Farmers’ rights and agrobiodiversity

An analysis of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture’s provision on Farmers’ Rights argues that these rights are fundamental to the conservation of crop plant diversity. Among other things, the paper says that these aspects are most important:

  • seed legislation must permit farmers to store seed and planting material, to use, develop, exchange and sell it
  • indigenous varieties must remain publicly accessible and not protected by plant breeders’ rights. This can be achieved through plant registers that document all known varieties
  • farmers must be rewarded for the contribution that they make to biodiversity. This can include ensuring access to seed suitable for improving traditional varieties, support in conserving seed and planting material and sustainable utilisation of these resources
  • in order to safeguard these rights, farmers must participate in decision-making processes.

Farmers’ rights and agrobiodiversity was produced by GTZ, the German development donor, as part of its programme on Global Food Security and Agrobiodiversity.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites and agricultural biodiversity

Two of the newly-inscribed sites in the UNESCO World Heritage List caught my eye because of their agricultural biodiversity connections: both, interestingly, are in Europe. The first is the Lavaux vineyard terraces, 30 km of 1000-year-old agricultural landscape around Lake Geneva. The second is the primeval beech forest of the Carpathians, in Slovakia and Ukraine. However, I must admit that this second one only caught me eye by mistake, as it were. I thought it was in these forests that the last aurochs lived, but that was ignorance, pure ignorance on my part. It is the wisent that lives there, still. The last recorded aurochs died in 1627 in the royal forest of Jaktorow in Masovia, central Poland. Somewhere else entirely. But I wonder if there are any other wild relatives — of either livestock or crops — in the primeval Carpathian beech forest.

Agra explains

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa has found it necessary to issue a statement clarifying it’s position on Plant Breeding and Genetic Engineering. This is in response to the press that Agra’s Board Chair, Kofi Annan, received when he outlined Agra’s non-GMO position. I’ve read the statement carefully a couple of times now. It does indeed rule out GMOs for the time being. Even for bananas.

Agra says it will reconsider if and when African countries and their people have considered the matter and have put in place rules and regulations for “the safe development and acceptable use of new technologies”.

Crop national parks?

A new publication by WWF and some friends at the University of Birmingham1 makes the case for using protected areas, in particular in the centres of origin, to conserve genetic diversity in crops and their wild relatives:

Many of these centres have only five per cent protection, some have only one per cent or less. They include: the Central Andean wet puna of Peru and Bolivia, well known as reservoirs of grains and root crops including the potato; the Eastern Anatolian deciduous forests and steppe of Iran, Turkey and Armenia, centres of diversity for many grains and fruit species; the Southern Korea evergreen forests important for their genetic resources of tea; and the Malaysian rainforests which are centres of diversity for many tropical fruit species, particularly mangoes.

  1. Food Stores: Using Protected Areas to Secure Crop Genetic Diversity. A research report by WWF, Equilibrium and the University of Birmingham, UK. Written by Sue Stolton, Nigel Maxted, Brian Ford-Lloyd, Shelagh Kell, and Nigel Dudley. Published August 2006, WWF – World Wide Fund for Nature []