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Introduction

Seeds are the basis of the world food supply. In the rural areas of the South, access to seeds is the deciding factor between a life of hunger or prosperity. The diversity of seeds – agricultural biodiversity – has always been the foundation for the growing of new useful plants.

This diversity has been developed over centuries by farmers, who have evolved new varieties through selection, maintained them through repeated cultivation and adapted them to local conditions.

But this variety is in danger. Through intellectual property rights such as patents and plant breeders’ rights or plant variety rights, access to genetic resources and their free use are made more difficult or even prevented for breeders and farmers. The informal seed system in which farmers freely cultivate, exchange and further develop seeds is being increasingly blocked by the commercial seed sector. In addition an increasing market concentration must be noted in the commercial seed sector: today three firms control around 50% of the proprietary seed market.

In order to counteract this development, Public Eye supports free access to seeds and demands that human rights are given more weight than commercial interests in the definition of intellectual property rights to seeds.

Intellectual property rights must be designed in such a way that ethical principles are taken into consideration, the rights of farmers are respected, a fair development of the South is supported, and the implementation of the Convention on Biodiversity, as well as research and cultivation of new varieties, are not hindered by patents. On the international level the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources must also ensure that access to agricultural biodiversity is maintained, the rights of farmers are respected and a fair sharing of benefits is practised.