Crunch Time for the Seed Treaty

A review of some outstanding issues in the negotiation

Will the effort to fix ITPGRFAs broken benefit sharing system measure up to expectations?

This paper reviews the key outstanding issues that are expected to be discussed by the ITPGRFA Governing Body, and makes recommendations for what developing countries, farmers, and other civil society should support in November’s decisive negotiation.

Next month, the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) will hold what may prove to be its most consequential meeting since the Treaty’s inception. On the table will be:

  • A draft agreement to revise the Treaty’s Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), which governs international exchanges of crop seeds, and
  • A proposal to expand the coverage of the Treaty’s Multilateral System (MLS) to “all PGRFA” (Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture).

The purpose of the negotiation is supposed to be increasing mandatory payments by the seed industry into the Treaty’s Benefit Sharing Fund – money that supports the in situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity in farmers’ fields. But developed countries are trying to move the goal post.

Their goal is to require developing countries to put many more seeds into the failed benefits sharing system without, crucially, rich countries accepting the obligation to ensure that corporations pay sufficiently for use of those seeds.

Fixing the Benefit Sharing Fund has long been a priority for developing countries. But standing principles held by the South have come under assault in recent negotiations, and the resolve of developing countries to ensure that companies pay their share has weakened.

At this pivotal meeting, developing countries must protect the interests of small farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities, and reclaim their sagging banner of fair and equitable benefit sharing. Any agreement must obligate developed countries to see that the Benefit Sharing Fund receives at least US $50 million per year to support in situ agricultural biodiversity, and must pay deference to Farmers’ Rights. If such an agreement cannot be achieved, developing countries must be prepared to walk away without a deal because the status quo, while undesirable, would be better than throwing even more seeds into a failed system.

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