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Successful advocacy for Farmers' Rights in Nepal

Capacity-building is often a precondition for increased participation of farmers in decision-making processes. In this example from Nepal we will see how capacity-building among farmers, NGOs and the population in general, through networking and alliance-building, resulted in successful advocacy in relation to the protection of Farmers' Rights.

When Nepal was at the final stage of WTO accession in 2003, the United States exercised pressure on Nepal to adopt the UPOV model of plant breeders' rights as part of the WTO requirement to comply with Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPS Agreement. South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment (SAWTEE), a regional network launched in 1994 by a consortium of South Asian NGOs, took action to counterbalance this pressure after the concerned ministry in Nepal approached the network for technical inputs concerning the demands from the USA. SAWTEE operates through its secretariat in Kathmandu and has 11 member institutions from five South Asian countries: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The overall objective of SAWTEE is to build the capacity of concerned stakeholders in South Asia in the context of liberalization and globalization. This is done by equipping them with knowledge, information and skills so that they are able to voice their concerns. SAWTEE works with government institutions, the private sector, NGOs, farmers' and community groups, and community-based organizations. Farmers are involved through participation in project activities, including those relating to advocacy and during consultation meetings for the design of activities.

SAWTEE's advocacy work against Nepalese membership of UPOV was part of its 'Farmers' Rights to Livelihood in the Hindu-Kush Himalaya Region' project (FRP), which seeks to develop policy and institutional mechanisms to protect Farmers' Rights in the five member countries through advocacy, research, sensitization, capacity-building, information dissemination, networking and alliance-building. The mission of FRP is to protect the livelihoods of farmers by creating a favourable policy environment in its member countries. In connection with the implementation of FRP, SAWTEE has entered into partnerships with a range of national, regional and international organizations, such as public research organizations, Bioversity International, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and LI-BIRD.

A collection of SAWTEE publications and posters. Photo: SAWTEEWhen the issue of joining the WTO surfaced in the late 1990s, the general attitude in Nepal was one of scepticism. SAWTEE, however, was strongly in favour of WTO membership due to their belief in the multilateral trading system and in its importance for developing countries. In their opinion, the WTO trading system provides a degree of certainty in terms of market access, while the enforcement of a rule-based trade regime increases transparency. It was also felt that the provisions on transit rights were important for a landlocked country like Nepal. Judging that Nepal's interests would be best served by WTO membership, SAWTEE therefore worked with a number of stakeholders, including government officials at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies and the Ministry of Agriculture, to inform stakeholders and develop a proactive national agenda for the country's integration into WTO. At the same time SAWTEE was highly critical to the bilateral trade negotiations Nepal would have to attend in addition to the multilateral ones, and the 'WTO-plus' conditions they feared Nepal would be pressured to agree to by the other member countries of WTO as part of these bilateral agreements. In particular SAWTEE was very much against Nepal becoming a member of UPOV, as they felt this would be detrimental to farmers.

Working to avoid UPOV membership SAWTEE organized a series of events and published various materials under its protest campaign Say No to UPOV. As part of this campaign, SAWTEE provided the Nepalese authorities with information on the negative implications of UPOV membership for the traditional agricultural systems in Nepal. In addition it worked closely with the Nepalese negotiators during the final accession negotiations with WTO in Geneva, to enable them to fend off the pressure to join UPOV. The network also launched advocacy and information dissemination programmes in cooperation with other NGOs under the umbrella organization National Alliance for Food Security in Nepal (NAFOS) (NAFOS is a loose network of more than 20 NGOs working in Nepal on the issues of food security and rural development, many of which work with farmers. SAWTEE is the national secretariat of this alliance). A collection of articles highlighting why a country like Nepal should not adopt plant variety protection based on the UPOV model was published in various newsletters and in the leading national dailies. In order to create a wider range of pressure groups and make the campaign more effective, SAWTEE also distributed two posters, one in English and one in Nepali, with the clear message: Say No to UPOV. The circulation of these posters helped to sensitize stakeholders, particularly the various farmers' groups and their leaders. NAFOS also organized a press conference that was attended by all the leading media institutions as well as farmers' groups, lawyers and other stakeholders. This press conference received considerable media coverage, and was also brought to the attention of the US representative in Geneva.

Ultimately, SAWTEE succeeded in helping the Nepalese negotiators to fend off the pressure, and Nepal decided not to become a member of UPOV. According to SAWTEE, Nepal's refusal to do so has sent a message to the international community that the country is not likely to compromise the rights of its farmers, even under a high level of pressure.

The main success in this case was that the NGO network with SAWTEE managed to convince the Nepalese authorities not to join UPOV. Thus, the form of regulation on plant breeders' rights that was recommended by US diplomats could be avoided. This success was achieved mainly through advocacy work and networking. By spreading knowledge and information and advocating their position, SAWTEE demonstrated how capacity-building can be essential for participation in decision-making processes.

From this example we learn that NGOs can play a meaningful role in influencing public opinion - as seen in Nepal both from the way SAWTEE managed to convince numerous stakeholders that WTO membership was necessary and from the way the network used advocacy in its work against UPOV membership for Nepal. To succeed with advocacy work, in the opinion of SAWTEE, it is essential to work with the authorities, in particular to provide them with suggestions and information; to gain strong public support; and to make use of the media in the entire capacity-building and sensitization process. The main lesson is that much can be done through networking. The inclusion and active participation of a wide range of stakeholders in a broad network is often necessary when advocating a certain position. According to SAWTEE, many organizations lack the tools needed for working together. SAWTEE feels that its strength lies in the groundwork it has invested in capacity building, networking and alliance-building at the local, regional and international levels.

(This text is based on information provided by Kamalesh Adhikari, Research Director at South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment (SAWTEE), some of which can also be found in the SAWTEE Policy Brief on UPOV, nr. 5, 2003)

Pages in this sub-section:
   Successful advocacy for Farmers' Rights in Nepal
   Assessing Farmers` Rights in Malawi
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 In this section:
  What is a 'success story' of FR?
  Success stories from the realization of the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed
  Success stories on traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity
  Success stories on benefit-sharing measures
  Success stories on participation in decision making
  Common features

Photo: Pratap Shrestha, Nepal