers' rights should:
1. Ensure that farmers, farming communities and their countries receive a just share of the benefits derived from PGRs, which they have developed, maintained and made available, and thereby.
2. Provide incentives and means for the conservation and further development of these resources through cooperation between farmers, breeders and the national and international research services. Farmers' rights are not just a question ofjustice and equity, but also of ensuring that the genetic resources on which we all depend are conserved and continue to be made available.
This will require financial mechanisms and legal instruments.
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