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Assessing Farmers' Rights in Malawi

To ensure the participation of farmers in relevant decision making processes it is often necessary to increase the awareness of both farmers and decision makers regarding the various issues related to Farmers' Rights and their impact on agricultural production. There are different matters and stages in the decision-making processes where farmer participation could be envisioned. Domestic implementation of the International Treaty, as well as the drawing up of national laws and regulations with an impact on the conservation and development of crop genetic resources are among the processes relevant in this regard. A maximum degree of participation would be ensured if farmers were included when these laws are developed as well as when they are implemented. A good starting point to promote the participation of farmers in these processes would be to assess the current situation and make farmers more aware of the various laws, policies and political processes that affect their livelihoods and their agricultural practices. This is what was done in this case from Malawi.

In Malawi, the non-profit organization Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) has been running a project where the goals were to increase the awareness of different stakeholders regarding Farmers' Rights and review the implementation and understanding of policy and legislation relevant to Farmers' Rights. Working on issues related to the management of natural resources and a sustainable environment, CEPA focuses on facilitating policy formulation, analysis and implementation in these areas. Their project assessing the implementation of policies and legislation related to Farmers' Rights in Malawi was research based, had a national scope, and was carried out between August and November 2007. Prior to this project CEPA had worked on Access and Benefit Sharing, and this work provided valuable background information. The project had three objectives; to assess the impact of agro-biodiversity related policies on Farmers' Rights: to assess the impact of the commercial seed sector on smallholder farmers: and to increase the awareness of policy makers, farmer organizations, traditional leaders and civil society organizations on the issue of Farmers' Rights and the relationship between these rights and agricultural production. To achieve these objectives CEPA conducted a desk study reviewing the existing policies, legislation and literature dealing with agriculture, biodiversity and food security, and developed a checklist to be used in their consultations with farming communities and other relevant stakeholders. After having identified the communities from five different districts that would participate in the case study interviews and awareness programmes, as well as a collection of stakeholders from the seed industry, the plant breeding industry, farmer organizations and institutions working on conservation of agro-biodiversity and Farmers' Rights that would take part in consultations, CEPA conducted the case studies and consultations and published the findings in a policy brief. The policy brief was then disseminated to various stakeholders.

A Malawian farmer displaying local seeds. Photo: CEPAThe involvement of farmers was central to this project; their opinions formed the basis for the resulting report, with about 15 farmers visited and interviewed during the process. One of the participating farmers accompanied the Executive Director of CEPA to Rome when the report was presented at a side event at the second session of the Governing body of the International Treaty, and the report was also presented at the National Farmers Technical Conference in 2007. This conference attracted around 60 farmers.

One of the successes of this project has been the increased awareness among farmers and policy makers at both the local and national levels of the need to enact legislation protecting Farmers' Rights. In addition, the issue of Farmers' Rights and their relationship to plant breeders' rights is now being debated. A draft for a Plant Breeders' Rights Bill has been pending for about five years. Receiving technical and financial support from CEPA, the Government of Malawi's Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) reviewed the draft and held stakeholder consultations. This led to the incorporation of Farmers' Rights in a new draft entitled Plant Variety Protection Bill, 2006. However, after internal consultations within the Ministry of Agriculture, DARS removed the chapter on Farmers' Rights from the Plant Variety Protection Bill and chose to include it in a revised Environmental Management Bill. According to CEPA this signalled the level of commitment to Farmers' Rights within the Ministry of Agriculture. More recently, a new stakeholder consultation recommended that Farmers' Rights should be brought back into the Plant Variety Protection Bill. CEPA has declared that it will continue to lobby the Ministry to ensure that Farmers' Rights are sufficiently protected by the authorities.

The project has also been one of the contributing factors leading to the preparation of a common position regarding Farmers' Rights for Southern Africa. Guidelines for Farmers' Rights in Southern Africa are now being developed based among other things on the project results. The findings from this project also suggest that most of the stakeholders, including the farmers themselves, did not fully understand the concept of Farmers' Rights, and that most commercial plant breeders are very sceptical to it. These findings underscore the need for information work and the type of assessment and awareness programmes CEPA undertook.

These results can also provide lessons for other actors working in the area of Farmers' Rights. In other countries as well, assessment and awareness programmes of the type carried out in Malawi would probably prove useful in the process of promoting the participation of farmers in decision making. As was done in Malawi, involving farmers and taking their views into consideration would be crucial. At the same time, this example from Malawi has demonstrated the need to also involve other stakeholders to get a correct assessment of the situation and the differing opinions on the issues. A thorough understanding of the attitudes of the relevant stakeholders makes it more likely that projects targeting increased awareness, introducing and changing policies and involving farmers in the process will be successful.

(This text is based on information from a questionnaire completed by William Chadza, Programme Director, CEPA)

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