UN Committee Adopts ‘Landmark’ Declaration Reinforcing Peasants’ Rights To Seeds 23/11/2018 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (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) IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe here. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate. The social, humanitarian and cultural committee of the United Nations meeting this month adopted a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. The declaration includes the right to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seeds, a contentious issue for which small farmers have been campaigning for years. The 78th session of the UN Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee) took place in New York from 1 October to 21 November. It adopted the declaration on 19 November. [Note: IP-Watch will update this article with any next steps to be taken on this declaration.] Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Portugal, South Africa, and Venezuela put forward the draft resolution, previously adopted by the Human Rights Council in September (IPW, Human Rights, 1 October 2018). The non-binding resolution was adopted after a vote [pdf], with 119 for, 7 against, and 49 abstentions. Voting against the resolution were: Australia, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Those who abstained included most European Union nations, such as Germany, France, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, and Spain, along with countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. China and India, as well as a number of Latin American, Asian, and African countries voted for the resolution, along with Switzerland, and Monaco. The declaration calls for countries to “respect, protect and fulfil the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas,” and says “they shall promptly take legislative, administrative and other appropriate steps to achieve progressively the full realization of the rights of the … Declaration that cannot be immediately guaranteed” (Article 2). Article 2 also calls for facilitated cooperation in research and in access to scientific and technical knowledge, “providing, as appropriate, technical and economic assistance, facilitating access to and sharing of accessible technologies, and through the transfer of technologies, particularly to developing countries, on mutually agreed terms.” Article 16 deals with strengthening and protecting local livelihood options and the transition to sustainable modes of agricultural production, while Article 17 concerns the right to land. Right to Seeds Article 19 deals with the right to seeds, including the right to the protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and the right to equitably participate in sharing the benefits arising from the utilisation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Article 19 also calls for the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds or propagating material for farmers. Peasants have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their own seeds and traditional knowledge, the article says, and states shall take measures “to respect, protect and fulfil the right to seeds of peasants and other people working in rural areas.” The right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds is related to intellectual property issues, in particular the royalties on the harvested material if it is further used on a commercial basis by farmers. States “shall ensure that seeds of sufficient quality and quantity are available to peasants at the most suitable time for planting and at an affordable price,” Art. 19 says. It continues: “States shall recognize the rights of peasants to rely either on their own seeds or on other locally available seeds of their choice and to decide on the crops and species that they wish to grow,” and “states shall take appropriate measures to support peasant seed systems and promote the use of peasant seeds and agrobiodiversity.” Further, “States shall ensure that seed policies, plant variety protection and other intellectual property laws, certification schemes and seed marketing laws respect and take into account the rights, needs, and realities of peasants and other people working in rural areas.” Article 20 says that states should prevent risks of violation of the rights of peasants from the development, handling, transport, use, transfer or release of any living modified organisms. Article 27 states that “the United Nations and its specialized agencies, funds and programmes, and other intergovernmental organizations, including international and regional financial organizations, shall promote respect for and the full application of the present Declaration and follow up on its effectiveness.” According to a UN unofficial document, several countries during the discussion took issue with references to collective rights and the right to seeds on which there is no international agreement. The right to seeds, and in particular the right to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seeds is also enshrined in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Article 9) [pdf]. However, it seems that this right is not enforced in some countries, in particular countries that are members of the latest version of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) convention. Seeds companies and plant breeders have argued that if peasants want to save and sell seeds that they harvest from improved protected seeds they bought from the companies, they would have to pay royalties. Peasants Organisation Hails Declaration; UPOV Aware The Via Campesina, a global peasants organisation, in a press release, said the declaration is a landmark. Zainal Arifin Fuat, from La Via Campesina Asia, said “The Declaration acknowledges the prominent role that peasants play in solving multiple crises facing us today – food, environmental, social and economic. Peasants are essential to food security and sovereignty and the realization of the right to food, particularly in developing countries where they provide up to 80% of the food locally consumed.” “The scramble for resources that is going on in the African continent and elsewhere has put peasants in an extremely vulnerable position. The ongoing attack on peasant seed systems have repercussions that go beyond those who produce the food,” said Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina. “For 17 years we have been patiently campaigning for an international instrument that can protect our rights as peasants and to guard our food systems from being dismantled to favour a few. It is a proud moment today for millions of peasants worldwide, who never give up when faced with adversity,” she added. UPOV’s Vice Secretary-General Peter Button told Intellectual Property Watch that UPOV members are aware of the work on a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, but noted “there have been no proposals for UPOV action regarding impact on UPOV’s work.” UPOV has 75 members[pdf], including countries which voted for the resolution, such as Switzerland, Portugal, China, and Chile. 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