25th Meeting, 49th Regular Session of Human Rights Council – Presentation of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri on Seeds, right to life and farmers’ rights

“The type of seed system you decide to support will determine your ability to tackle hunger, famine and nutrition.”

In his report and presentation at the 49th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), on 14 March, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, outlined two types of seed systems. 

On the one hand, farmers rights form the legal regime that protects farmer seed systems (FSS), which are predominantly used by smallholder farmers, peasants, and Indigenous Peoples. Farmers’ rights, enshrined in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), allow farmers to freely save, reuse and exchange seed, thereby ensuring stable food systems and flourishing ecosystems. 

On the other hand, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is the legal regime that promotes the interests of the industrial seed sector. Africa is facing pressure from industry to align seed legislation with UPOV, thereby enacting laws that allow seeds to be patented. 

UPOV is the legal regime that protects the Commodity Seed System and the four agrichemical giants that dominate. The Commodity Seed System depends on chemical inputs, pesticides, monocropping, and thrives on turning seed into the property of the seed cartel, which can then control their price and distribution.

Fakhri proposes that all member states enact Farmers' Rights within their legislation and prioritise national and international support of FSS, in order to reconcile the legal contradictions between UPOV and Farmers' Rights.

FSS must be the precondition for any functional food system because commodity seed relies on FSS to provide the raw genetic material required to patent, he argues.

Fakhri also calls on the UNHRC to be vigilant of agrichemical giants that are using food as a weapon to destroy communities, land and biodiversity for profit. 

Furthermore, he encourages the UNHRC to rethink its multilateral response policies regarding trade. We need a new trade regime that recognises and enhances the critical role communities play in seed systems that help societies to thrive through the global crises facing the planet. 

Additionally, he advises that the UNHRC to seek new ways of including the knowledge of farmers, peasants, and other indigenous people, to contribute towards science and technology innovation that protects and works in harmony with nature, culture and communities – as the current model only serves further industrialisation. 

“When we talk about seed systems, we talk about the right to life itself. Whoever controls seeds, controls life. This is why human rights require us to put all seeds into the hands of all the people.”

Watch Fakhri’s presentation here:  https://media.un.org/en/asset/k10/k10cqawg1p?kalturaStartTime=152

Watch the dialogue session here: https://media.un.org/en/asset/k16/k16omxzh33?kalturaStartTime=3454

Read the full report here.