Genetic Resources, Equity and International Law

Genetic Resources, Equity and International Law

New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series

Camena Guneratne

This book examines current developments in international law which regulate the uses of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and the various property regimes which are applied to these resources by these international agreements.

Chapter 6: Farmers, indigenous and local communities and traditional knowledge

Camena Guneratne

Subjects: development studies, law and development, environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, intellectual property law, international economic law, trade law, law and development, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights


The propertization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) has potential negative implications for national agricultural systems and food security of all peoples, particularly in developing countries. However, the CBD and the FAO Treaty have focused their concerns on two particular groups of people. These groups are farmers and indigenous peoples, particularly those in developing countries, whose livelihoods and way of life may be threatened by these developments. The concept of farmers’ rights entered the international discourse on PGRFA by way of the FAO, initially in its International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources. The issue is now embedded in the FAO Treaty. Similarly, Article 8(j) of the CBD calls upon States Parties to respect, preserve and maintain the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities, and the Conference of the Parties has taken up the topic as a distinct issue. The questions which arise in this context are, firstly why the rights of these two groups were identified in the international discourse on PGRFA as requiring particular concern, and how they were conceptualized. A further question is whether such conceptualization has contributed to ensuring equitable access to PGRFA, and safeguarding the agricultural systems and food security of nations. In this chapter I will argue that while the rights of farmers and indigenous and local communities have become one of the principal elements on which the debate on PGRFA is based, to date their nature, scope and content have still not been clearly elucidated

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