QUNO: Don’t Forget Small Farmers In WIPO GR Negotiations

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By Brittany Ngo for Intellectual Property Watch

Small-scale farmers and their role in food security are a “missing element” in the draft articles being reviewed at this week’s negotiations at WIPO, according to a briefing paper issued by the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO).

The Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) is meeting from 15-24 July. The first five days are focussing on traditional cultural expressions (folklore), and the last three days will take stock of the draft texts of instruments in each of the three areas, including genetic resources.

The paper [pdf] underscored the importance of small-scale farmers, by pointing out that small-scale farming accounts for “half the world’s food production.” These farmers and their “innovative activity” to create new and relevant varieties have an “essential role in food security.” QUNO said that despite this crucial role, small-scale farmers have been largely neglected in the global conversation.

QUNO said that the implications of the draft text on small-scale farmers and food security are “unclear”. Further clarity will be required to understand the role of intellectual property in ensuring food security, it said.

In the paper, QUNO presents two sides of the food security IP debate. One side argues that IP regimes are essential to incentivise agricultural research and development thereby stimulating the type of innovation necessary to address global food security challenges.

The other side of the debate says IP impedes innovation by encouraging a “narrow range of genetically uniform crops,” limiting farmers’ access to and exchange of seed, and “restricting the circulation of plant genetic resources.”

The challenge going forward, according to the paper, is how to design a “coherent legal regime” to support the continuum of innovation, which also includes small-scale farmers.

Brittany Ngo is currently completing her Master’s in Health Policy and Global Health at the Yale School of Public Health and previously obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in Economics from Georgetown University. Through her studies she has developed an interest in health-related intellectual property issues. She is a summer intern at Intellectual Property Watch.

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