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What are successes regarding benefit sharing?

The next measure to protect and promote Farmers' Rights, as suggested in the International Treaty, concerns the right to participate equitably in the sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (Article 9.2 [b]). Again, the Treaty provides no further details as to what this might mean in practice. However, elsewhere in the Treaty, in Article 18 on the Multilateral System on Access and Benefit Sharing, the most important benefits are listed as follows: (1) facilitated access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; (2) the exchange of information; (3) access to and transfer of technology; (4) capacity-building; and (5) the sharing of monetary and other benefits arising from commercialization. Moreover, it is specified that benefits arising from the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture that are shared under the Multilateral System should flow primarily, directly and indirectly, to farmers in all countries, especially in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, who conserve and sustainably utilize plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Whereas these provisions all relate to the Multilateral System and not directly to the provisions on Farmers' Rights in the International Treaty, they reflect a line of thought on benefit sharing which is relevant for interpreting Article 9.2 (b) on benefit sharing as a measure to protect and promote Farmers' Rights. First, we see that there are many forms of benefit sharing, where monetary benefits comprise only one part. Second, we see that benefits are not only to be shared with those few farmers who happen to have plant varieties that are utilized by commercial breeding companies, but farmers in all countries engaged in the conservation and sustainable use of agro-biodiversity. This reflects an approach that has been prevalent in the FAO ever since Farmers' Rights and benefit sharing were first recognized officially in 1989 (FAO Conference Resolution 5/89) (It differs from the bilateral and direct approach to benefit-sharing under the CBD, where benefits are to be shared between purported 'owners' and buyers of the resources. To date, there are no documented examples of benefits accruing to farmers in this way.).

In seeking to operationalize the concept of benefit sharing with regard to Farmers' Rights, and based on the 2005 international stakeholder survey on Farmers' Rights (Andersen, 2005 b), the following goals could apply:

a) Ensuring that incentive structures in agriculture favour farmers who conserve and sustainably use plant genetic resources for food and agriculture at an equal footing with, or more than, farmers engaged in mono-culture production of genetically homogeneous plant varieties. Such incentive structures might include extension services to support farmers, loans on favourable conditions for the purchase of farm animals and other required input factors, facilitation of the marketing of products from diverse varieties, and other infrastructure measures. An ultimate goal here would be to have incentive structures designed within each of these categories, fully supporting farmers who conserve and sustainably use agro-biodiversity. This has not been the case in any country so far, and generally the incentive structures offered by the authorities are negative to farmers' customary practices. However, there exist many local-level initiatives that can provide good models of how incentive structures could be designed on a larger scale.

b) Creating reward and support systems which enable farmers to benefit significantly from their contributions to the global genetic pool through added value to the crops they grow, improved livelihoods and increased income. There exist many small-scale programmes and projects that demonstrate the enormous potentials in this regard - such as community gene banks, dynamic conservation coupled with participatory plant breeding, participatory plant breeding and farmers' field schools, capacity-building and various marketing activities. Today, these benefits are achieved mostly through initiatives taken by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) and some extension services, and they reach only a limited number of farmers. A major challenge is to scale up these activities so that all farmers engaged in the maintenance of agro-biodiversity can participate in the sharing of these benefits. Funding is a crucial bottleneck, and has always been: smoothly functioning funding mechanisms are essential at the national as well as the international levels. At the international level, the Multilateral System and the Funding Strategy under the International Treaty are meant to generate funds. At the national level - in addition to funds from these two international mechanisms, which seem unlikely to generate the amounts required - private public participation and development co-operation are possible avenues. Thus far, there have been few examples of national-level funding mechanisms.

c) Ensuring recognition of farmers' contributions to the global genetic pool, to express that these contributions are valued by society. Here the question arises: is it conducive to the realization of Farmers' Rights to grant exclusive intellectual property rights to farmers for traditional varieties? There are strong opinions on both sides. Proponents claim that farmers should be granted intellectual property rights on an equal footing with breeders, as a matter of fairness. Opponents stress that such a system would create disincentives for farmers to share seeds in the expectation that these could become economically valuable. Such a development could be harmful to traditional seed systems, and could negatively affect farmers' rights to seeds. As there has been very little experience with exclusive intellectual property rights to farmers so far (except for a few individual acts of legislation), we will not go into this topic here. Another way to recognize farmers' contributions could be to provide some sort of remuneration for farmers who register varieties in seed catalogues for free use among other farmers (this was suggested by Maria Scurrah at the Lusaka Consultation), but also here no cases are known so far. A more usual way of granting recognition to farmers and farming communities is through awards for innovative practices, as has been done in several countries.

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