Farmers’ Advocacy Groups Rejected As Observers In Plant Rights Organisation -

Farmers’ Advocacy Groups Rejected As Observers In Plant Rights Organisation

By Kaitlin Mara on 10 November 2009 @ 6:24 pm

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) has denied two farmers' advocacy organisations observer status to its governing Council on grounds that they have not demonstrated expertise relevant to the intergovernmental body's work, stirring concern that opposition groups are being denied participation. Meanwhile, the functional head of UPOV will step down this spring after a decade of leadership, with several candidates in the running for his replacement.

The two groups, the Association of Plant Breeding for the Benefit of Society

(APREBES) and the European Farmers Coordination (now known as the European Coordination of Via Campesina, or ECVC), were told by UPOV at the end of October that their applications for observers status "could not be considered further" until they demonstrate "competence in areas of direct relevance in respect of matters governed by the UPOV Convention."

The UPOV Secretariat, housed at the World Intellectual Property Organization, would not provide information aside from what is contained in the report of its Council session on 22 October [1] [pdf], but it appears the matter of competence was based on political positions over intellectual property on agricultural products. UPOV has 68 members [2] [pdf], who have signed up to different versions of the Convention [3] .

"The decision shows that UPOV is neither inclusive nor supportive of farmers and civil society organisations that work in the interests of small and medium scale farmers and the broader public," Teshome Hunduma from the Development Fund [4], a Norwegian nongovernmental environment organisation said in a press release [5] [doc] by members of APREBES and ECVC.

The purpose of the UPOV Convention, according to its website, is to protect new varieties of plants via intellectual property rights. Its rules on observer status [6] [pdf] say that organisational statutes or treaties are to be used to determine such competence, but does not provide a specific list of desired criteria. Article 34 [7] of the UPOV Convention says that intergovernmental agencies wishing to accede to the Convention must provide for the grant and protection of breeders' rights that are binding on member states.

Observer status is decided by a consultative committee; the records of this committee - and the records of all UPOV committees with the exception of the Council - are not publicly available.

The current list of nongovernmental observers to UPOV (see table) consists almost entirely of plant-breeding or biotechnology companies, associations of such companies, and intellectual property protection groups. The General Committee for Agricultural Co-operation in the European Union (COGECA) is an association of farmers' unions in Europe, but there is no equivalent organisation from the developing world that is an accredited observer at UPOV.

Via Campesina is "the international movement of peasants" and claims to represent indigenous people, landless workers, and the small-scale, rural and agrarian populations. The group promotes family-farm-centred agriculture and opposes large-scale, transnational industrialised agriculture, saying that it is not sustainable and tends to exploit workers.

At a 1-5 June, 2009 meeting of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (a Food and Agriculture Organization project intended to facilitate exchange of genetic materials in the hopes of maintaining, and increasing, biodiversity), Via Campesina issued a call for full recognition of farmers' rights to preserve, use and sell seeds [8] - as defined in the international treaty.

However, the statement said, those rights had been replaced "with private intellectual property laws on seeds." The statement requested a suspension of IP rights on seeds among signatories to the treaty to allow farmers more freedom to use genetic resources.

This statement was read in the UPOV meeting, at which time Rolf Jördens, vice secretary general of UPOV argued against accreditation of both civil society groups, according to the press release from the farmers' groups. Hunduma told Intellectual Property Watch that during the Council meeting Jördens stated the UPOV office does not traditionally give findings to influence decisions of the committee in granting observer status, but that in this case they had wanted to present findings.

Jördens also told the Council that a member of APREBES had prevented Nepal from acceding to the UPOV Convention, but did not specify which one, Hunduma added.

APREBES is an association made up of the Norwegian Development Fund, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (Nepal), Southeast Asian Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), the Berne Declaration (Switzerland), the Community Technology Development Trust

(Zimbabwe), the Third World Network and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), according to the press release from APREBES about rejection of observer status. Some of these organisations have called for flexibilities in IP rights regimes for the benefit of public goods at the World Intellectual Property Organization and in other international fora.

However , the competence of APREBES and Via Campesina is "is beyond question," argued the press release, saying in particular Via Campesina "holds tremendous practical knowledge on seed issues as it represents the very people that plant and grow seeds."

UPOV Comments On Special Rapporteur Report

UPOV also in October released a note [9] [pdf] saying that "there are a number of matters that would benefit from further clarification" in a report delivered to the UN General Assemblies on 21 October [10] [pdf] by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter. In particular, the UPOV note [11]argues that the UPOV system aims to encourage new plant variety development and that there are exemptions from IP protection for those breeding new varieties. These exemptions, however, preclude sale of "essentially derived" varieties of plants, which may include the offspring of protected seed saved from harvest.

De Schutter's report said IP-related monopoly rights could cause poor farmers to become "increasingly dependent on expensive inputs" and at risk of indebtedness. Further, the system risks neglecting poor farmers' needs in favour of agribusiness needs, jeopardising traditional systems of seed-saving and exchange, and losing biodiversity to "the uniformization encouraged by the spread of commercial varieties," the report states.

Leadership Change at UPOV

Jördens will be leaving the post of vice secretary general next year, after serving since July 2000. Candidates competing for the post will interview in January. Peter John Button of the United Kingdom, currently technical director of UPOV; Antonia Iva? cu of Romania's government institute on plant varieties, and Raimundo Lavignolle, currently senior counsellor at UPOV, have been chosen as finalists for the position and will give presentations to member states at an informal meeting on 1 February.

Categories: Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, Development, English, Environment, Features, IP Policies, Language, Patent Policy, Themes, Traditional and Indigenous Knowledge, Venues, WIPO Article printed from Intellectual Property Watch:

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URLs in this post:

[1] report of its Council session on 22 October:

[2] 68 members:

[3] versions of the Convention:

[4] Development Fund:

[5] press release:


[6] rules on observer status:


[7] Article 34:

[8] issued a call for full recognition of farmers’ rights to preserve, use

and sell seeds:


[9] released a note:

[10] report delivered to the UN General Assemblies on 21 October:

[11] Image:

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