The Leipzig Commitment to agricultural biodiversity

'Towards a peoples' plan of action'

Below are the complete texts of the two important documents that emerged from the NGO Conference on access and control of agricultural biodiversity held in Leipzig on 14-16 June 1996.

TEARING down the wall: We have gathered in this historic city of Leipzig, which has been at the heart of trade, learning and culture over centuries. Over the last few decades Leipzig had lost its vibrancy and vitality because of a totalitarian regime against which the people started a silent revolution to reclaim freedom. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall is a symbol of peoples' power against totalitarianism.

However, in the guise of freedom, new totalitarianisms have appeared worldwide, where freedom of the marketplace has replaced the freedom from hunger. Corporate monopolies have replaced the freedom of small farmers, where monoculture has replaced cultural and agricultural diversity. New walls are being built in the form of intellectual property rights over genetic resources, including patents on life, usurping the rights of farmers to biodiversity. We commit ourselves to tearing down these new Berlin walls.

Toward a new paradigm for agriculture and food security: As individuals, communities, peoples, and organisations, we are building a new paradigm centred on diversity. This new approach is based on the principles of decentralisation, participation, sustaining the social, ecological and economic conditions of life, while at the same time enhancing the responsibility of us all for the consequences and interrelatedness of our activities.

Farmers' Rights: Farmers must lead in any plan to protect and develop cultural and agricultural diversity. Women farmers have the central role in rejuvenating diversity and strengthening food security. Indigenous peoples that have nurtured and developed that diversity have strongly asserted their rights over these materials as a basis for sustaining their livelihoods. Ownership of land and territories by indigenous peoples and farmers is vital to the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity.

It is important to clearly recognise that farmers' rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples are of a different nature, and should be complementary and mutually supportive. The UN draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169 are important tools to be endorsed and implemented. The central objective of farmers' rights is to ensure control of and access to agricultural biodiversity by local communities, so that they can continue to further sustainably develop their farming systems.

Collective rights

Ownership and innovation at the community level is often of a collective nature. Therefore farmers' rights and indigenous peoples' rights should be recognised as collective rights and be used to protect their intellectual integrity and resources. Collective knowledge is intimately linked to cultural diversity, particular ecosystems and biodiversity, and cannot be dissociated from any of these three aspects. The definition and implementation of farmers' rights should take this fully into account. It is clear that farmers' rights are not compatible with intellectual property systems based on private monopoly.

Intellectual property rights undermine the free sharing of knowledge and resources among local communities and the world community. Transnational corporations are creating conflicts among indigenous peoples and local communities through bioprospecting arrangements which privatise collectively held resources. The biopiracy of community knowledge and resources, including human genetic diversity, must be stopped. There must be no patents on the products, processes, or formulas of life.

Industrial plant breeding systems are the primary cause of genetic erosion and crop vulnerability around the world. The organic agriculture movement and seed savers' exchanges are important initiatives at conserving and restoring agricultural diversity. However, these initiatives are severely undermined by IPR systems. In the North and South, legislation should ensure that farmers and grassroots organisations retain their right to freely develop and exchange diverse plant varieties.

* We commit ourselves to the implementation of Farmers' Rights in South and North as the fundamental prerequisite to the conservation of agricultural biodiversity.

* We commit ourselves to the ratification of ILO 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples.

* We commit ourselves to the rights of women farmers who have been the true custodians and creators of agricultural biodiversity.

* We commit ourselves to the creation of alternatives to intellectual property systems that safeguard the rights of farming and indigenous communities.

Community conservation: All agricultural biodiversity from time immemorial has been cultivated, developed, maintained and improved by farmers familiar with local soils, water cycles, climate, and other fundamental aspects of each particular ecosystem. The knowledge of farmers and indigenous peoples is human knowledge at its best, and forms an important aspect of the intellectual and biological wealth of the South. It must be recognised in social, ecological and economic terms and become part of conservation theory. Because local conditions are fundamental to the process of selection and breeding, agricultural research must be conducted on a farm-by-farm and ecosystem-by-ecosystem basis.

Agricultural biodiversity policies should reflect communities' knowledge, however the international agricultural research system has so far focused exclusively on ex situ collections. Conventional ex situ measures are always threatened by policy, financial, and political instability. Gene banks should merely complement community conservation and grassroots initiatives, including household seed storage, for the dynamic conservation and development of agricultural diversity.

* We commit ourselves to building community and grassroots initiatives for the strengthening of agricultural diversity.

* We commit ourselves to continuing the transformation of the current conservation ex situ dominated system toward one based upon community conservation.

* We commit ourselves to ensuring the long-term security of critical gene banks and their accessions under the legal framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity to be implemented by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation.

* We commit ourselves to ensuring farmers' access to national and international ex situ collections, including their right to repatriate farmers' varieties.

* We commit ourselves to preparing and publishing an independent status report on ex situ collections held by national and international public sector institutions that evaluates costs, effectiveness in terms of conservation, and benefits derived through enhancement, and adherence to Farmers' Rights.

Diversity and food security: Diversity is the key to food security, contributing to the efficient production of food, fodder, and shelter. In addition to cultivated crops, people routinely utilise a wide variety of biodiversity from forests and commons which are an integral part of food security, especially important in times of crisis.

Many farmers in the world derive their food security from these diversity-based systems. In addition, as a consequence of technological instabilities and economic costs of relying on the uniform and external input-based Green Revolution, many farmers are shifting to production systems based on diversity, which provide internal inputs and facilitate the ecological control of pests and disease. Sustainable systems integrate fish, trees, wild foods, livestock and other living resources.

Biotechnology is being promoted as the new Double Green Revolution. Besides further eroding biodiversity, genetic engineering carries the risks of biological pollution and increased vulnerability of food systems.

Food and food policy is becoming concentrated under the control of transnational corporations and their local partners through the structural adjustment policies of the International Money Fund and the World Bank and the agricultural trade liberalisation rules of the World Trade Organisation. These trends pose a serious threat to cultural and biological diversity and food security both in the South and North. The rapid conversion of land from agriculture to industry, estates, and tourism threatens the very existence of farming communities and indigenous peoples. The industrial model of agriculture invades our communities, steals our resources, poisons our peoples, pollutes our waters, and ruins our lands. Globalisation is destroying sustainable small farmer-based production systems. The shift from self-sufficiency to import dependence also destroys food security and safety for consumers worldwide as the right to nutrition of people is sacrificed for corporate profits.

Ecologically destructive food production and processing systems are rendered cheap on world markets through hidden subsidies. The feedback loop between the consumer and producer is eliminated and neither ecological nor financial returns flow back to the farm. Moreover, transportation poses an indirect threat to agriculture by contributing to the destabilisation of climatic conditions.

The new totalitarianism

These unaccountable systems have created the new totalitarianism. For ecological and food security, national sovereignty must be strengthened on the basis of peoples' sovereignty. Civil society is entitled to a clear and specified role in international governance, in the context of globalisation to safeguard farmers', indigenous peoples', and consumers' interests.

International governance must evolve within the United Nations system. This includes placing the WTO, IMF, World Bank, and the CGIAR under the control of a reformed and democratised UN, and removing agriculture, food security, and policies affecting life forms from the WTO. The recognition of sovereign rights in the Convention on Biological Diversity must also be interpreted as the sovereign rights of local peoples, who may choose to delegate authority to the states. The International Court of Justice may be a useful forum for adjudicating international jurisdictional controversies.

All human beings have the fundamental right to sufficient, safe and healthy food. Diversity is fundamental to food security as well as the generation, evolution and preservation of cultures and their economic, political and judicial systems. Therefore, our Peoples' Plan of Action is being built on and strengthened by the recognition of diversity as the organising principle of peoples' action for food security.

* We commit ourselves to the establishment of an international legal commitment to the human right to sufficient, safe, healthy food.

* We commit ourselves to the promotion of the consumption of locally produced foods and the generation of consumer awareness of the importance of agricultural biodiver-sity.

* We commit ourselves to continued opposition to transnational agribusiness monopolies on the production, processing and distribution of food.

* We commit ourselves to the retraining of the formal sector to enable them to recognise the value of farmers' and indigenous peoples' knowledge and practice in conserving and strengthening agricultural biodiversity.

* We commit ourselves to the restructuring of the CGIAR under the United Nations system and the redirection of support for agricultural research toward community and national research systems.

* We commit ourselves to ensuring that the WTO review process in 1999-2000 to ensuring the removal of agriculture from the Uruguay Round agreement and to the elimination of TRIPs.

* We commit ourselves to shifting agriculture from its current high-input non-sustainable monoculture systems to sustainable internal input diversity-based systems.

* We commit ourselves to halting public sector subsidies to the private sector including the use of aid money and market monopolisation mechanisms.

* We are committed to a moratorium on the release and transfer of genetically engineered organisms until a broadly debated and popularly accepted legally binding international biosafety protocol, addressing social and economic as well as environmental impacts, is in place. Communities have the right to veto at all levels.

* We are committed to consumer sovereignty and the right to information through labelling of genetically engineered foods, so that consumers have the choice to boycott such products.

* We commit ourselves to ensuring public support for community-based, grassroots, and national programmes promoting food security.

* We commit ourselves to pressuring governments, the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and all other relevant institutions to establish mechanisms and structures that support food self-sufficiency.

* We commit ourselves to strengthening systems of decentralised food reserves at the household and community levels, creating a system of publicly-controlled food reserves at the national, regional and international levels.

* We commit ourselves to creating a monitoring mechanism on the activities of transnational corporations, and conducting a global social and ecological audit of their activities, including the impacts of intellectual property rights.

* We commit ourselves to promoting direct links between consumers and farmers for the consumption of locally-produced foods.

* We commit ourselves to building upon existing networks of non-governmental organisations and peoples' organisations to pool and circulate information about these issues and to build ever broader popular support for our campaigns.