It takes thousands of years of selection by nature and farmers to create genetic diversity in plants and animals. Farmers toil a lot to create genetic diversity. But these farmers have very few or no benefits at all for the genetic diversity they have created. Finally this enormous role of the farmers to genetic diversity in agriculture has been officially acknowledged in the 2001 through an international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. This treaty grants rights to the farmers. These rights recognize the farmers as the innovators of agricultural biodiversity. Also the farmers are rewarded for their contributions.Local and indigenous communities of farmers throughout the world contribute to the conservation and development of genetic plant resources. Article 9 of International Treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture recognizes this enormous contribution made by farmer communities. As per Article 9, governments are made responsible for the implementation of farmers’ rights.
The following are the three key ways in which international treaty protects the rights of farmers:-
1.Fair and equal distribution of benefits derived from the use of plant genetic resources
2.Protection of traditional knowledge.
3.Right to participate in decision making
The International Treaty also supports the farmers through funding. Priority in funding will be given to the farmers in developing countries, especially in least developed countries, and in countries with economies in transition. Farmers’ Rights in India:-
India is one of the first countries in the world to pass a law allowing Farmers’ Rights through Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPVFR). India’s law is exceptional and distinct as it intends to protect not only farmers but also breeders.
The farmer’s rights in India give immense importance to farmers and breeders because:
Nine rights are given to farmers under the PPVFR Act:-Right 1:-
Access to seed:- Farmers shall be entitled to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell their farm produce, including seed of protected varieties, in the same manner as they were entitled to before the coming into force of the PPVFR Act. However, farmers shall not be entitled to sell branded seed of a variety protected under this Act. The Act does not specify the quantity of seed that farmers can save from a crop cultivated in their own farms from a protected variety.
Benefit-sharing:-All Indian legal entities who provide PGR to breeders for developing new varieties, including farmers, shall receive a fair share of the benefits from the commercial gains of the registered varieties. Out of all the national plant variety protection laws enacted since 2001, the PPVFR Act is the first that integrates a provision for access and benefit-sharing (ABS) along with PBRs. Legal accession of the genetic resource used in breeding is not addressed in the Act; this falls instead under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. However, the PPVFR Act requires a breeder to make a sworn declaration on the geographical origin of the genetic resources used in the pedigree of the new variety, and how they were accessed.
Compensation:- Registered seed must be sold with full disclosure of their agronomic performance under recommended management conditions. When such seed is sold to farmers but fails to provide the expected performance under recommended management conditions, the farmer is eligible to claim compensation from the breeder through the office of the PPVFR Authority.
Reasonable seed price:- Farmers have the right to access seed of registered varieties at a reasonable price. When this condition is not met, the breeder’s exclusive right over the variety is suspended under the provision concerning compulsory licensing, and the breeder is obligated to license the seed production, distribution and sales of the variety to a competent legal entity. Most of the laws for plant variety protection have provisions on compulsory licensing of protected varieties to ensure adequate seed supply to farmers, and several of them also use unfair pricing as grounds for compulsory licensing.
Farmers’ recognition and reward for contributing to conservation:-Farmers who have been engaged in PGR conservation and crop improvement, and who have made substantial contributions in providing genetic resources for crop improvement, receive recognition and rewards from the national gene fund. The gene fund receives resources from the implementation of the Act, which in turn are complemented by contributions from national and international organizations. The expenditures of the fund are earmarked to support the conservation and sustain-able use of PGR, and in this way it can be considered to be a national equivalent to the global benefit-sharing fund operating within the ITPGRFA, as described by Andersen (Chapter 6.2). Since 2007, the plant genome savior award, associated with the national gene fund, has been rewarding farming communities and individual farmers for their contribution to in situ conservation on-farm and to the selection of PGR (Bala Ravi and Parida, 2007).
Registration of farmers’ varieties:-The Indian PPVFR Act allows for the registration of existing farmers’ varieties that fulfil requirements for distinctness, uniformity, stability and denomination, but does not include that of novelty. This right provides farmers with a one-off opportunity for a limited period of time, from the moment when a crop species is included in the crop portfolio under the PPVFR Act for registration. Once registered, these varieties are entitled to all PBRs.
Prior authorization for the commercialization of essentially derived varieties:-
When farmers’ varieties, whether extant or new, are used by a third party as source material for the development of an essentially derived variety, the farmers need to provide prior authorization for its commercialization. Such a process can allow farmers to negotiate the terms of authorization with the breeder, which may include royal-ties, one-off payments, benefit-sharing, etc
Exemption from registration fees for farmersUnder the PPVFR Act, farmers have the privilege of being completely exempt from paying any kind of fees or other payments that are normally payable for variety registration; tests for distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS), and other services rendered by the PPVFR Authority; as well as for legal proceedings related to infringe-ment or other causes.
Farmer protection from accidental infringement:-The time of an infringement on any such rights, as detailed in the PPVFR Act, he or she will not be charged. This provision is made in consideration of the centuries-old unrestrained rights that the farmers had over the seed of all varieties, the novel nature of the PPVFR Act and the low legal literacy of farmers
Farmers Rights’ should be dealt as intellectual property rights rather than reward mechanism because the working of the reward mechanism may be ad hoc and may not be transparent. Many farmers in India feel that they must have some kind of ownership over their varieties because companies take the original material from farmers and sell them at a higher rate. Sometimes even the middlemen raise the price of fruits/vegetables and sell it at higher prices to consumers, whereas farmers receive only a meager amount of that price. Farmers should have ownership rights but it is not easy to produce new varieties. And if money and opportunity are provided, farmers can also invent and innovate. The Indian law on Farmers’ Rights is considered successful at least partially by many stakeholders. Probably, it is for the first time when the rights of farmers received such wide attention and debate both within and outside Parliament. Even more government was forced to initiate as it could not manage to pass the legislation without these demands being met.