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A Two-Day Workshop on Reimagining the Governance of Genetic Resources and Intellectual Property for Agriculture and Food Security in Asia

A two-day workshop titled Reimagining the Governance of Genetic Resources and Intellectual Property for Agriculture and Food Security in Asia was held in Kathmandu on 2 and 3 August 2017. It was organized by South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), together with the ARC Laureate Project on Intellectual Property and Food Security at the University of Queensland and Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI). The objective of the workshop was to discuss policy options to safeguard the rights of farmers and breeders in the Asia-Pacific countries. 

The two-day workshop discussed the options to address the interests of all relevant public and private stakeholders including farmers, breeders and seed traders. It also aimed to critically assess the arrangements related to plant genetic resources in national laws and international agreements such as the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Convention on Biodiversity, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).

This issue is highly relevant to Nepal as the country is currently exploring options to create policy and legal space for the rights of farmers and breeders, for example, in its draft law on plant variety protection and the existing Seed Act and Seed Regulations. 

The experts present at the inaugural session of the workshop emphasised the need for a policy regime that can ensure that the communities which spend generations preserving and innovating plant genetic resources are rewarded. Such a regime should be able to provide due recognition to the farmers and breeders through intellectual property rights, and offer them a share in benefits derived from the use of their traditional knowledge which they have honed for generations.  

Stressing the importance of plant genetic resources to sustain agriculture, Dr. Posh Raj Pandey, Chairman of SAWTEE, pointed out that seeds and seedlings are as important as soil, water and sunlight for farming but these very elements get less attention in academic and policy discourse in Nepal. He stressed the need for the governance of genetic resources to empower the farming community. Dr. Ratnakar Adhikari, Executive Director of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) at the WTO pointed out that research and development in agriculture is not limited to scientists and laboratories but takes place in the field by farmers. It is critically important that communities that have spent generations preserving and innovating the genetic resources are rewarded, he said, pointing out that balancing breeders right with rights of farmers is a challenge.

Among the developing countries, India is the only country that has adopted sui generis system to govern plant genetic resources. Sharing the experience of India, Dr. Rakesh Chandra Agrawal, Registrar General at India Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmer Rights Authority said that registration of plant genetic varieties had a slow start but now two-thirds of the total registrations are coming from the farmers side. Discussing the Indian plant variety protection law, he pointed out that India even protects farmers from prosecution in cases of innocent infringement. India had legislated the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act- PPVFR Act in 2001, implementing a plant variety protection regime that protects the rights of both breeders and farmers. 

Dr. Kamalesh Adhikari, Research Fellow, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland Australia, pointed out that protecting the interests of plant breeders and farmers offers opportunities in areas of agriculture, food security and the use of plant genetic resources. Failing to create own kinds of sui generis plant variety protection regimes may not only restrict the ability of Asian countries to strengthen farmers seed systems, but may also prevent them from protecting farmers rights over seeds and traditional knowledge. This is because while making an attempt to protect breeders rights over modern plant varieties through an intellectual property system, Asian countries may find it difficult to create a legal space that smallholder farmers need—for example for farmers who rely on the conservation, saving, use and regular exchange of seeds of both modern and native plant varieties. 

The workshop saw presentations of papers on the experience of different countries, including Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Ecuador regarding the governance of genetic resources and intellectual property. The workshop saw the participation of about 30 participants representing agriculture ministry, seed entrepreneurs, farmers, gene bank, and academia among others.

Programme Agenda

Presentation:

Opportunities and Challenges Created by Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act in India

Dr Rakesh Chandra Agrawal, Registrar General, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers  Rights Authority, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India

Presentation:

Inscriptions of Campesinos Rights in Ecuador:  Protecting Plant Varieties and Seed

Mr David James Jefferson, Doctoral Researcher, TC Beirne School of Law, St Lucia 

Presentation:

The Legal Regime of Plant Varieties Protection, Seeds and Farmers  Rights in Bangladesh: Examining the Perpendicular in the Lance of Intellectual Property, Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture and Plant Genetic Resources

Dr Md. Towhidul Islam, Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Presentation:

Consolidating Local interest in Agriculture:  A Case Study on Plant Breeders Rights in Sri Lanka

Ms Asanka Perera, Associate Lecturer, Monash Business School, Monash University, Australia

Presentation:

Regulatory Politics and Farmers Rights:  Legislative Developments in the Pakistani Seed Sector

Dr Muhammad Ahsan Rana, Associate Professor, Suleman Dawood School of Business, Pakistan

Presentation:

Thailands sui generis system for plant variety protection

Dr Pawarit Lertdhamtewe, Director of the Law and Development Institute, LERTDHAM Foundation, Thailand

Presentation:

Formulation of National Seed Policy in Timor-Leste: Addressing Issues of Governance of Intellectual Property Rights over Plant Genetic Resources

Dr Pratap Shrestha, Program Specialist, Seed Systems and Plant Genetic Resources, USC Canada

Presentation:

Plant variety protection law in Nepal:  Does a two-track model of plant variety registration work to protect farmers rights?

Dr Kamalesh Adhikari, Research Fellow, TC Beirne School of Law, St Lucia Campus, The University of Queensland, Australia

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