In a recently published letter, Michael Fakhri, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, criticizes the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Switzerland is also a member. He denounces the demands that the four member states are making of the countries of the South. EFTA is demanding that these countries agree to a UPOV membership-clause which, according to the special report, is contrary to human rights and jeopardizes food security.

Violates rights

Half of the world’s food is produced by small farms, especially in the countries of the South. These farms rely on peasant seed systems, i.e. how seeds are produced. In most cases, farmers breed and save seeds to secure the livelihoods of their households and communities. They do not have to buy new seeds every year, but instead propagate them in their own fields.

However, this traditional practice could be criminalized by the UPOV clause in the EFTA Agreement. Farmers would then no longer be able to multiply their seed from year to year but would have to buy expensive seed. This would jeopardize the lives of these farmers, who would have to go into debt for seed that is often not adapted to local conditions. The agreements thus threaten food security and biodiversity around the world. “As humanity depends on plants for food, fibre and a functioning ecosystem, nothing less than the right to life is at stake if farmers’ seed systems are put to the test or poorly supported,” writes Michael Fakhri in his letter.

Call to action

EFTA (consisting of Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) is currently negotiating free trade agreements with Malaysia and Thailand. Although it does not fully implement them itself, EFTA requires its trading partners to adopt the strict UPOV 91 rules. According to Michael Fakhri, these provisions “jeopardize the full ability of Thailand and Malaysia to fulfil their obligation to respect, protect and implement human rights, in particular the right to food”. In both countries, peasant agriculture is vital for the population.

For several years, farmers’ organizations and NGOs such as the Swiss Coalition for the Right to Seeds (of which SWISSAID is a member) have been calling on EFTA to remove this clause from the negotiations. They emphasize that UPOV 91 violates the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The Swiss Coalition for the Right to Seed demands that Switzerland and the other EFTA members respect the warning of the United Nations Special Rapporteur and permanently remove this clause from the negotiations to protect human rights and ensure food security.

Read the press release