20 May 2019
The United Nations (UN) Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (UN Declaration) adopted in December 2018 recognizes the right to seeds and defines correlative states obligations.
Our new publication The Right to Seeds in Europe focuses on the steps that the European Union (EU) and EU member states shall take, via the implementation of the UN Declaration, to better protect this right in Europe.
For over 10,000 years, peasants have always saved, selected, exchanged and sold seeds, and used and reused them to produce food. This is essential to peasants' right to food, as well as to global food security and biodiversity.
But the protection of intellectual property rights over seeds at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), and the promotion of commercial seed systems have posed serious challenges to the protection of these customary practices, and to the maintenance of peasant seed systems and agro-biodiversity.
The publication starts with an analysis of the protection of the right to seeds and intellectual property rights in international law, their potential tensions, different monitoring mechanisms and unequal implementation. It then presents the UN Declaration, outlines its definition of the right to seeds and related states’ obligations, and explains why it shall prevail over other international instruments, including those protecting intellectual property rights, as well as national and regional laws and policies.
‘In the EU and EU member states, seed laws and regulations have been designed with the aim to further develop the agricultural industry in the continent, and the rights of peasants have been largely neglected. The implementation of the UN Declaration represents a unique opportunity to rebalance the lack of support given to peasant seed systems worldwide, Europe included, compared to the support given to industrial seed systems in recent decades. This is essential for the protection of the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of peasants, as well as the interest of all in the preservation of crop biodiversity’ underlines Dr Adriana Bessa, Senior Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy and co-author of the publication.
The publication ends with a presentation of the challenges to the protection of the right to seeds in European law, and proposals to better protect the right to seeds in the EU and EU member states.
‘The publication notably underlines that the EU and EU member states shall ensure that their laws and policies, as well as the international agreements to which they are a party, do not lead to violations, but to better protection of peasants’ right to seeds. They shall modify their normative framework so that peasants’ seed systems not only exist but fully operate and thrive as production and conservation systems; ensure the full and meaningful participation of peasants in decision-making on matters relating to seeds; guarantee the right of peasants to maintain, control, protect and develop their own seeds and traditional knowledge; make sure that agricultural research and development is oriented towards the needs of peasants; and support the establishment and growth of strong and independent organizations of peasants’ explains Dr Christophe Golay, Senior Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy and co-author of the publication.
The publication will be presented in several European cities, including Brussels, Paris and Vienna, in partnership with EU institutions, EU member states, peasant organizations and seed networks.
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Olivier Chamard / Geneva Academy
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