Monday, June 05, 2017

Seeds of contention

"What makes UPOV and breeders’ rights especially tricky is the way they work in concert with other large scale systems of governance and policy. In particular, trade and investment agreements are now being used to strongarm developing nations to effect policies promoting the seed industry, and actively demoting farmer-bred and local varieties. Nearly all countries are now part of the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requires that all member nations adopt “minimum standards” of intellectual property protection.  Countries are fulfilling this requirement by joining UPOV, establishing PVP laws and, in some cases, even stricter national-level laws for IP protection." from How Seed Laws Make Farmers’ Seeds Illegal in 2015.
A recent application Tanzanian farmers are facing heavy prison sentences if they continue their traditional seed exchange :
"With the changes in the legislation, Tanzania became the first least-developed country to join the UPOV 91-convention. All countries that are members of the World Trade Organization must include intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, but the least-developed countries are exempt from recognizing any form of intellectual property rights until 2021. After that, the issues would be reviewed.
‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape from poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind de G8,” says Michael Farrelly......
Nevertheless, according to the Tanzanian Government, the legislation never intended to penalize small-scale farmers, only to protect their property rights – that is, if they patent their own seeds.
‘But who’s going to sell non-certified seeds? Small-scale farmers do not have the means to get a patent for their seeds’, says Janet Maro.
“The government is working on a revision of the seed legislation. We hope that they will add an exception for small-scale farmers and will expand the Quality Declared Seed System,” says Michael Farrelly." And more in the article.
What can happen in practice is not so gloomy from earlier Gujarat experience:
The Napster pirates of transgenic biotech  by Andrew Leonard from 2007:

"Should we be dismayed by this profusion of complexity, or heartened? One encouraging lesson is that while the Monsantos of the world are extraordinarily powerful, they are not all powerful.Another could be the observation that transgenic biotech can indeed make a positive difference in the lives of farmers, especially when they are given the freedom to experiment and adapt. Yet another is that farmers are not automatically helpless pawns in the face of corporate capital — they can coopt new technologies and create new agricultural practices. 
Still another is that the situation on the ground is changing, all the time, and with great speed, and we had better keep paying very close attention."
Glenn Davis Stone's paper quoted above is available here
P.S. We take pride in the success of NRIs. We think a job is a job and well paying jobs for our children are good. But some of them work for such companies. Recently a colleague proudly pointed to the work of his lawyer daughter working for a mining company fighting to evade compensation from the destruction it caused, because the issue involved billions of dollars and his daughter is involved in such a big case.

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