The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Toward the realization of farmers’ rights as a means of protecting and enhancing crop genetic diversity

Authored by: Regine Andersen

Routledge Handbook of Biodiversity and the Law

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138693302
eBook ISBN: 9781315530857
Adobe ISBN:


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Over the last ten millennia, farmers from all regions of the world have contributed to developing the enormous crop genetic diversity that is available today. This has been recognized in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) as the basis for food and agriculture production throughout the world (Art. 9). During the last hundred years, the division of labour within the agricultural sector has increased, leading to the professionalization of plant breeding and the development of high-yielding varieties. These varieties have boosted agricultural production while simultaneously wiping out untold other varieties. Breeders’ innovations have been protected and promoted with intellectual property rights, whereas the legal space for farmers to continue their contributions to the conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources has been reduced, and mechanisms to promote their contribution are lacking. The ITPGRFA was meant to balance this situation, with its multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing and its provisions on farmers’ rights. However, the benefit-sharing mechanism is hardly functioning, and farmers’ rights are only vaguely addressed in the Treaty. This reflects the great controversies that have surrounded these issues over the years of negotiation and implementation. In this chapter, I provide a historical overview of the process related to farmers’ rights under the Treaty, and present a model for understanding these developments through a ‘stewardship’ and an ‘ownership’ approach. I suggest that a clear grasp of these approaches and their potential consequences is important to develop international norms and regulations that are needed to ensure the realization of farmers’ rights.

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