To mark the 60th anniversary of the Union, activists from the nine development agencies, farmers’, and human rights organisations* dressed up as crops and put themselves in chains in front of the UPOV building in Geneva on Wednesday. The action symbolises the situation of farmers who can no longer freely use seeds due to UPOV’s Plant Variety Protection Laws. Farmers’ right to freely use their seeds is a central pillar of food sovereignty and for the implementation of the right to food, as well as for the conservation of agrobiodiversity.
UPOV was created in 1961 by a few European countries to enable plant breeders to enforce patent-like intellectual property rights for seeds. Since then, the rules have been tightened several times. The current Act of 1991 (UPOV 91) prohibits farmers from freely storing, reproducing, reusing, exchanging, or selling seeds covered by plant variety rights.
This restriction conflicts with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants (UNDROP) and the FAO’s International Seed Treaty, in which these activities are enshrined as the rights of peasants. Only if they can freely dispose of seeds will they be able to carry out their tasks for the food supply of a large part of the world’s population as well as for the conservation and further development of seeds.
Pressure on the South
In recent decades, increasing pressure from industrialised countries has forced developing countries to adopt the UPOV standards. The seed industry, the UPOV Secretariat and various industrialised countries continue to exert pressure on the countries of the South to adapt their legislation and restrict peasants’ rights in order to ensure that even more countries comply with the UPOV 91 rules.
Switzerland is also playing an inglorious role in this by seeking to oblige partner countries of free trade agreements of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) to join UPOV or to adopt its requirements. Paradoxically, the EFTA members in Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein have chosen not to comply with UPOV 91 requirements in their own national laws. Imposing laws on developing countries that they themselves consider inadequate is hypocritical and unjust.
Instead of plant variety protection rights according to UPOV, the organisations involved in the campaign call for laws that promote rather than restrict the free exchange and reuse of seeds. Only this way can the diversity of seeds be preserved and used sustainably. And only with a diverse agriculture can challenges such as climate change and food security be mastered.
*The action was supported by Alliance Sud, Bread for All, Fastenaktion, FIAN, HEKS, Public Eye, Swissaid, Uniterre and APBREBES.
- Pictures from the protest
- Swiss Coalition Right to Seed (German, French)
- Global Week of Action No to UPOV (English, French, Spanish)