Call urgent meeting with farmers’ organizations before the next round of ITPGRFA negotiations

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India’s farmers’ organizations have written a letter to RK Singh, National Focal Point of India, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture (ITPGRFA), also Joint Secretary (Seeds), Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India, ahead of the Seventh Governing Body session for proceedings of ITPGRFA, scheduled between 30th October and 3rdNovember 2017 at Kigali, Rwanda. Text of the letter:

We, the undersigned, are the representatives of peasants and peasant organizations, coalitions and groups of concerned individuals. The 7th Governing Body (GB) session of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture (ITPGRFA) is going to commence soon in Kigali, Rwanda. We have the following concerns regarding the state of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) and farmers’ rights over the same:

  1. Effective participation of farmers in the decision-making processes.

Article 9.ii.(c) of the Treaty states that farmers’ right to participate in making decisions on matters related to conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA should be protected and promoted. Since the adoption of the Treaty in 2001, not once has there been any noticeable effort from your side, to consult us with matters regarding the treaty which has a direct impact on the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA. We, therefore, are a bit concerned and completely unaware of the stand that the Indian government is going to take on some of the important matters of the Treaty that are going to be discussed and debated at the upcoming GB session of the ITPGRFA.

As there was no consultation process initiated by you to ask for our opinions, we pro-actively write this letter to you and ask you to consider communicating with us in the future if Government of India (GoI) disagrees with any of our points in the spirit of inclusive and transparent democracy.

  1. Extension of crops in the Multilateral System (MLS).

Item no 9 in the Provisional Agenda of the GB 7 is regarding the Proposal for an Amendment of the International Treaty, i.e., to extend the Annex I of the Treaty from current 64 crops to all PGRFA. The MLS of the ITPGRFA is recognized as an instrument for the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol’s obligations for prior consent to the access and benefit-sharing (ABS). However, on the contrary to the intentions displayed, the MLS has been technically designed to allow an unrestricted access to all PGRFA for the industry.

Therefore, we ask you not to extend the Annex I of the Treaty from current 64 crops until there are strong provisions made in the Treaty that ensure the following obligations of the Nagoya Protocol:

i) informed consent and benefit-sharing agreement with the country and/or community of origin for each access to a new PGRFA collected after 2013,

ii) the obligation of the Recipient of the Material to prove that the ABS obligations have been complied, when any new product is going to be commercialized.

Furthermore, we ask you to incorporate the just prior-consent clause to be applicable also to the contracting parties of the treaty when their government instruments collect the PGRFA from the communities and individuals within their national boundaries.

  1. Collaborations with the Global Information System (GLIS) or the DivSeek programme till concrete safeguard of Farmers’ Rights.

Digital sequencing of all the accessions in the seed banks of the world without safeguarding farmers’ rights to be able to use seeds without any legal or biological restrictions sustainably without the risk of criminalization or contamination from new technologies of genetic engineering or any other that might be there or come-up in future would mean the death of treaty and peasants around the world would end up losing sovereignty over their seeds. The availability on the internet of PGRFA information in digital form, allows industries to have free access to the genetic information contained in the PGRFA. This means the danger of private players privatizing all existing seeds by patents on their native “genetic information” and thereby encroaching farmers’ rights.Indian office of The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is already collaborating officially with DivSeek which is already an issue of great concern to us in this era of blatant bio-piracy.

The Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Act, 2001 (PPVFRA) cannot be considered as an instrument to safeguard the rights of Indian farmers. The act in itself is a double-edged sword, or rather, the “Farmers’ Rights” suffix of the Act is a Trojan horse strategy to push a whole civilization into the regime of considering natural and community resources as a profit-making commodity over which one can gain exclusive rights of use. Even though, the PPVFRA through its Article 39(iv) ensures the right of farmers to use their seeds without restriction, it fails to see the contradiction in allowing restrictive practice of seed ownership (by introducing the concept of seed registration) and then talking about farmers’ rights to free use of seeds in the same Act.

The safeguarding provisions under the PPVFRA will become irrelevant if there is a push for stronger IPR laws for seeds through different Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), like the current push for adoption of The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Therefore, we strongly suggest that the move to collaborate with the Global Information System (GLIS) or the DivSeek programme be opposed until stronger provisions ensuring farmers’ rights are incorporate, like exclusion of PGRFA from the purview of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) or inclusion of farmers’ rights over seeds as a fundamental right in the national constitution or similar provisions.

Also, the proposal in the DivSeek stakeholders report to the Treaty secretary that “the information gathered from access of PGRFA from the MLS not be bound by the obligations of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA)” be rejected.

  1. The proposal to establish an ad hoc Working Group to guide and assist Contracting Parties in the implementation of Farmers Rights.

The Co-Chairs’ proposal from the Global Consultation on Farmers Rights held in Bali in September 2016 (Item 15 of the Provisional Agenda, doc IT/GB-7/17/Circ.1) includes the proposal to establish an ad hoc Working Group to guide and assist Contracting Parties in the implementation of Farmers Rights. We see this as a very positive proposal that will take us a step further in strengthening farmers’ rights. We welcome this proposal and ask you to support it.

  1. The new draft SMTA and subscription system as the new system for ABS.

The question of SMTA and ABS arises only after the current system of working of the Treaty and the obligations it incorporate are consensually agreed upon. But that is not the case at present.

Therefore, any discussion regarding the MLS or its access or dematerializing the accessions or the sharing of benefits arising through the facilitated access should be details till stronger safeguards of farmers’ rights and afore-mentioned concerns regarding peasants’ participation in decision-making and conservation and protection of PGRFA for sustainable use are ensured.

  1. Handing over plant genetic materials to CGIAR presents conflict of interest

Article 15.1states that“The Contracting Parties recognize the importance to this Treaty of the ex situ collections of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture held in trust by the International Agricultural Research Centre’s (IARCs) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).”

Given the known close collaboration CGIAR has with the world’s largest and most notorious agri-businesses, India should be wary of sharing any germplasm of crops, especially those traditional varieties that have traits like drought, flood, submergence and salinity tolerance. These varieties are highly sought after by these Transnational Corporations for their ‘climate-smart’ properties. The Treaty in its current form does not provide for any safeguards against privatization of our rich and diverse genetic heritage. We oppose any re-branding of these varieties and granting of IPRs on them which will prevent their access by farmers, especially smallholders.

We hope that our concerns mentioned above are well heard and acted upon. We demand for an urgent meeting with the farmers community before the next round of negotiations. We are open, rather insist on it, to have dialogues and discussions on the matters related to the Treaty and other matters regarding seeds from here on. In the end, for upholding the democratic principles that lie within our constitution, we expect you to stand for the opinion of the people you represent.

Signatories:

Yudhvir Singh, General Secretary, All India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (AICCFM)
K T Gangadhar, State President, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
Rakesh Tikait, National Spokesman, BharathKisan Union
ChamarasaMali Patil, Hon. President, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
KS Puttannaiah, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS) and Member of Legislative Assembly, Karnataka
Vijay Jawandhia,ShetkariSangathana,, Maharashtra
ChukkiNanjundaswamy, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
Badagalapura Nagendra, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS)
Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, State President, BhartiyaKissan Union (BKU), Punjab
Jagdish Singh, State President, BhartiyaKissan Union (BKU), Madhya Pradesh
VidyadharOlkha, State President, BhartiyaKissan Union (BKU), Rajasthan
Ratan Singh Mann, State President, BhartiyaKissan Union (BKU), Haryana
Sukhdev Singh Gill, State President, BhartiyaKissan Union (BKU), Himachal Pradesh
Satnam Singh Cheema, State President, BhartiyaKissan Union (BKU), Uttrakhand
Dhan Singh Sherawat, BhartiyaKissan Union (BKU), Maharashtra
Gurman Singh, BhartiyaKissan Union, Haryana
Sella Mutthu, President, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association
Nallagounder,  Tamil Nadu Farmers Association
Kannaiyan, Secretary, South India Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (SICCFM)
Rajariga, President, Women Wing, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association
Devison A.K,  Kerala Coconut Farmers Association
P Raveendranath, Kerala Coconut Farmers Association

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