Rules to empower Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Protection Act

Updated: Jan 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
The first year of the new millennium which witnessed heated debates on genetically engineered seeds and plants was uniquely significant for farmers and plant breeders. On the international scene, The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) at its General Conference in November adopted The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture with a specific clause on farmers rights.

In India, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act 2001 was promulgated by the President. India is the first country to pass such an Act and it will be the model for many other countries.

According to Dr MS Swaminathan, who had contributed immensely to the framing of this legislation, the Act has concurrent provisions for the farmers rights, breeders rights, researchers rights and protection of public interest. These provisions have to be effectively implemented through appropriate rules, which the Union agriculture ministry is expected to finalise after wide discussions with diverse groups.

An international consultation was organised recently at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, in Chennai, to deliberate on the implementation of the Indian Act and FAO Treaty. Over 85 participants from nine countries, including India, in the Asia-Pacific region and official from the ministry and FAO participated and adopted a draft rules. The draft would be submitted to the Union agriculture ministry to assist it in the preparation of the rules for final approval by Parliament. The draft finalised at the MMSRF consultation has nine important components, some of them very novel and unique. (see the box) Access to good seeds of appropriate varieties is essential to bridge the technology divide among farmers. To ensure the effective integration of Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001, the Biodiversity Act (yet to be passed by Parliament) and the proposed Seed Act to replace the 1966 Act, is essential.

A very novel suggestion finding place in the draft rules is the concept of the right of the seed to survive, sprout and grow. This right is being eroded by severe soil and water pollution. The proposal is to develop food and health security sanctuaries in areas rich in biodiversity and genetic resources.The Act needs to be understood by the farmers and it is suggested that a standing committee on awareness generation and information empowerment under the Act should be constituted with members from media and farming communities. MMSRF has set up a resource centre for farmers at Wyanad in Kerala, a biodiversity rich area, to ensure that the farmer breeders and conservers secure the recognition and reward provided under the Act. It was suggested that agricultural universities, ICAR institutes and Krishi Vigyan Kendras can establish such resource centres for farmers entitlements.

Farm research, which used to be in the government domain has spread out to the private sector in a big way. There are also individual breeders. In order to provide a level playing field for all sections, it is felt that there is need for an autonomous national institute for varietal research. Constitution of a national gene fund is another important suggestion. There is already a proposal for an international gene fund. The national fund is to be used for recognising and rewarding the contributions of tribal and farm women and men.