Farmers' Rights

© Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images
Farmers’ access to seeds is a condition for the realisation of the right to food and food security. In the countries of the South, the informal seed system plays a far more important role than in the North, where industrial agriculture is practised.

Contrary to the formal system where seeds are bought from commercial companies, in the informal system, it is the farmers themselves who provide their own seeds. In these countries, most peasants store part of the seeds from their harvest to reuse them the following year, exchange or sell them at local markets.

1.5 billion farmers depend on seeds saved from their own harvest. In West Africa, 90 to 98% of peasants produce their own seeds. In East and Southern Africa the figure is between 70 and 95%. For some useful plants (such as potatoes) almost 100% of the needs are thus covered.

Endangered biodiversity

In the countries of the South, farmers’ practices of saving, cultivating, exchanging and selling the seeds from their harvested crops are the basis of food security and their right to food.

© Robin Hammond/Panos

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

But this variety is now endangered. 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 impossible 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. Furthermore, there is increased market concentration in the commercial seed sector: today just 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.