Plant Treaty Budget, Work Programme Approved; Farmers Concerned 26/10/2015 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The treaty on plant genetic resources held its governing body meeting earlier this month with new initiatives to bring financial sustainability to the treaty, in particular to study the possibility of a subscription system to access the treaty’s plant genetic materials. Also, the Governing Body approved the first work programme of a global information system, which includes an initiative to enhance the use of gene bank materials, to the dismay of farmers’ organisations. The 6th session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) met from 5-9 October in Rome. The governing body approved the proposed work programme, as well as the budget for US$7,105,517 for 2016-2017, according to Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the Treaty. Enhancement of the Functioning of ABS System Shakeel Bhatti The Working Group to Enhance the Functioning of the Multilateral System held its fourth meeting back-to-back with the Governing Body Session. It noted the draft revised standard material transfer agreement [pdf] (SMTA) prepared by the secretary. The SMTA “is a mandatory model for parties wishing to provide and receive material under the Multilateral System,” according to the Plant Treaty. The working group is expected to continue developing a range of measures to secure increased user-based payments and income to the Benefit-Sharing Fund, Bhatti told Intellectual Property Watch. The Governing Body agreed on a list of tasks for further work, including the elaboration of a full draft revised SMTA with a particular focus on the development of a subscription system. Separately, the Governing Body requested that the working group elaborate options for adapting the treaty’s crop coverage on the basis of different scenarios and income projections, without specifying the legal modalities, according to Bhatti. The working group will invite written inputs from all stakeholders and consult existing and potential SMTA users on the attractiveness of possible changes, to “obtain amongst others a realistic picture of possible future income to the BSF.” Input on user categories, crop categories, legal modalities, payment rates, and a termination clause will be sought by the working group, he said. The working group is expected to provide results of its work at least six months before the next session of the Governing Body in 2017. Subscription System Current revenue flows are limited because of the time lag between access to genetic resources and commercialisation of new plant varieties, as the process usually spans over ten years, Bhatti said. Other obstacles include limits in coverage, as collections held by some parties and the private sector have not yet been placed in the multilateral system, and the possibility for the private sector to bypass the system by obtaining material from gene banks in non-parties, he added. The Governing Body asked the treaty to continue work on developing a subscription system that would represent an evolution from the current payment obligations after commercialisation to possible benefit-sharing payments at the time of subscription or access to materials from the multilateral system. The subscription option could also reduce transaction costs arising out of tracking obligations and increase legal certainty through various measures, such as including a termination clause that clearly specifies at what point users are no longer obliged to provide payments, he said. A termination clause has been described by the private sector as a favourable condition to use the system (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 7 August 2008). Funding Strategy The Governing Body agreed to reconvene the Ad hoc Advisory Committee on the Funding Strategy in the 2016-2017 biennium, according to Bhatti. In particular the advisory committee is tasked with developing a funding target for the Benefit-Sharing Fund (BSF) for the 2018-2023 period, and explore the possibility of contributions being made that have a regional or crop priority focus (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 14 May 2014). An appeal for funding was made to members of national, regional and international private sector associations, NGOs, as well as parties and other donors, to make contributions on an exceptional basis to allow the launch of the fourth project cycle of the BSF for at least US$10 million, he said. Global Information System, DivSeek, Farmers Concerns The Governing Body adopted the vision and the first programme of work on the Global Information System (GLIS) on Plant Genetic Resources (Resolution 3/2015). The vision states that GLIS “integrates and augments existing systems to create the global entry point to information and knowledge for strengthening the capacity for PGRFA [plant genetic resources for food and agriculture] conservation, management and utilization,” Bhatti said. This vision is implemented through seven objectives and a programme of work with concrete activities for the period 2016-2022. It is expected that the work programme will analyse the policy and legal factors for PGRFA information access, sharing and use in the context of the treaty’s provisions, in particular on intellectual property issues, he added. The GLIS includes an initiative named DivSeek. It presents itself as “an emerging initiative of like-minded partners,” and in particular “will bring together gene banks, breeders, plant and crop scientists, database and computational experts to enhance the use of genebank materials, promote effective utilization of genetic variation in plant improvement, and to better understand how components of genetic variation contribute to plant performance (i.e., growth, development, yield and nutritional composition) in diverse climatic environments,” according to its website. DivSeek is hosted by the Global Crop Diversity Trust who implements the facilitation unit jointly with the Secretariat of the ITPGRFA, with inputs provided by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Global Plant Council, and “other experts/organizations.” Farmers Fear “Biopiracy at a Global Level” Meanwhile, La Via Campesina, an international farmers’ organisation reiterated concerns and said in its final statement that the treaty is “becoming a “gigabyte treaty” which “does not defend farmers’ rights, in situ conservation, nor peasant seeds.” The treaty, they said, should stop cooperation with DivSeek, as the Global Information System negotiations are happening with high speed. “Within the next few years, all genetic material held in public germplasm banks will be sequenced and available for corporations to access without having to sign a SMTA, in violation of the treaty,” the group said. In a more recent release, the farmers claimed DivSeek is organising “biopiracy at a global level.” They said that DivSeek is working towards the “electronic publication of genetic information on seeds entrusted to the gene banks for which the Treaty is responsible without including any prohibition to patent nor to share benefits, thus violating the rules of the Treaty.” “Patents on genetic information published by DivSeek will indeed prohibit farmers to continue to grow the seeds they have graciously given to the collections for which the Treaty is responsible,” they said. “La Via Campesina expects a strong reaction from all the governments, which in Rome have witnessed these unacceptable diversions from the Treaty’s objectives, so that it be put back on the right track,” the release says. Farmers’ Rights A resolution was adopted inviting the treaty secretariat to consider developing national action plans for governments to help them upon request to implement appropriate legislation, stimulate cooperation among the different organisations concerned with farmers rights, take initiatives to convene regional workshops and other consultations. This includes with farmers’ organisations, to promote the realization of farmers’ rights, and present the results at the 7th session of the Governing Body, according to Bhatti. In addition, money permitting, the treaty was asked to prepare a study on lessons learned from the implementation of farmers’ rights as set out in Article 9 [farmers’ rights], including policies and legislation, launch and implement a Joint Capacity-Building Programme with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, he said. According to la Via Campesina, the implementation of farmers’ rights enshrined in the treaty is still incomplete. The organisation voiced appreciation for greater participation but “were outraged by the Governing Body’s decision to leave it in the hands of agricultural research, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to define farmers’ rights, without having foreseen participation of national and international peasants’ organizations.” The farmers’ organisation thanked the countries having supported it and Indonesia for offering to host the debate on farmers’ rights. Indonesia is expected to hold a consultation in 2017. The main issue for farmers is the inability in some countries to save, exchange, or sell farm-saved seeds. Cooperation with Other International Organisations, IGC This year, the United Nations General Assembly recognised the international treaty in the Sustainable Development Goals, namely Target 2.5 and indicator 15.6. In the area of IP rights, the Governing Body “requested the secretary to continue participating in relevant meetings” of UPOV and WIPO, in particular the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). This is “to expedite and complete its work to prepare an international legal instrument or instruments to protect genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions,” according to Bhatti. The Governing Body also “requested the Secretary to continue engaging, in a mutually supportive manner with UPOV and WIPO to jointly and including through a participatory and inclusive process to finalise the process for identification of possible areas of interrelations between their respective instruments and the Treaty, and report on the outcomes to the Seventh Session of the Governing Body,” he said. Civil society has expressed concerned about the treaty working with UPOV and WIPO, in particular concerning farmers’ rights (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 2 April 2015). Image Credits: International Plant Treaty Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."Plant Treaty Budget, Work Programme Approved; Farmers Concerned" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.