AFA paper for the conference on “Using Plant Rights Assessment Package in Asia”

USING PLANT RIGHTS ASSESSMENT PACKAGE IN ASIA*
Vicente Fabe, Treasurer, Asian Farmers’ Association (AFA)
February 10, 2011

Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.

I am Vic Fabe, from Camarines Norte, a rice, coconut, citrus and vegetable farmer. Currently I serve as the Chairperson of Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka or PAKISAMA, a national confederation of small scale women and men farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples, with about 70,000 members. PAKISAMA is a member organization of the Asian Farmers Association or AFA, a regional alliance, currently with 10 member organizations in eight countries- Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, with a membership of around 10 million small scale farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples . Currently, I serve as Treasurer of AFA. And now, we thank you for the opportunity to share with you our perspective on using the Plant Right Assessment Package in the Asian context.

Asia and the Pacific feeds nearly 60% of the world’ population which includes nearly 66% of the world’s hungry and poor , from only 38% of global arable land. The region is home to 80% of the world’s smallholders, 90% of the world’s fisherfolks and aquaculturists. The irony is that it is also home to 65% of the world’s poorest and hungriest, the bulk of which come from South Asia.

Our communities of small scale farmers have been developing our own culture of co-existence with the environment that surrounds us since the beginning of humankind. The smallholder farming system is much more a production model, it is the core of food security and the development of communities. We have been known to practice sustainable, integrated, diversified farming to meet our food and nutritional needs and those of our communities. Our practice of saving, using and exchanging farm seeds have helped us in meeting our food needs. And not only that, this practice has ensured the diversity of plant genetics not only in the region but also in the world. This diversity of plant genetics and the manner by which small scale farmers can freely use, innovate, and exchange seeds has helped and is of primary importance to address poverty and hunger in the region. Indeed, Farmers’ Rights is very vital to food security and poverty alleviation.

The exercise of Farmers’ Rights have been much more limited right now, with the current international laws such as the WTO’s agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) . In Southeast and South Asia, only the countries who are not UPOV members are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The UPOV model has met with resistance from some countries and many organizations fearing that joining UPOV would be detrimental to the rights of farmers to save and share propagating material.

However, it is observed that there is still some room to protect Farmers’ Rights. Individual countries are free to define the legal space deemed sufficient for farmers in this regard. The TRIPS Agreement provides only minimum standards, leaving enough scope for the development of other solutions more compatible with the demand for Farmers’ Right So the question becomes what room to manoeuvre is left to countries within the framework of their international obligations, to grant farmers the right to save, use, exchange
and sell seeds.

It is in this light that we view with appreciation the Plant Rights Assessment Package. As we advocate that national laws make it much possible to promote Farmers’ Rights, this PRA package will help civil society groups, particularly farmers organizations in our advocacy for Farmers’ rights. As many of the Asian countries already have seed laws, we can use the PRA in assessing our national seed laws and in recommending for its amendment, revision, or even total overhaul of these laws. We remember our members from Indonesia who were jailed using their national seed law. For some countries in Asia who are not yet members of UPOV, we can use this PRA package in our advocacy work as well.

Using the “right-to’-food approach “ is a strategic thinking , since many of the advocacy work on agriculture, food security, rural poverty and hunger reduction using a rights-based approach.

We would like to add here in this PRA package the assessment whether the government has enough provision for small scale farmers to have secured rights over their land and water resources as well.

We believe that farmers organizations should be at the forefront for advocacy of Farmers Rights. In many countries in Asia, farmers’ organizations do not enjoy this political space that we have in the Philippines. So, it will be good if UNDP, as an intergovernmental agency, works closely with CSOs and farmers organizations in these Asian countries, and help them be significantly involved in the debates on national seed laws.

Significant involvement and participation in decision making processes require participation costs. Meetings, workshops , capacity building sessions at local (village/communes, provinces) , national and regional levels should be done to build the capacities of farmers and their organizations to engage governments in assessing their seed laws according to this PRA package. It is in this light that we enjoin UNDP and other NGO groups present here , both at national and regional levels,

It is important in the face of increasing IPRs on seeds, for Farmers’ Rights to be given center-stage, to give back to farmers the value of what they have done through time in nurturing their own varieties that meet their needs, but also to enable the farmer to meet his growing needs. Farmers’ Rights should not only be established at the policy level but more importantly it should be put into action and actualized through real efforts on the ground by empowering farmers to meet not only their farming requirements, such as seeds but also to respond to their broader economic and social concerns. It all starts however with the way seeds or plant genetic resources are dealt with.

A regional component of the work can include working in selected countries on projects with the following components:

Appraisal/Assessment of Seed-Saving Practices and Seed Policies at the Formal and Informal Levels

This involves a survey and assessment of current seed-saving practices of smallholders while studying existing policies related to seeds, including plant variety protection rights and related rights, some of which may also exist informally, within the farmers’ organizations themselves or at the level of the governments.

Awareness-Raising Workshops based on the Results of Appraisal/Assessment on Seed-Saving Practices and Seed Policies

Once the survey and assessment of seed-saving practices and seed policies are completed, the results as well as the conclusions and recommendations of the study are presented to key farmers organizations, including AFA member organizations .

Establishing Local Systems of On-Farm Conservation and Protection from Misappropriation The establishment of these local systems of on-farm conservation and protection from misappropriation will be based on actual work on the ground within each country which may include expanding PVP Act exemptions where they exist and strengthening farmers’ rights to seeds wherever there are no PVP laws, including establishment of farmers’ rights templates which can be used to strengthen the bargaining position of farmers whenever they are faced with standardized contractual arrangements from traders, seed companies and contractual farming entities. These local systems however may be expressed policy-wise by way of clear exemptions to existing plant variety protection laws wherever they exist or will be supported by a specific policy measure on farmers’ rights which may be implemented at the appropriate level be it at the local, regional or national level.

We look forward to closer cooperation in the promotion of Farmers Rights in the Asia Pacific region. Maraming salamat pos a inyong pakikining. Muli, magandang hapon.

*Presented during the National Technical Consultation with the theme “Using the ‘right to food’ to establish balanced plant regimes,” organized by the UNDP, in Makati City, Philippines last February 9-10, 2011.

Click here for a PDF copy of this paper.



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