First Result Of Benefit-Sharing Mechanism For FAO Treaty; Push For Farmers’ Rights 22/06/2009 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 2 Comments IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate. Members of a global treaty on plant genetic resources this month announced 11 new projects on biodiversity conservation in research institutions, and financed by a benefit-sharing fund whose sustainability is still in doubt. The group separately acted to better protect farmers’ rights at the national level. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Governing Body met in Tunis, Tunisia from 1-5 June. The treaty was established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2001. The treaty aims at promoting conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of those resources. (IPW, Biodiversity, 7 August 2008) The Governing Body, the treaty’s highest organ, meets at least once every two years. It is composed of all member governments and its main function is to promote the full implementation of the treaty. One of the highlights of this third session of the Governing Body was the implementation of a multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing through the treaty’s benefit-sharing fund. The fund is intended to be self-sustaining and is aimed at supporting conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. However, for the moment, according to the treaty secretariat, the funds of the benefit-sharing fund are voluntary contributions from the governments of Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The secretariat said the fund is the first multilateral mechanism providing financial support as a way to share benefits arising from access to plant genetic resources. Those “who access genetic material through the multilateral system agree that they will freely share any new developments with others for further research, or, if they want to keep the developments to themselves, they agree to pay a percentage of any commercial benefits they derive from their research into a common fund to support conservation and further development of agriculture in the developing world,” the secretariat said (IPW, Biodiversity, 14 January 2009). First 11 Projects The Treaty Governing Body in 2008 issued a call for proposals for potential grantees in its first biennial cycle (2008-2009), and 471 pre-proposals were received from seven FAO regions, before the closing date of 15 January 2009. After screening by the treaty bureau, proposals were sent to experts, with a scoring template, according to Bryan Harvey of University of Saskatchewan in Canada, one of the experts. Eventually eleven projects were chosen. Some of the projects include characterisation and genetic enhancement of finger millet in western Kenya; on-farm conservation of local durum and bread wheat in Morocco; and conservation, dissemination and popularisation of farmer-developed varieties by establishing village level enterprises in India. It also includes the contribution of traditional methods for the in situ conservation and management of maize in Cuba; the conservation and sustainable use of native potato diversity in Peru; and the on-farm conservation and in vitro preservation of citrus local varieties and sustainable utilisation in Egypt. Most organisations who submitted the projects are publicly funded institutions such as universities, research institutes, and a gene bank. Civil society representatives present at the Tunis event commented in a joint statement that “farmers were largely absent from the eleven approved projects.” They also doubted the benefit-sharing mechanism, saying that the “money awarded … was not through the treaty mechanism but through voluntary donations made by individual countries.” For the next cycle (2010-2011), authority for the execution will be delegated to the bureau. The list of treaty members that are eligible for support under the benefit-sharing fund will be prepared by the secretariat, based on a complete list of developing countries derived from the most recent World Bank classification of economies. According to the Governing Body’s decision, the treaty secretary should consult within FAO in order to find interim arrangements for the disbursement of funds, project reporting and monitoring, and for the conclusion of the first project cycle. All information generated by projects funded through the benefit-sharing fund shall be made publicly available within one year of the completion of the project, according to the Governing Body’s third session. “Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture listed in Annex 1 of the treaty [describing the list of crops covered under the multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing], resulting from projects funded by the benefit-sharing fund, shall be made available according to the terms and conditions of the multilateral system” according a secretariat source. Breakthrough on Farmers’ Rights One of the main demands of the civil society is that on-farm conservation be sustained and supported, rather than only in off-site gene banks. “Ex-situ gene banks have an important role to play. But we have been trying to save seed in gene banks for the last half century, with more failures than successes,” said Malaku Worede of Ethiopia in a Via Campesina press release. Worede is the founder of Africa’s most important gene bank and former chair of the UN Commission that led to the treaty, according to the press release. Via Campesina, an international movement of peasants with members from 56 countries, issued a declaration on 2 June saying that biodiversity could not be preserved and renewed without the recognition of farmers’ rights defined by the treaty. This particularly includes those rights – defined in Article 9 – on the preservation, use, exchange and sale of their seeds, and their participation in national decision-making, as well as the protection of their traditional knowledge. However, they said, the majority of the signatory countries of the treaty prohibit the exercise of these collective rights in favour of private intellectual property laws on seed benefitting a “handful of multinational see companies to proclaim their ownership of all existing biodiversity.” A resolution on the implementation of Article 9 on farmers’ rights, which was seen by many as a positive step forward, was taken by the Governing Body on the last day of the session. The resolution invites each contracting party to consider reviewing and, if necessary, adjusting its national measures affecting the realisation of farmer’s rights. It also encourages contracting members to submit views and experiences on the implementation of farmers’ rights as set out in Article 9, involving farmers’ organisations and other stakeholders. “It is indeed a significant step towards recognition and implementation of farmers’ rights, especially since the treaty is the only international agreement that has enshrined such rights and putting high regard on the contributions of farmers to the conservation and development and sustainable use of plant genetic resources all over the world,” Corazon de Jesus from the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) told Intellectual Property Watch. SEARICE agreed with the statement made by the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) and Via Campesina calling, among other things, for a suspension of all IP rights and other regulations that prevent farmers from saving and exchanging non-genetically modified seed, a major financial commitment to save seed in the field and to prevent biopiracy, said de Jesus. She further emphasised “the need for more involvement and participation of farmers in decision-making, not just at the national level but also in international negotiations such as the treaty meetings.” “There was little done or said about in-situ conservation,” said Pat Mooney from ETC, adding “that there was some recognition that the approach to in-situ project funding was both financially inadequate and far too biased toward institutions rather than farmers.” “Although it [the declaration] is still toothless,” François Meienberg from the Berne Declaration told Intellectual Property Watch, “it is a step forward.” Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."First Result Of Benefit-Sharing Mechanism For FAO Treaty; Push For Farmers’ Rights" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.