[The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) was established in 1974 as an intergovernmental body to serve as a forum in the United Nations System for review and follow-up of policies concerning world food security including production and physical and economic access to food.
The following is a Statement delivered on October 15, 2012 by SEARICE during the round table discussions on Social Protection for Food Security, CFS 39, Rome, Italy]
Small farmers produce 85 percent of the world’s food but this fact is ignored. There is only one international instrument, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, that speaks for Farmers’ Rights. Even then, this is not translated into national laws.
The violation of Farmers’ Rights is systemic with the passage of laws that:
- Prohibit them from their age-old practice of saving, sharing and using plant genetic resources or seeds.
- Impose and encourage intellectual property rights or patent rights on seeds.
- Ignore farmers’ traditional knowledge.
- Allow bio-piracy of genetic resources valuable to farmers by not keenly monitoring and preventing the patenting and commercialization of these resources and their by-products, thus prohibiting farmers’ free access to such resources.
- Deny farmers’ participation in processes affecting them.
Imposition of Patents is a Violation of Farmers Rights
Farmers totally depend on plant genetic resources for their livelihood. Throughout agricultural history, farmers substantially preserved, conserved, developed and sustainably used plant genetic resources or seeds. Without farmers, there is no agricultural biodiversity. Agricultural biodiversity is important to establish a broad genetic base of traits that allow breeding plant varieties that can withstand climatic changes and socio-economic turbulence. These plant genetic resources have been shared across nations since time immemorial, without any sense of ownership by any one farmer or nation.
Recent developments on imposing patent rights or intellectual property rights on plant genetic resources violate the human rights of farmers to life and livelihood, as they prohibit the conservation, development, and sustainable use of genetic resources or seeds.
Already, a number of farmers have successfully bred superior crop varieties eliminating the dependence on corporate seeds every season.
The imposition of penalties on farmers who breed their own seeds is life-threatening, and violates their internationally-recognized human, economic, social, and cultural rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly Articles 3 and 23 guards farmers’ rights to life, and to have just and favorable conditions of work. With patents on seeds, farmers lose the capacity to reduce production costs and increase their income.
The imposition of patents fails to recognize and continues to ignore, farmers’ significant participation in nurturing plant genetic resources. Farmers realize the importance of having a broad genetic base in food security, and for generations have reproduced a variety of seeds with different traits through ex-situ and in-situ conservation. It is this broad genetic base that corporations were able to draw upon and genetically alter crop varieties. When corporations imposed ownership on hybrid and GM crops through patents, farmers must now buy these seeds, and face the threat of being punished should they resort to age-old cultural practices in conserving seeds.
The contamination of crop stands by patented seeds, also causes economic, social, cultural and environmental damage to farmers. Governments should consider socio-cultural and economic effects of GM crops in their risk assessment laws.
No Farmers’ Voice in Participatory and Decision-making Processes
Farmers need to be consulted in the use and release of agricultural technologies considering the adverse effects of some of these technologies on seed supply, agricultural biodiversity and food security. It has been recognized that for centuries, farming families have played a central role in food production, and in ensuring agricultural biodiversity. As new agricultural technologies may affect seed supply systems, agricultural biodiversity and the way food is produced, it is important that farmers are consulted on the release and use of these technologies, especially in farmers’ fields.
Making Extinct, Farmers’ Seeds, and Farmers Traditional Knowledge in Agriculture is a Violation of Human Rights
Countries, which cooperate with agro-chemical corporations have focused on a few crops and a few varieties of plant genetic resources in agriculture. According to the CBD and the FAO, only 12 crops and 14 animal species make up 80-90% of our global food consumption.
So long as government imposes policies that encourage mono-cropping which narrow the genetic base of our food crops, food security will never be attained. Such a situation is tantamount to the massive assimilation and genocide of some indigenous peoples.
Genuine protection of farmers’ rights should be an important component of social protection for food security and nutrition. Farmers’ rights are human rights. Without genuine protection of farmers’ rights there can never be real social protection system that will contribute to the right to adequate food for all.