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The eternal tug of war in the global seed exchange

The eternal tug of war in the global seed exchange

Washington's incorporation was expected after a long process that began in 2002 with the signing of then-President George W. Bush and, according to official sources consulted by Efe, no change of position is expected in the new era of Donald Trump.

The government has already come out in favor of an agreement that "will mutually benefit US agriculture and the global agricultural community," and which is the gateway to a seed exchange system to which part of the US public collections also pass. , with more than 500,000 plant samples in total.

So far 142 States and the European Union have joined the commonly referred to as the "seed treaty", which since its entry into force in 2004 recognizes the contribution of farmers to crop diversity.

Bolivia, Chile and Argentina are some of the new members who, like others, have had to complete complex processes, from community consultations to legislative reforms to clarify responsibilities or achieve compliance with other international standards, explains Francisco López, an expert at the Organization of the UN for Food and Agriculture (FAO).

The treaty establishes a global system for farmers, plant breeders and scientists to access the materials of 64 crops essential for food and agriculture, promoting the conservation and sustainable use of resources after the loss in a century of 75% of agricultural biodiversity.

Until the US entry, the system covered more than 1.5 million samples and 3.2 million have been transferred for research and improvement projects.

If access has been facilitated thanks to simplified rules, what has not been achieved in the last decade is another of the foundations of the treaty, according to which users (such as companies) who use these seeds in the improvement of plants or in biotechnology, they must share the benefits obtained with the regions from which these resources come.

This is what the expert of the civil organization Public Eye François Meienberg believes, who details that with the current system "there will never be payments" since almost all the varieties produced, instead of being registered as patents and subject to the norm, are protected by a special kind of intellectual property that exempts you from paying for profits.

"Industrialized countries such as the European Union are pushing developing countries to adopt national laws to protect the rights of plant breeders that do not require any shared benefits with farmers," adds researcher Krystyna Swiderska, from the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED).

In his opinion, the seed treaty is a "great binding legal framework at the international level", but its enforcement mechanisms are "weak" and that task is left in the hands of governments, so that means are also needed at the international level. national to ensure compliance.

In the absence of progress, the countries are negotiating new rules, including a kind of subscription to the multilateral system, to "obtain more resources and in a more predictable way," says López.

The current benefit-sharing fund relies mostly on voluntary contributions from governments with some $ 20 million earmarked for conservation projects in some 55 developing countries, but farmers' associations complain they are lagging. aside by giving priority to research centers.

The leader of the "La Via Campesina" movement, Guy Kastler, says "not expect much" from the possible new distribution and emphasizes that his fight is directed against the appropriation that the companies make of seeds under intellectual property rights, until reaching to "expropriate" farmers of their knowledge.

"We defend the rights of peasants to have seeds, develop them and exchange them," he highlights.

Anke van den Hurk, director of the Plantum company and representative of the seed industry in international forums, believes that the sector already shares benefits with farmers by developing improved varieties so that they have more productive and resistant crops, or by supporting development projects and banks. of seeds, among other actions.

And he asks to address the factors that influence the implementation of the treaty and solve the needs by determining from the value of the material to the conditions of access since, for example, "no one is willing to sign a contract that imposes obligations until eternity."

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