Book: Shape Up International Reforms To Address Food Security

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By Catherine Saez for Intellectual Property Watch

Current global institutional reforms of agricultural innovation systems and the commodification of crop diversity are not answering concerns regarding international equity in access to plant genetic resources, the handling of agricultural research, and the sharing of benefits arising from this research, according to a new book by Claudio Chiarolla, research fellow at the Paris-based Institut du développement durable et des relations internationales (IDDRI).

In his book, Chiarolla looks into several institutional mechanisms, such as the International Treaty on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITGRFA), and the Multilateral System of access and benefit sharing under the treaty, the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and the Union for the Protection Of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), and cross-examines their practical implications to propose a set of recommendations, in particular to the ITGRFA.

Although TRIPS lets countries adjust their plant-related intellectual property legislations to domestic needs, Chiarolla said, this freedom might be hindered by free trade agreements with countries like the United States and the European Union, including obligations to provide patent protection for biotechnological inventions, and to become members of UPOV. Technical assistance to government agencies and relevant stakeholders is key, he said, but IP technical assistance should not focus so much on strengthening IP protection standards and increasing enforcement, as it might muzzle some flexibilities.

Chiarolla advocates a full implementation of the ITGRFA’s Multilateral System and its Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), and calls for the ITGFRA to “clarify the application of relevant SMTA’s provisions and fence off the public domain status of materials in the multilateral system.” He also calls for the ITGRFA to “clarify that 1991 UPOV-type plant variety protection impedes informal exchange and sale of seeds and it reduces opportunities for on-farm breeding, variety improvement and selection by farmers.”

One of the reasons why global institutional reforms are insufficient “and in some respects inappropriate,” Chiarolla said, is that some of those reforms fail to take into consideration the “important role of informal or farmers’ seed systems.”

The book is published by Edward Elgar, available here.

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