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


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