UPOV, PVP: Challenges to Peasants’ Protection and Threat to Biodiversity; Report from the South-south Dialog in Durban South Africa

Indonesia was represented by Indonesian Peasant Alliance in discussion South-South Dialog, held between 27-28 November 2015 in Durban, South Africa.

Durban – South Africa, 28th November 2015
Written by Muhammad Rifai

Seeds is not merely about technical problems related to its cultivation, maintain its quality and improve the production. Moreover, with technology improvement, seeds issue is evolved into various dimension including agro-economic, agro-politic and sustainability of life. This is the main idea and framework within South-South Dialog, held between 27-28 November 2015 in Durban, South Africa. The dialog was attended by representatives of Farmer Organizations and NGOs from many countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Indonesia was represented by Indonesian Peasant Alliance. All presented organizations have concerns on issues of seeds, protection for peasants and International treaty on Seed, including International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), Plant Variety Protection (PVP), Covenant on Biological Diversity (CBD), The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

Current context of seeds issue is inseparable from economic dimension, politics dimension and dimension of life itself. From economics perspective, seed is asset that should be protected with patents to protect the business and trade interests of seeds corporations. From political perspective, seeds can be utilized as instrument for power and hegemony of state’s mercenary politic interests, in particular those of developed countries. From life dimension perspective, seed is the source and life assets of all humans and life itself, so it is necessary to maintain its existence and use it for the benefit of life.

There are many actors involved and have interest on seeds in various dimension. States have interest for national agricultural and trade development purpose. Seeds corporations have the interest to expand the businesses, so they emphasize on patent protection like UPOV, and PVP for seeds that they claim as their product. Seeds distributors or traders have interest to open trading access as wide as possible, by implementing their monopoly power on seeds patents. While farmers have the interest to improve production, access and control on seeds in order to carry on with their life, and maintain seeds as open resources for the benefit of life.

Each and every actors have their own reason to maintain life of varieties and germ-plasms that they control, from their own perspectives of course. But among all those actors, farmers or seed-breeder farmers in particular, are the most marginalized regarding their contribution in finding and conserving seeds. Besides, farmers’ role in serving life and feed the world is ignored and do not receive proper protection, like what happened in the UPOV and PVP system.

TWN Malaysia, represented by Sangita Shasikant, argued that ‘…International treaty especially in UPOV and PVP is very complex, and farmers have difficulties in meeting the requirements as prescribed within UPOV and PVP. But there are alternatives in sui-generis under international treaty such as TRIPs”

South Africa ACB, represented by Mariam Mayet, maintained that “…PVP or UPOV requires commercial seeds to be certificated according to conditions established by UPOV or PVP. Otherwise, the seeds is deemed illegal.” She also stated that, “… within UPOV/PVP, prescribed certifications and prerequisites are to guarantee the quality and free from pest/disease. Assumptions in UPOV/PVP said that seeds distributed without certifications and not meeting Novelty, Different, Uniform, Stable requirements assumed by UPOV/PVP; then farmers’ seeds are deemed unqualified and spread disease or becoming mutant.” Moreover, Mayet also said that “… prerequisites for seeds production and distribution is so complex, not only about how it is produced but also includes nutrition contents, human health, and diseases carried by the seeds. This will marginalized farmers further and caused degradation on biodiversity.”

Searice Filiphina, represented by Nori Iqnacio, stated that, “…..based on experience in Philippines, informal seed system found more new variety than formal seed system. Then farmers’ role in discovering seeds is ignorable. They have big contribution in conserving seeds.”

German Veles of Colombia presented, “…UPOV/PVP is the methods for big corporations like
Monsanto, Syingenta and others to monopolize market, and promote developing countries hegemony by enforcing their system implementation through international treaty.”

Famara Diedhiou of Senegal testified, “….. we attempt to promote farmers’ protection within legislation that will be promulgated by the parliament by including smallholder farmers protection within PVP Law. Seeds corporations start to expand in Senegal. We and farmers fight to prevent wider biodiversity destruction by educate and train farmers, encourage the Parliament to establish Law that protect the interest of farmers and indigenous people.”

Carlos Vicente of Argentine uttered, “…UPOV/PVP is the method of Capitalist countries and corporations in monopolizing market.”

Last, Indonesian Peasant Alliance represented by M. Rifai affirmed that “…. Indonesia is not member of UPOV 1978 and 1991, but Indonesia have established Law on PVT (PVP) and Plant Cultivation System (SBT) that mostly adopted UPOV. We know that UPOV/PVT systems are not designed to protect peasants, but protecting business interest of seeds corporations instead. For example, there were 14 members of API – corn seeds breeders- being criminalized based on PVT and SBT Law for distributing seeds without label and certification.

API also expressed that, “… in building networks within South-South Dialog context, we should think beyond the box of PVP/UPOV. Thinking within the frame of PVP/UPOV, we only have two options of either implementing UPOV/PVP or sui sui Generis. Both systems are still in the TRIPs framework. This will allow them to kill us easily. They place farmers in a position similar to a fish in a bottle, where they can either plug or unplug the cork and the fish will die slowly. UPOV/PVP will kill farmers like the fish in the bottle.

Further API said, “…. thinking and working beyond the box will allow us to invite participations of farmers, pro-farmer researchers, NGOs and other parties to work on more opened seed breeding system. We cannot reactively refuse UPOV/PVT. They are supported by systematical strategy, tremendous capital and political support by using state instrument within international treaty context like WTO and TRIPS. We must also create a systematical fighting strategy.

“… then in this dialog I would like to propose, it is important to build opened community seed bank system and inviting participations of farmers, researchers, NGOs; to be accessed by farmers as main material in improving better variety and based on the four principles: 1) Improvement of the Production and agriculture and food Sovereignty, 2) Improvement of the sustainablity of agriculture, 3) Improvement of the Agrocology, 4) Improvement of the Biodiversity.
Based on those principles, we can build an opened community seed system as alternative, and building strong network between farmers within South-South Dialog contest. This way, farmers have bigger chance in fighting against UPOV/PVP system.

The South-South Dialog forum eventually resulted on a declaration to refuse UPOV and PVP, and commitment to protect farmers’ interest on seeds and refuse seed patents.

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