Farmers’ organizations who were invited to attend a United Nations meeting on the Treaty that governs the exchange of crop seeds for research and plant breeding late yesterday told the assembled governments that the Treaty would have to be suspended. Speaking on behalf of 30 farmers’ and other civil society organizations, Ibrahima Coulibaly of ROPPA (regional farmers’ organization of West Africa) said that, “the Treaty, hosted in Rome by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), must halt the exchange of crop germplasm – the critical material for plant breeding. The suspension should remain in effect until governments meet the minimal obligations of the Treaty including its core financial arrangements,” the African farmer leader concluded.
The second meeting of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (“the Law of the Seed”) began on Monday and is expected to run through Friday but has been blocked – indeed, almost completely silent – because its 115 member governments have been unable to find the $4.9 million necessary to keep the lights on in its Secretariat and to maintain fundamental monitoring mechanisms that could ensure equitable sharing of the benefits of the seeds to be exchanged for research. Governments have also failed to commit funding to support in situ (“on-farm”) seed conservation or for capacity building in the global South.
“We are faced with the greatest case of institutional biopiracy ever seen,” said Andrew Mushita of the Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Network (a network of conservation programs in 21 countries). “In effect, governments are now enabling multinational seed companies to impose a legally-binding regime that forces the exchange of farmers’ seeds without reciprocal benefits,” said Mushita who also addressed governments yesterday.
Another civil society representative in the meeting, Wilhelmina Pelegrina from SEARICE, a Philippines-based organization said, “We also expect the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to suspend its germplasm exchanges in order to remain compliant with the spirit of the Treaty.” Eleven institutes of the CGIAR have distributed 100,000 seed samples under the terms of the Treaty so far this year. “We hope the suspension will be temporary and governments will come to their senses quickly,” said Pelegrina.