top of page

Day 7 in Rome: The Fellows are inundated about indigenous peoples’ rights

The local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world have made enormous contributions to food and agriculture production throughout the world. However, the indigenous peoples often share a colonial legacy of marginalisation and dispossession; they struggle to reconcile the usually conflicting demands of tradition and modernity.

But, today, the rights of indigenous peoples are being taken into consideration as a result of sustained resistance by the people themselves and the mediation of a concerned and politically motivated international public, supported by the operational directives and lending policies of development agencies that insist upon respect for the rights of minorities.

Interaction session

To make sure that the Fellows learn about these rights and exercise them in their communities, the sessions held on 27th June at Bioversity International, mainly focused at better understanding farmers’ rights, particularly rights of indigenous peoples, but were explained to the Fellows through varied perspectives and initiatives.

Through the sessions, the Fellows got a kickstart to lead their indigenous communities to send submissions to the Secretariat of the ITPGRFA, with support from Bioversity. Furthermore, having learnt about farmers’ rights from experienced knowledge holders, the Fellows can organise farmers’ workshops to share experiences and raise awareness on farmers’ rights among their respective communities.

To aid this, periodic conferences would be organised by TIP with the Policy Unit of Dr. Michael Halewood of Bioversity to enable Fellows and others to share their ideas and experiences, and also get necessary feedback.


Session on UNDRIP with Phrang Roy

Introduction to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

The UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) emphasises on the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping up with their own needs and aspirations. The adoption of UNDRIP in 2007 brought about positive changes in the lives of indigenous people, particularly farmers. However, it only came into being with a lot of struggle.

Prior to the session on farmers’ rights, Phrang Roy, Coordinator, TIP, briefly explained the history of the struggle of indigenous peoples that eventually led to the adoption of UNDRIP by the UN General Assembly. He stated that the first struggle was in 1923 and 1925 by the works of Haudenosaunee Chief Deskaheh and Māori Pastor T.W. Ratana, who attempted to bring issues of Canada and New Zealand’s failure to uphold treaties to the League of Nations, United Nations’ precursor.

Some key features of the declaration: – UNDRIP has a Preamble with 23 clauses and 46 articles. – The Preamble highlights the importance of diversity, the right of indigenous peoples for freedom from discrimination, recognition of the historic injustice done to indigenous peoples, their right to the control of their own lands and territories, the respect of the world community of their culture and their right to self-determination. – The 46 Articles deal with the spiritual, linguistic and cultural identity of indigenous peoples and other issues that indigenous peoples have been fighting for many years. – The Articles in Part I and Part II deal with their collective rights which were hotly contested by many Nation States, the guarantee of no forced assimilation by Member States and no relocation without their free, prior and informed consent. – Parts III and IV of UNDRIP deal with their right to teach their traditions, promote their education and revitalise their history, language and traditions. Part V deals with their right to development and to improve their ecosystem amongst other provisions. – Part VI deals essentially with their right to their land territories. Part VII deals with their intellectual rights and their right to cooperation across borders.

Session on farmers’ rights

Introduction to Farmers’ Rights by Michael Halewood, Bioversity International

Dr. Michael Halewood, in his presentation, highlighted on the history of farmers’ rights. He said that the idea of farmers’ rights came up in the early 1980s as a countermove to the increased demand for plant breeders’ rights, as voiced in international negotiations. The concept was first brought up in international negotiations in FAO in 1986. During 1989, Farmers’ Rights for the first time were formally recognised by the FAO Conference, and in 1991 the Conference decided to set up a fund for the realisation of these rights.

With the adoption of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) in 2001, a legally binding international agreement was established for farmers to save, use, exchange and sell their seeds, and for the management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, in which states are obliged to protect and promote Farmers’ Rights, but are free to choose the measures they deem appropriate.

In his speech, he also stressed on the important components of farmers’ rights which comprise the following:

  1. protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture

  2. the right to equitably participate in benefit sharing arising from the utilisation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

  3. the right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and

  4. the right that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate.

Observation: Though the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has given good opportunities to farmers, it doesn’t give them the freedom as they are still under the control of their own states even though Clause 9.3 clearly states that ‘Nothing in this Article shall be interpreted to limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate’.


Ongoing work under Plant Treaty framework to promote farmers’ rights

Maria Jane Ramos de la Cruz, as a staff of the Secretariat of ITPGRFA highlighted the work carried out by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Secretariat. She also acknowledged the fact that the role played by civil societies has made this treaty possible. Over the years, they have come out with a template which allows civil societies and country members to share their experiences in the form of submissions of case studies, etc. while working on farmers’ rights. Through this process, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Secretariat hopes to see a diverse experience regarding the implementation of farmers rights which can become a useful document for other country members to follow.

Outcome: Phrang Roy suggested studying past submissions and finding out how many indigenous issues have been submitted to the Secretariat. If not, The Indigenous Partnership could take a lead on this aspect for next year.


Antonio Onorati during an interaction

Successes and challenges to realising Farmers’ Rights by Antonio Onorati, Crocevia Centro Internazionale; Via Campesina

Antonio Onorati in his speech clearly mentioned that Article 9 of the Treaty becomes an obligation for the country members to protect the rights of farmers. Taking this into an account, he reminded the Fellows that seeds that come from the community need to be protected and preserved. The best way to do so is to cultivate and use them.

He also pointed out that selling seeds among farmers is not an issue but selling seeds to the market can amount to the formation of a seed company for which national laws will apply. Following this, submissions to the Seed Treaty Secretariat were also discussed.


Community based biodiversity management and farmers’ rights

Ronnie Vernooy in his presentation briefly explained the two different levels for the promotion of agricultural biodiversity and the importance of Seed Banks. These include:

1st Level: Farmer diversity school, Community seed banks, community garden group, etc.

2nd level: Association of Seed Bank communities. For example: National Association of Seed Banks of Nepal and of the Potato Park in Peru.

He also spoke about the importance of developing links with Regional and International Gene Banks and the importance of women as custodians of seeds and farmers’ rights.

To increase seed availability and accessibility among farmers, he suggested to engage in participatory crop improvement. Also, for the long term sustainability of the project, he suggested community seed banks should also start engaging themselves as value addition units. This led to an interesting discussion on the pros and cons of Farmers’ Seed enterprises.


CGIAR contributions to farmers’ rights

Izabella Koziell in her presentation highlighted the different initiatives which were undertaken by CGIAR (Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research). CGIAR is a global partnership that unites international organisations engaged in research for a food-secured future. The centre recognises the indispensable role of farmers and indigenous communities in conserving and improving genetic resources. It seeks to be respectful of international efforts to protect and promote farmers’ rights as envisaged by the Treaty and support appropriate development of policies to recognise and promote.

Comments from Fellows: “Seed bank is one way to preserve the seed. Besides that, we also need to cultivate and use them.”- Edgar Monte “Implementation of farmers’ rights is important to conserve and sustain the natural resources.” – Chenxiang Marak “After hearing Bah Phrang’s presentation on the rights of indigenous peoples, now I realised and learnt that even though a number of articles have been published to oppose the construction of a Hydro Power Electric Dam in my village (Umsawwar), I had no idea that I could apply to UNDRIP and exercise my rights as a part of an indigenous community.” – Merrysha Nongrum

Members present:

Phrang Roy, TIP Coordinator, India Yani Nofri, TIP Fellow, Indonesia Chenxiang Marak, TIP Fellow, India Edgar Monte, TIP Fellow, Mexico Merrysha Nongrum, TIP Fellow, India Pius Ranee, Ex-TIP Fellow and TIP Consultant Claudia Heindorf, Phd student, Germany Andrea Selva, TIP assistant, Italy Bhogtoram Mawroh, India (via. skype) Rathin Roy, India, Chennai (via. skype) Gratia Dkhar, India (via. skype)

Resource persons:

Dr. Michael Halewood, Bioversity International Dr. Antonio Onorati, Crocevia Centro Internazionale; Via Campesina Dr. Izabella Koziell, Director for CGIAR’s Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) Program (via. skype) Dr. Ronnie Vernooy, Bioversity International, The Netherlands (via. skype) Mario Marino, Treaty Technical Officer, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Rome, Italy (via. skype) Mary Jane Ramos de la Cruz, Treaty Technical Officer, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Rome, Italy (via. skype)



bottom of page