The Third meeting of the Ad Hoc Technical Experts Group on Farmers’ Rights of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) took place from the 25th to the 28th of August in virtual modality. The IPC participated through 4 experts which are members of the IPC. The IPC Biodiversity WG provided support to these experts and collaborated with other experts as well as CSOs.
The debates focused on the “options” that the expert group has been asked to put forward to governments as guidance on how to implement the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples to seeds, which are enshrined in article 9 of the Seed Treaty. As some experts remarked during the Meeting, the language of “Options” must not be interpreted as calling into question the mandatory nature of the application of Article 9 of the Treaty, that is a binding in all its parts.
As recalled by Alimata Traoré – one of the IPC experts – in her opening statement, the AHTEG on Farmers’ Rights had to address some issues regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. “This pandemic and the measures that governments have taken to address it have had devastating impacts on peasants, indigenous peoples, agricultural workers and other rural people and communities. Our livelihoods as small-scale food producers have been adversely affected and in many cases, our rights have been violated. The pandemic has thus further exacerbated structural discrimination, marginalization and widespread violations of our rights. The AHTEG and this meeting cannot be blind to this context. Even though the AHTEG and its mandate predate COVID, our discussions this week cannot remain in a pre-pandemic world. Peasant farming and local food systems have proven their resilience in the context of a huge and profound crisis like the one caused by COVID-19”.
Due to the global pandemic the Meeting took place in virtual modality: some of the experts, especially those living in rural areas or without stable internet connection, had to face problems in attending the meeting in full understanding and capacity to effectively participate in the discussion. Indeed, several technical problems emerged during the meeting, because of slowdowns and the difficulty for several non-English speaking Experts to listen to the interpretations. In addition, the daily meeting hours meant that they were held every afternoon from 3 to 6 Central European Summer Time, with the result that some Experts, especially those living in South America, had to face difficult hours, also in view of the necessary preparatory work, before and after the official meeting, which every daily meeting requires from the Experts.
Controversial discussions emerged in the group, notably on the issues of intellectual property rights and the need for laws that effectively guarantee rural people’s rights over seeds. Peasant representatives in the expert group emphasized that technical and administrative measures in support of peasants, indigenous peoples and their organizations need to be complemented by legal measures. “This expert group has been mandated to discuss about the implementation of farmers’ rights. These do not exist without laws that protect and guarantee them, and give rights holders the opportunity to claim and enforce them,” said David Otieno of the Kenyan Peasant League and one of the peasant members of the group. Ali Razmkhah, one of the expert members of the IPC, highlighted the need to provide effective protection and support to the peasant seed systems through which rural communities manage their seeds.
Several experts representing governments from the Global North and the seed industry intended to limit any recommendations to the respect of intellectual property rights. This was strongly rebuked by the peasants represented in the group who pointed to the restrictions that these entail for their rights. “For us peasants, seeds cannot be subject to any exclusivity rights. Entering into a regime that allows seeds to be owned with exclusivity as a “property” instead of a public resource or a cultural heritage is in itself a beginning of infringement of our collective rights” said Tanmay Joshi of Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha who is also a member of the AHTEG.
Some experts also questioned the binding character of the obligations arising for states from the Seed Treaty’s article 9, while peasant representatives pointed to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other Persons Working in Rural Areas, which clearly recognize that rural people’s rights to seeds are human rights.
Many key issues need still to be discussed by the experts in the fourth and final AHTEG. It will be a fundamental meeting, which will produce the final document which will then be the subject of negotiation during the next Governing Body of the Treaty to be held in India in December 2021.
The IPC is committed to support the work of the AHTEG in order to advance the effective implementation of peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ rights to seeds and biodiversity.