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What are successes regarding traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity?

Traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity is vital to understanding the properties of plants, their uses and how to cultivate them. One measure to protect and promote Farmers' Rights, as set out in Article 9.2 (a) of the International Treaty, involves the protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. However, the International Treaty does not specify this suggestion in greater detail.

At the informal international consultation on Farmers' Rights in Lusaka in 2007, various examples were given and proposals offered on how national or local governments could support such initiatives. Ideally, farmers' varieties and associated knowledge should be documented and seeds stored in gene banks, in order to ensure that these valuable resources are shared and do not become extinct. However, several participants expressed concern about the legal status of such collections. If readily available, seeds could also be picked up by commercial actors and used without obtaining prior informed consent from the farmers, or benefit-sharing arrangements. There is widespread concern that local communities might lose control of their plant genetic resources, particularly if modified forms of these resources are made subject to intellectual property rights. This situation points to the difficult dilemma between sharing seeds and traditional knowledge to avoid extinction - and protecting it against misappropriation. Participants at the Lusaka consultation also expressed regret that it is deemed necessary to show such caution with activities so vital for further availability of genetic resources and related knowledge due to the fear of misappropriation. This fear basically hampers conservation work aimed at enhancing farmers' varieties and strengthening their seed systems - which is crucial to the future of our plant genetic heritage.

In light of these central considerations, an ultimate goal for activities aimed at protecting traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity would be to facilitate documentation and free sharing of such knowledge among farmers - while also ensuring that no misappropriation takes place.

One challenge in registering and documenting traditional varieties of plants lies in the genetic heterogeneity of these varieties. They are difficult to describe as varieties, and that is part of the problem when it comes to the fear of misappropriation. For a plant breeder to be granted plant variety protection, it is sufficient to discover a variety and develop it, for example in terms of genetic purification. If the prior existence of the variety cannot be documented, farmers will often not be in position to challenge such a right. For that reason, developing improved methods of documenting traditional varieties can represent important achievements for protecting traditional knowledge against misappropriation - as well as against extinction.

In other parts of the world, particularly in the North, farmers do not fear misappropriation of seeds, as they themselves have not experienced losing any rights to seeds through misappropriation. In such countries, the problems are different: the farmers involved in maintaining agro-biodiversity are getting scarce - and they are ageing. What they fear is that their traditional knowledge will die with them. Here an important objective becomes to ensure that the knowledge does not vanish from history.

Pages in this sub-section:
   What are successes regarding the right to save,use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed?
   What are successes regarding traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity?
   What are successes regarding benefit sharing?
   What are successes regarding participation in decision making?
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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