The UPOV Convention of 1991 has reduced the farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material dramatically in the recent years. In his report “Seed policies and the right to food: enhancing agrobiodiversity and encouraging innovation” the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, demonstrates how this form of protection rights endangers informal seed systems and consequently food security and biodiversity. In line with other expert views he recommends that every country develop its own system for seed protection based on its specific needs and provide for strengthening of farmers’ rights and biodiversity. Today it is widely acknowledged that the current system of UPOV 91’, the adoption of which is often imposed by OECD countries onto developing countries through bilateral trade and investment agreements, does not protect farmers’ rights or take into account the needs and interests of most developing countries.
“UPOV needs to be open to a multitude of views, balanced, transparent and inclusive in its proceedings. In particular UPOV needs to take into account the voices of the most vulnerable people” says K.M. Gopakumar of Third World Network. Moreover compared to other international organizations UPOV’s method of work is outdated. Its de facto decision making body, the Consultative Committee, is closed to all observers, few UPOV documents are publicly available, while the industry has significant influence in UPOV’s operations and decision-making processes. The organization should be more transparent and the influence of the seed industry should be balanced with a better representation by farmer groups and civil society organizations. It is alarming that UPOV is negotiating rules and regulations on breeders’ rights behind closed doors, when such laws have detrimental impacts on farmers’ rights to farm-saved seeds and the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity.
“UPOV should open up its work to adhere to international standards of transparency and good governance in line with the trends in other intergovernmental organisations,” says Francois Meienberg from Berne Declaration. Clearly, it’s time for UPOV to change. As a start, UPOV’s governance structure should be improved. In this regard the Association for Plant Breeding for the Benefit of Society (APBREBES – a network of NGO working on plant variety protection), has made the following proposals:
- All documents should be publicly available;
- The Consultative Committee of UPOV should be open for all observers;
- Invite observers to join its work with a view to achieving a balanced representation of the different stakeholders and interests.
These changes would be in line with the general trend among many intergovernmental organizations over the last decade to gradually expand transparency and participatory mechanisms. Further UPOV needs to also put in place mechanisms to ensure that all its activities and decisions are assessed with regard to their impact on the right to food, on farmers’ rights, biodiversity and development in general.