UPOV Impacts on Farmers' Seed Systems

Strengthening breeders' rights means weakening farmers' rights

Breeders have extended their plant variety protection rights in significant steps from UPOV 61 to 72 to 78 to 91. The balance with farmers' rights was lost in the process.

For the fifty years of its existence, UPOV has practically excluded civil society and farmer organisations from its discussions. Different from patents, there was hardly any public debate on plant variety protection rights. The only stakeholders who participated at most discussions were the associations of plant breeders and seed traders. Just one developing country - South Africa - was present during the talks on the 1991 UPOV Act. The situation and necessities of the global South were thus not taken into account. Consequently, a protection system was created for the breeding companies in industrialised countries, not the farmers in developing nations.

Losing farmers' rights is detrimental to food sovereignty, development and biodiversity. UPOV continues to assume that “more protection” always has a positive impact on production and productivity, and thus food security, ignoring that, for example, adverse prices can easily send farmers into poverty even if their productivity is high.

Seed prices increase with monopolisation

In ­Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and to a lesser extent South Korea and some Latin American countries, the largest seed suppliers are agro-chemical multinationals. These  corporations have taken control of the international seed market by buying out smaller seed companies. Between 1996 and 2011, the market share of the world’s 3 largest seed companies has more than doubled to 53% of proprietary seed sales. The cost of market power: From 1994 to 2010, seed prices in the United States shot up more than any other farm input, more than doubling relative to the price farmers received for their harvested crops (Source: ETC Group, 07 March 2013: Gene Giants Seek “Philanthrogopoly”).

Abolishing farmers' rights is the monopolisation strategy in the South

That merger&acquisition strategy, however, would not work in most developing countries. Since farmers themselves are not a purchasable company, multinational corporations can only gain control of the market if farmers were denied the right to sell seed. That is why there was such heated debate over farmers’ rights in India. Control over seed production is key to a country’s food independence. A nation that does not produce its own seed – and food – is not secure. The farmer would lose self reliance in seed and become dependent on outside seed suppliers.


Further reading:

Berne Declaration. With the Participation Of: Bread for the World – Protestant Development Service, Community Technology Development Trust, Development Fund – Norway, Misereor, SEARICE and Third World Network (2014) “Owning Seed, Accessing Food: A Human Rights Impact Assessment Of UPOV 1991 Based on Case Studies in Kenya, Peru and the Philippines

Africa Biosafety Center (November 2012) Harmonisation of Africa’s seeds laws: a recipe for disaster

Francois Meienberg (2010) Infringement of farmers’ rights, in D&C 4/2010

Suman Sahai (2010) The way it always was. Farmers' rights in India, in D&C 4/2010

Center for Food Safety (2013) Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers