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    Inside Views
    Inside Views — Genetic Resources And Traditional Knowledge : Getting The Rules Right For Agriculture: A Key Challenge For WIPO’s IGC

    Published on 1 February 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    Disclaimer: the views expressed in this column are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors.

    Intellectual Property Watch

    By Susan Bragdon and Lynn Finnegan

    Summary: An essential relationship exists among the conservation, development and use of genetic resources, sustainable agriculture and food security. There is an equally essential relationship between the conservation, development and use of genetic resources and small scale-farmers. The strength and effectiveness of any treaty addressing IP and genetic resources depends on the meaningful participation of small-scale farmers, and those that can represent them, as in the treaty deliberations continuing next week at WIPO, write Susan Bragdon and Lynn Finnegan.

    Next week the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (the IGC) will be meeting in Geneva for its twenty third session. The negotiations aim to achieve an international legal instrument for ‘the effective protection of GR (genetic resources), TK (traditional knowledge) and TCEs (traditional cultural expressions)’. The upcoming session will focus on GR and the following session, starting 22 April, will have TK at its centre.

    An essential relationship exists among the conservation, development and use of GR, sustainable agriculture and food security. There is an equally essential, and crucial, relationship between the conservation, development and use of genetic resources and small scale-farmers. The strength and effectiveness of any treaty addressing IP and GR therefore depends on the meaningful participation of small-scale farmers, and those that can represent them, in the IGC deliberations.

    “With a few exceptions, this shift is really a change in a 10,000 year old history characterized by the open and free exchange of resources.”

    This is of particular importance for the economies of developing countries.

    The IGC and the countries participating in the negotiations need to understand the development and food security implications of the draft texts relating to the rights and responsibilities over GR and associated knowledge. Questions — such as what impact do proposed texts have on the rights of farmers to use and exchange seed or on the choice and availability of desired technologies and know-how – need to be asked and explored. The needs and expertise of small-scale farmers are essential to ensure all the pertinent questions are identified and the answers fully explored.

    While Indigenous peoples have made progress in representation in the IGC, small-scale farmers and their representatives have been largely absent. It is critically important for the IGC and those who take part in it, to simultaneously seek and encourage the participation of small-scale farmers, whether or not they identify themselves as indigenous.

    People, and small-scale farmers in particular, have been conserving and developing plant varieties since Neolithic times when humans began to make a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. For most of our agricultural history, plant genetic resources were mainly governed by open access and free exchange principles. It is only in the last decades that intellectual property (IP) created the legal means to extract benefits from genetic resources and these IP systems are constructed so that benefits accrue to professional plant breeders (often large companies), with no similar IP benefit mechanisms for the conservation or innovative activities of farmers. With a few exceptions, this shift is really a change in a 10,000 year old history characterized by the open and free exchange of resources.

    The number, scope and reach of intellectual property over GR has grown in parallel with an increasing consolidation of agribusiness all along the value chain. Fewer and fewer companies now own and control our GR along with our other means of production. The growth in GR-related IP has been paralleled by a rapid acceleration of a global trend towards diet simplification and a corresponding loss of GR diversity. FAO suggests that three-quarters of the varietal genetic diversity has been lost in the past hundred years with Mexico losing 80% of its maize diversity and India losing thousands of rice landraces in the last few decades.

    The private sector and intellectual property may provide some tools to achieve the objectives of food security, though it is clear that alone it cannot fully achieve food security objectives. This is why multilateral instruments governing GR have such potential importance.

    IP regimes are not neutral with respect to development goals and long-term sustainability. It is not just about leaving certain segments of the population behind, important though this is, it is about needing the input of the people at the front-lines of the development, conservation and use of valuable GR and knowledge about their use.

    The input of small-scale farmers is critical to the success of any IGC GR and TK regime because:

    1. Most developing countries are agriculture-based economies where smallholder famers account for about 75% of agricultural production and over 75% of employment.

    2. Half the food produced today comes from 1.5 million farmers on small plots of land. The largely IP-protected GRs that make up the monocultures of industrialized farming in the developed world are not viable or sustainable in this context.

    3. GR, – and in particular the diversity of GRs that continue to evolve through the work of small-scale farmers in their fields – contributes to the resilience and stability of agricultural production systems by providing control mechanisms and genetic security for adaptation to unpredictable changes in rainfall and temperatures. This is particularly important today as the effects and uncertainties of climate change become increasingly manifest.

    4. GR and TK offer social and economic opportunities that contribute to the livelihoods and to social and cultural values.

    5. GR is a major contributor to nutrition and health through its direct use. The World Health Organization estimates that in many developing countries up to 80% of the population relies on biodiversity for primary health care.

    6. Ecological processes such and the maintenance of water cycling, soil fertility, pollination, seed dispersal, nutrient cycling etc. all rely to a greater or lesser extent on agricultural biological diversity.

    7. In situ GR continue to be developed by farmers who maintain the associated knowledge. These GR and TK are integral to breeding and crop improvement with potentially global implications.

    The IGC and the States that participate in it must actively move the discussion of the implications of the GR draft on food security and development beyond the input of the political elite, the private sector and the intermittent input of Indigenous group. It must find means to actively promote the participation and input of small-scale farmers.

    There has been representation from Indigenous Peoples since the establishment of the IGC in 2000, even if the relationship has not been smooth. It is important for multilateral institutions to consider how they better ensure the participation of critical stakeholders in the deliberations that directly concern and affect them. Small-scale farmers are major actors in the conservation, development and use of GR and associated knowledge and means to solicit and ensure their voices are heard in the IGC negotiations is essential to a meaningful outcome.

    Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organisations with which they are employed or affiliated.

    Susan H. Bragdon is a Visiting Professor at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich and the Executive Director of Seeds for All, a US licensed strategic consulting practice. Susan is a patent attorney and uses her experience in science and law to work on critical global issues such as the conservation, use and management of biological diversity; creating compatibility with environment and agriculture; and promoting food security. She was the lawyer for the Secretariat for the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Convention on Biological Diversity providing legal advice to the working group handling intellectual property rights, transfer of technology including biotechnology and access to genetic resources. When the treaty was concluded Ms. Bragdon joined the treaty Secretariat as its Legal Advisor. From 1997-2005 Ms Bragdon worked with the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute as a Senior Scientist, Law & Policy, where she worked on legal and policy issues related to plant genetic resources and in particular managed projects on intellectual property rights, Farmers’ Rights, biotechnology and biological diversity and on developing decision-making tools for the development of policy and law to manage plant genetic resources in the interest of food security.

    Lynn Finnegan is Project Officer with the Quaker UN Office in Geneva. She has a BA in Geography from Oxford University, (with a dissertation focused on Indigenous Peoples rights and conservation strategies) and an LLM in International Environmental Law from Edinburgh University (focusing on REDD, natural resource law and ecological economics).

     

     

    Comments

    1. Nibbles: GUIDs, Cajanus molecular breeding, Slash-and-burn, Rust return, Genomics talkshop, Mobile, Traditional knowledge says:

      [...] “Traditional farming hold all the aces.” And yet it must be protected with all kinds of international treaties. [...]

    2. This week in review … IP Watch article focuses on relevance of WIPO IGC negotiations for agriculture « Traditional Knowledge Bulletin says:

      [...] Genetic Resources and Traditional Knowledge: Getting the Rules Right for Agriculture: a Key Challeng… Susan Bragdon and Lynn Finnegan IP Watch, 1 February 2013 [...]

    3. Genetic Resources And Traditional Knowledge : Getting The Rules Right For … – Intellectual Property Watch | Legal Planet says:

      [...] Continue reading here: CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE [...]

    4. The Intergovernmental Committee: Twenty-Third Session | WIPO Monitor says:

      […] Genetic Resources and Traditional Knowledge: Getting the Rules Right for Agriculture: A Key Challeng… […]


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    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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