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Community Registry in the Philippines

In the Philippines a local farmers' association has led the way in documenting and facilitating the sharing of the rice varieties grown and developed within the community and the associated knowledge. Many of these varieties have been developed through participatory plant breeding and are further improved every season. Farmers' knowledge concerns not only older varieties and practices, but also the innovations they carry out in their daily work, in selecting the best material for further propagation and improving varieties. Such knowledge is valuable, but it is not always easy to know how to ensure that it can be shared, while at the same time safeguarding it against misappropriation.

Throughout most of agricultural history the idea that seeds and other propagation material are part of the 'common heritage of mankind' has dominated farming and breeding practices. This open access to plant genetic resources (PGR) was a central factor in the spread and development of crops globally and was also instrumental in laying the foundations for scientific research and the development of modern high-yielding varieties in the last century. It was this development that paved the way for the commercial seed industry, and with it, the demands for private property rights to plant genetic resources. As a response to this, efforts were made to ensure that sharing of knowledge and seeds could still take place. However, it was in this example from the Philippines deemed necessary to take steps to protect the knowledge and varieties against misappropriation.

As a WTO member and signatory to the TRIPS agreement, the Philippines are required to fulfil the obligations of Article 27.3(b) and offer some sort of protection for plant varieties. When plant variety protection was introduced in the Philippines in 2002 with the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVP act), as a sui generis system in compliance with TRIPS, many small-scale farmers engaged in participatory plant breeding (PPB) reacted, fearing - among other things - that their innovations could be misappropriated by breeding companies. As a collective response to the Act, the Campagao Farmers' Production and Research Association (CFPRA) of Bilar on the island of Bohol decided to establish a community registry, as the community's way of asserting control over and access to seeds and propagating material. This was done in collaboration with the Philippines-based Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), after a SEARICE information and education campaign aimed at understanding the implications of the law.

Ricemix. Photo: SXCFollowing a series of group meetings and discussions, a community affidavit was formulated declaring that all rice varieties maintained in the community should be protected against the PVP Act, and that seeds of these varieties should remain freely accessible to farmers wishing to use, sell, save or exchange them with other farmers. The affidavit included a list of names and characteristics of rice varieties that the community had been using and developing since their PPB efforts started. It was supplemented by a resolution detailing the process of how entries in the registry should be updated every cropping season. After successful lobbing by the CFPRA, the local village council expressed its full support of the farmers' efforts and the community affidavit. An inventory of crop varieties was produced, a map of crop diversity developed, and material was collected for ex situ conservation. SEARICE project staff assisted the farmers in identifying and documenting the rice varieties used in the community.

By registering their varieties in this way, and continually updating the list, the farmers are protecting these varieties from misappropriation by commercial actors. For plant variety protection to be granted, the applicant must demonstrate that the variety in question is new. Varieties already registered in this way cannot be claimed as new inventions by others. Continual updating is therefore essential.

A special feature of the community registry project is the collaboration with the Central Visayas State College of Agriculture, Forestry and Technology, which provided back-up storage and documentation of the farmers' rice varieties, including those in the community registry. The College also provides free access for farmers to the materials stored in its seed bank and disseminates information on the characteristics of these materials through rice catalogues.

In the future, the CFPRA will work to increase the awareness surrounding the community registry and farmers' seeds at the levels of village, municipality and province. They also plan on lobbying the municipality for recognition of the CFPRA Community Registry, and work towards getting Farmers' Rights recognized at the provincial and national level.

The major achievement of the CFPRA project is that the material and the documented knowledge related to it remain in the public domain and can be widely shared in the spirit of 'common heritage'; while at the same time there are guarantees to protect against misappropriation. Among the main factors explaining the success we find the farmer-scientist collaboration, including the facilities of a gene bank, and the support of an experienced NGO like SEARICE. The most important lesson is probably that farmers do not need to fear sharing their seeds and knowledge if they take appropriate steps and register their varieties and associated information.

(This text is based on information from an article by Cisenio Salces and SEARICE (CBDC Bohol, Philippines) in a publication by the Community Biodiversity and Conservation Programme, 2006: 89-92, and the introduction by Paul Pedro I. Borja to the chapter Community Driven Policy Advocacy in the same publication, p 85)

Pages in this sub-section:
   Cataloguing potatoes and traditional knowledge in Peru
   In situ conservation in Switzerland
   Community registry in the Philippines
   Rediscovering traditional knowledge in Norway
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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