Peasants’ Right to Seeds and Intellectual Property Rights

Democratic Republic of the Congo: North Kivu, Rutshuru Territory. Seeds multiplication field (peanuts). The ICRC supports local farmer associations. Democratic Republic of the Congo: North Kivu, Rutshuru Territory. Seeds multiplication field (peanuts). The ICRC supports local farmer associations.

Our new Research Brief The Right to Seeds and Intellectual Property Rights summarizes key findings linked to the recognition of peasants’ right to seeds in the context of the current negotiation of a UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (UN Declaration) at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).


For over 10,000 years, peasants have saved, selected, exchanged and sold seeds, as well as used and reused them to produce food.

While these customary rights have been recognized in international law since 2001, peasants are faced with significant challenges. The promotion of commercial seed systems and the adoption of national laws for the implementation of international trade agreements often prioritize the protection of private intellectual property rights over seeds at the expense of peasant communities. ‘This tendency to protect commercial interests of plant breeders and patent-holders – in many cases corporations – often runs against peasants’ rights to food and seeds’ underlines Christophe Golay, the author of the report.

Peasants Rights


Today, the vast majority of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on peasant food and seeds systems. The recognition of the right to seeds in the UN Declaration is therefore crucial for the realization of peasants’ human rights, notably their right to food.

As HR are higher norms than intellectual property rights, such recognition would require the revision of national laws and trade agreements to make sure that they do not infringe, but facilitate the realization of peasants’ rights to food and seeds.

‘There are precedents that show that this can be done’ highlights Christophe Golay. The recognition of the rights to health and access to medicine in the context of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS agreement) at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 is one of them. Another is the adoption of the 2001 Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act in India.


‘In drafting the UN Declaration, negotiators should recognize the core elements of the right to seeds’ stresses Christophe Golay. ‘These include peasants’ rights to save, exchange, donate, sell, use and reuse farm-saved seeds of peasants’ varieties, and to maintain, control, protect and develop these seeds and property over them’ he adds.

Peasants Rights Seeds


Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equateur province, Monzaya. Women from the village of Monzaya crossing cassava fields on their way to fish in ponds that have been the source of armed violence in 2009 between the villages of Enyele and Monzaya. News

How to Ensure Gender Equality and the Right to Food in Contexts of Agricultural Commercialization?

27 February 2017

Our new Research Brief Gender Equality and the Right to Food in Contexts of Agricultural Commercialization highlights the role international human rights law and policies on the right to food and gender equality may play in mitigating the negative impacts of agricultural development.

Read more

Villa Moynier, Headquarters of the Geneva Academy News

Ten Years, Ten Milestones!

13 November 2017

This year, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary – a perfect time to take a look in the rearview mirror at the milestones we have passed. While there are many achievements we could highlight, we have selected our top ten to match our age!

Read more

Madagascar, Miarinarivo district. Women transplanting rice. Project

The Rights of Peasants

Started in May 2008

This project aims to support efforts to strengthen the promotion and protection of the rights of peasants, and in particular to provide expert support to the negotiations taking place at the Human Rights Council.

Read more

Rwanda, on the outskirts of Kigali, Wa-Jali. Jeanne Françoise, a young girl reunited two years ago with her grandmother by the ICRC, stands in a banana orchard near her house. Project

Development and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Started in January 2008

This project aims to raise awareness about the complementarity of human rights and development by analyzing the relationship between economic, social and cultural rights and global development goals, namely the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015.

Read more