Global Policy Forum

Stronger Plant Variety Protection May Threaten the Right to Food

Berne_Declaration_-_Owning_Seed_Accessing_Food_reportPioneering research by an international group of NGOs compiled in the report "Owning Seeds, Accessing Food" reveals the potential human rights impacts of stronger plant variety protection laws on vulnerable groups in developing countries. These laws are based on the 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91), which was designed with the commercialized farming systems of the developed countries in mind. In contrast to developed countries, the largely small-scale agricultural sectors of developing countries rely heavily on the informal rather than the formal, commercial seed system. Concerns have therefore been raised that UPOV 91-type PVP laws overly restrict the traditions of seed saving and use, exchange and selling that underpin the informal seed system in developing countries. This could not only affect these countries’ national food security, but also their enjoyment of human rights, particularly the right to food.

October 31, 2014 | The Berne Declaration

Stronger Plant Variety Protection May Threaten the Right to Food

Pioneering research published in the Report “Owning Seeds, Accessing Food” (PDF, 2.2 MB) by an international group of NGOs reveals worrying results. The human rights impact assessment of stringent plant variety protection and seed laws based on the 1991 Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91) provides convincing evidence of the threat to the right to food by small-scale farmers. Their widespread practice of freely saving, replanting, exchanging and selling seeds clashes with the UPOV 91’s provisions that restricts or even prohibits such practices for seeds arising from protected varieties of plants by plant breeders. Consequently, plant variety protection based on UPOV 91 will make it harder for small-scale farmers to access improved seeds as shown by the case studies in Kenya, Peru and the Philippines presented in the research report. Access to seed is a key feature of the right to food of resource-poor farmers.

While to date governments have not heeded calls from UN human rights bodies, academics and NGOs to carry out human rights impact assessments of new policies and laws, the new NGO research report (PDF, 2.2 MB) proves their value for policy-making in the public interest.

The report warns governments that accelerated introduction of stringent plant variety protection based on UPOV 91 might threaten the right to food. Based on the findings, the report provides key recommendations to be urgently considered by governments. These include:

  • to undertake a human rights impact assessment before drafting or amending a national plant variety protection law or before introducing intellectual property requirements in trade or investment agreements in the area of agriculture,
  • to use the flexibility provided by the TRIPS Agreement to draft PVP laws and related measures that reflects the needs and interests of the most vulnerable groups such as small-scale farmers
  • to promote implementation of other legal obligations such as realizing farmers’ rights, the protection of the rights of indigenous people and traditional knowledge,
  • to ensure national PVP laws allow small-scale farmers to freely save, use, exchange and sell all farm- saved seeds/propagating material,
  • to ensure that governments abide by a transparent and participatory process that includes all potentially affected stakeholders, especially small-scale farmers and public interest groups, when drafting, amending or implementing seed laws and related measures. Failing to do so risk the violation of the right to food of small-scale farmers and their families.

The report “Owning Seeds, Accessing Food: A Human Rights Impact Assessment of UPOV 1991 Based on Case Studies in Kenya, Peru and the Philippines” can be viewed here.


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