June 04, 2009

A Sizable Step Towards a Real Commitment to Farmers’ Rights at the FAO?

TUNIS – After four days of difficult negotiations among 121 governments at a UN Food and Agricultural Organization Treaty meeting on the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture held in Tunisia, a Canadian effort to block progress was overturned. At midnight on Thursday, Brazil read an amended resolution on farmers’ rights to a tired plenary, shifting the prevailing tension amongst delegates into relief and enthusiasm. Following corridor negotiations, in which Europe, Latin America and Africa confronted Canada’s effort to derail the implementation of farmers’ rights, governments agreed to:
o    encourage member countries to review all measures affecting farmers’ rights and remove any barriers preventing farmers from saving, exchanging or selling seed;

o    involve farmers fully in national and/or regional workshops on the implementation of farmers’ rights and to report back on the implementation of farmers’ rights at the next meeting of the seed treaty in about 18 months; The plenary resolution broke from conventional UN diplomatic practices by calling for the full involvement of farmers’ organizations in every aspect of the Treaty.

Angola, Brazil, Ecuador, The Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland deserve special thanks for championing farmers’ critical role in the conservation and enhancement of plant genetic resources. Honduran farmer, Don Luis Pacheco, summarized the importance of the Treaty when he said: “Conserving plant genetic diversity is essential to our ability to adjust agriculture to the new threats of climate change. If we don’t get the global system for seed conservation right at this meeting in Tunisia, the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen at the end of this year can’t succeed.”

As Wilhelmina Pelegrina, Executive Director of SEARICE– a civil society organization that has long lobbied for farmers’ rights, who has tracked the negotiations closely, put it: “Although short on firm commitments, and dependent on financing, the resolution is a sizeable step forward in the decades-long struggle to recognize and implement farmers’ rights at the FAO.“

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