Peasants’ Right to Seeds and Intellectual Property Rights

13 November 2020

Our new Research Brief The Right to Seeds and Intellectual Property Rights discusses the protection of peasant’s right to seeds notably in light with the protection of this right in the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP).

Written by our Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Dr Christophe Golay, it begins with a presentation of the right to seeds and intellectual property in international law, as well as of their inherent tensions. It then outlines UNDROP’s definition of the right to seeds and states’ obligations under international human rights law and explains why these shall prevail over other international instruments, as well as national and regional laws and policies.

Intellectual Property Rights versus Peasants’ Seed Systems

For over 10,000 years, peasants have freely saved, selected, exchanged and sold seeds, as well as used and reused them to produce food. Today, these customary practices remain essential to peasants' right to food, as well as to global food security and biodiversity.

‘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 agrobiodiversity’ explains Dr Golay.

In the great majority of states, seed laws and regulations have been designed with the aim to promote the agricultural industry, and peasants seed systems have been largely neglected. In Europe, for example, national seed catalogues and the European Union (EU) Common Catalogue have been designed to promote industrial seeds and agriculture standards, largely excluding peasant seeds, and in a number of countries, peasant seed selling is prohibited. This has largely discouraged the continuation of peasant agricultural activities.

UNDROP: The Opportunity to Rebalance the Lack of Support Given to Peasant Seed Systems

To respond to these challenges, the UN adopted the UNDROP back in 2018, in which the right to seeds is recognized. According to the UNDROP, all states shall, inter alia, ‘support peasant seed systems, and promote the use of peasant seeds and agrobiodiversity’, and they 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’.

‘The implementation of the UNDROP represents a unique opportunity to rebalance the lack of support given to peasant seed systems worldwide, 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 in the interest of all for the preservation of crop biodiversity agrobiodiversity’ underlines Dr Golay.

The Protection of the Right to Seeds as a Human Rights Norm

Today, the majority of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on peasant food and seeds systems. The recognition of the right to seeds in the UNDROP is therefore crucial for the realization of peasants’ human rights, notably their right to food.

In accordance with the priority to be given to human rights norms in international and national laws, reflected in the UNDROP, states shall ensure that their laws and policies, as well as the international agreements to which they are a party, including on intellectual property, do not lead to violations, but to better protection of peasants’ right to seeds.

‘There are precedents that show that this can be done. The 2001 Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act in India is one of them, as well as the recognition of the prevalence of the right to health and access to medicine in the context of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS agreement)’ highlights Dr Golay.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

food in a graph shape News

New Paper Examines How Environmental Damage Caused by Conflict Effects the Global Food System

18 April 2024

Our latest Research Brief examines the myriad consequences that accompany damage rendered upon food systems during armed conflict.

Read more

TransMonEE Database and Dashboard Logo News

In Highlight: TransMonEE Database and Dashboard

25 April 2024

Via its DHRTTDs Directory, the Geneva Human Rights Platform provides a comprehensive list and description of such key tools and databases. But how to navigate them? Which tool should be used for what, and by whom? This interview helps us understand better the specificities of the April highlight of the directory: TransMonEE Database and Dashboard

Read more

Open dump Training

Protecting Human Rights and the Environment

2-20 September 2024

Participants in this training course, made of two modules, will examine the major international and regional instruments for the promotion of human rights and the environment, familiarizing themselves with the respective implementation and enforcement mechanisms.

Read more

Flyer presenting the Geneva Human Rights Platform with other publications of the Geneva Academy on display Project

GHRP Briefings

Started in January 2019

The GHRP Briefings provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss the results of the United Nations (UN) Treaty Body (TB) 2020 Review and practical ways to implement change.

Read more

Session of the UN Human Rights Committee Project

Treaty Body Review 2020 and Beyond

Started in January 2018

The Geneva Human Rights Platform contributes to this review process by providing expert input via different avenues, by facilitating dialogue on the review among various stakeholders, as well as by accompanying the development of a follow-up resolution to 68/268 in New York and in Geneva.

Read more

Cover Page of Research Brief Publication

Between Science-Fact and Science-Fiction Innovation and Ethics in Neurotechnology

published on May 2024

Milena Costas, Timo Istace

Read more

Cover Page of Research Brief Publication

Unpacking the Climate Migration Extremism Nexus Mapping the Coping Strategies of Kenyan Pastorialists

published on April 2024

Erica Harper, Yosuke Nagai

Read more