Right to seeds for peasants to be discussed at the Human Rights Council

by Laurent Gaberell, Berne Declaration

An intergovernmental working group created by the Human Rights Council to develop a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other Peoples Working in Rural Areas is meeting May 17-20, 2016, in Geneva. The draft Declaration that is being discussed includes a right to seeds (article 22).

The adoption of such a UN Declaration is an initiative from La Vía Campesina, the international peasant movement. It has been supported in its efforts at the Human Rights Council by CETIM and FIAN International.

After years of campaigning, the Human Rights Council decided in September 2012 to establish “an open-ended intergovernmental working with the mandate of negotiating, finalizing and submitting to the Human Rights Council a draft United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (A/HRC/RES/21/19).

This was also in response to a study by the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee that concluded that peasants and other people working in rural areas “are among the most discriminated and vulnerable people in many parts of the world” and recommended to overcome this situation that “a new international human rights instrument on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas should be developed and adopted by the Human Rights Council” (A/HRC/19/75). It provided in the annex a draft Declaration to serve as a basis for the negotiations.

Access to seeds and the importance of the traditional practice of saving, exchanging and selling seeds, were identified as critical elements. The concentration in the seed market and its control by a handful transnational corporations were also pointed out as obstacles towards the realization of the rights of peasants.

The draft Declaration provided by the Advisory Committee included Article 5 “Right to seeds and traditional agricultural knowledge and practice”. It included “the right to grow and develop their own varieties and to exchange, to give or to sell their seeds” and “the right to determine the varieties of seeds they want top plant”, among others.

The intergovernmental working group first met in July 2013 and completed a first reading of the draft Declaration. On the basis of those discussions and informal consultations held, a revised draft Declaration was produced by the President-Rapporteur of the working group, Ambassador Angelica Navarro, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the United Nations in Geneva, and was presented to the working group at its second session, in February 2015. The same document will be discussed again during the third meeting of the working group from May 17-20, 2016.

The right to seeds is now article 22. It recognizes the “enormous contributions to the conservation and development of plant genetic resources” peasants of all regions of the world have made, and will continue to make. And it recognizes to peasants and other people working in rural areas “the right to save, store, transport, exchange, donate, sell, use and re-use farm-saved seeds, crops and propagating material” as well as “the right to conserve, use, maintain and develop their own seeds, crops and genetic resources, or those of their choice.”

Article 22 details specific states’ obligations related to the right to seeds. Accordingly states should “take measures to respect, protect and promote traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources”; “ respect, protect and promote peasant seed systems, and recognize the validity of peasants’ seed certification systems”; “take steps to ensure that planting material of sufficient quality and quantity are available to peasants that need them at the right time for planting, and for an affordable price”; and “ensure that agricultural research and development is directed towards the needs of peasants and other people working in rural areas” as well as “ensure that peasants’ experience and needs are effectively reflected when priorities for agricultural research and development are defined”.


All information and documents are available on the Intergovernmental working group’s website.