It takes thousands of years of selection by nature and farmers to create genetic diversity in plants and animals. Farmers toil a lot to create genetic diversity. But these farmers have very few or no benefits at all for the genetic diversity they have created. Finally this enormous role of the farmers to genetic diversity in agriculture has been officially acknowledged in the 2001 through an international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. This treaty grants rights to the farmers. These rights recognize the farmers as the innovators of agricultural biodiversity. Also the farmers are rewarded for their contributions.
Local and indigenous communities of farmers throughout the world contribute to the conservation and development of genetic plant resources. Article 9 of International Treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture recognizes this enormous contribution made by farmer communities. As per Article 9, governments are made responsible for the implementation of farmers’ rights.
The following are the three key ways in which international treaty protects the rights of farmers:
- Fair and equal distribution of benefits derived from the use of plant genetic resources
- Protection of traditional knowledge
- Right to participate in decision making
The International Treaty also supports the farmers through funding. Priority in funding will be given to the farmers in developing countries, especially in least developed countries, and in countries with economies in transition.
Farmer’s rights in India
India is one of the first countries in the world to pass a law allowing Farmers’ Rights through Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPVFR). India’s law is exceptional and distinct as it intends to protect not only farmers but also breeders.
The farmer’s rights in India give immense importance to farmers and breeders because,
- Agriculture has a major stake in the overall economy of India. It not only generates employment but also has a considerable share in the country’s GDP.
- In recent years, there is an alarming rise in the suicide rates of farmers.
In India, there is no mention of agriculture in intellectual property protection laws. Moreover, a proper legal system is not in place to protect plant breeder rights. Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), bilateral and multilateral pressure from other countries was put forth on India for establishing IPR in agriculture.
Indian PPVFR 2001 Act supports farmers in saving, exchanging and disseminating seeds material. It also allows farmers to claim intellectual property rights over their selected plant varieties. This Act gives protection on new, extant and derived plant varieties.
Nine rights are given to farmers under the PPVFR Act:
- Right to seed: PPVFR Act aims to give farmers the right to save, use, exchange or sell seed. But, farmer cannot sell the seeds in a packed form labeled with registered name.
- Right to index own varieties: Just like commercial breeders even the farmer can get Intellectual property right over their own varieties. This right is unique to Indian PPVFR 2001 act.
- Right to reward and recognition: The Act provides for establishment of National Gene Fund through which the work of farmers is recognized and rewarded.
- Right to benefit sharing: National Gene Fund authority also facilitates benefit sharing. The Authority is required to publish the registered varieties and invite claims for benefit sharing. The rewards from the gene fund can only be given to a farmer/community who can prove that they have contributed to the selection and preservation of materials used in the registered variety.
- Right to information and compensation for crop failure: The breeder must give information about expected performance of the registered variety. If the material flops to perform, the farmers may claim for compensation under the Act.
- Right to compensation for private use of traditional varieties: Sometimes the breeder may not wish to disclose the use of traditional variety. If the breeder has not disclosed the source of traditional varieties, even then compensation can be granted through the Gene Fund.
- Right to sufficient accessibility of registered varieties: The breeder is required to provide sufficient supply of seeds to the public at a reasonable price. If after three years of registration, the breeder could not provide sufficient supply of seeds to the public at a reasonable price, any other person can apply for license.
- Right to service free of charge: The PPVFR 2001 Act excludes farmers from paying any service charges. In other words, the services like registration of varieties, conducting tests on the registered varieties, renewal of registration are done free of charge. Moreover, there is no fee for legal proceedings under this Act.
- Protection from legal encroachment in case of lack of awareness: Considering low literacy levels in the country, PPVFR 2001 Act provides and safeguards against innocent encroachment by farmers. Farmers who unintentionally violate the rights of a breeder shall not be penalized if he/she can show that they did not know about the existence of breeder’s rights.
‘Farmers Rights’ should be dealt as intellectual property rights rather than reward mechanism because the working of the reward mechanism may be ad hoc and may not be transparent. Many farmers in India feel that they must have some kind of ownership over their varieties because companies take the original material from farmers and sell them at a higher rate.
Sometimes even the middlemen raise the price of fruits/vegetables and sell it at higher prices to consumers, whereas farmers receive only a meager amount of that price. Farmers should have ownership rights but it is not easy to produce new varieties. And if money and opportunity are provided, farmers can also invent and innovate.
The Indian law on Farmers’ Rights is considered successful at least partially by many stakeholders. Probably, it is for the first time when the rights of farmers received such wide attention and debate both within and outside Parliament. Even more government was forced to initiate as it could not manage to pass the legislation without these demands being met.
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