International Agreements on Farmers Rights

The concept of farmers' rights arose from debates, which started in 1979 in the FAO, concerning the fact that while modern breeding may generate returns through plant breeders' rights or other IPR legislation, no system of compensation or incentives existed for the providers of germplasm. During these debates, even the principle that germplasm should be available for scientific and breeding proposes was questioned, unless there was the recognition of the rights of germplasm donors to be compensated for their contribution.

The debates finally led to a negotiated compromise: the simultaneous and parallel international recognition of plant breeders' and farmers' rights. This recognition is embodied in FAO Conference Resolutions 4/89, 5/89 and 3/91. These three resolutions were negotiated by the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, and unanimously adopted by more than 160 countries in 1989 and 1991.

Resolution 5/89 defines farmers' rights as 'rights arising from the past, present and future contribution of farmers in conserving, improving and making available plant genetic resources, particularly those in the centers of origin/diversity. These rights are vested in the international community, as trustees for present and future generations of farmers, for the purpose of ensuring full benefits of farmers and supporting the continuation of their contributions'.

The same resolution further defines these objectives, as being to:

• 'ensure that the need for conservation is globally recognized and that sufficient funds for these purposes will be available';

• 'assist farmers and farming communities, in all regions of the world, but especially in the areas of origin/diversity of plant genetic resources, in the protection and conservation of their plant genetic resources, and of the natural biosphere';

• 'allow farmers, their communities, and countries in all regions, to participate fully in the benefits derived, at present and in the future, from the improved use of plant genetic resources, through plant breeding and other scientific methods'.

Resolution 3/91 dealt with financial and institutional aspects of the implementation of Farmers' Rights and agreed:

• 'that Farmers' Rights will be implemented through an international fund on plant genetic resources which will support plant genetic conservation and utilization programs, particularly, but not exclusively, in the developing countries';

• 'that the effective conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources is a pressing and permanent need and therefore the resources for the international fund as well as for other funding mechanisms should be substantial, sustainable and based on the principles of equity and transparency';

• 'that, through the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, the donors of genetic resources, funds and technology will determine and oversee the policies, programs and priorities of the fund and other funding mechanisms, with the advice of the appropriate bodies'.

Various estimates have been made of the magnitude of the resources required, at global level, for the international fund that will contribute to the implementation of farmers' rights.

The UN Conference on Environment and Development's (UNCED) Agenda 21 in the programme area, 'Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Sustainable Agriculture', called, inter alia, for further steps to be taken to realize farmers' rights. Agenda 21 estimated the average total annual cost of implementing the activities of this programme area at about $600 million, including about $300 million from the international community on grant or concessional terms.

The discussions and consensus reached by the participants at the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources are significant since the participants, although attending in their personal capacities, reflected all the interests concerned, including governments, industry, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations. The meetings were followed by a consultation organized in Stockholm, in January 1992, by the Swedish Agency for Research Cooperation with Developing Countries (SAREC) that involved government experts from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, as well as participants from international bodies. At these meetings the concept of farmers' rights and its implementation through an international fund was supported. Estimates of the size of the fund required, ranging from US$300 million to US$500 million per annum,2 and some proposals for its governance were made.

The Fifth Session of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources noted that 'the nature of contributions to the fund, and the other funding mechanisms referred to in Resolution 3/91, had been extensively discussed, but that no agreement had yet been reached.' However, it noted that the technical and financial needs to ensure conservation and to promote the sustainable use of the world's PGRs had to be determined and quantified. The Commission agreed that this should be done through a country-driven process, whereby the first Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources and the Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources would be developed, as part of the participatory process for the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources. It agreed that the Global Plan of Action would identify the activities, projects and programmes needed to overcome present constraints, in line with the relevant parts of Agenda 21. By financing the Global Plan of Action, through the International Fund, and other funding mechanisms, as foreseen in Resolution 3/91, the international community would contribute to the realization of farmers' rights.

The Global Plan of Action has been prepared through a country-driven process whereby nearly 156 countries have submitted country reports, and 11 regional and sub-regional meetings, involving 143 countries, have been held. The Global Plan of Action was endorsed at the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources convened by the FAO in Leipzig, Germany, in June 1996.

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