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Defending peasants’ rights to seeds and genetic resources, against the biopiracy

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The International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty’s (IPC) Working Group on Agrobiodiversity is in Rome this week to participate in the Open-Ended Working Group negotiations. The aim is to enhance the functioning of the Multilateral System, and to fight the private interests that try to get rid of their obligations as set by the FAO Plant Treaty 20 years ago. La Via Campesina members are also part of this group in the Rome meeting, to defend peasants’ rights to seeds and genetic resources, against the biopiracy of the seed industry supported by rich countries.

What is the Multilateral System?

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) was adopted by the Thirty-First Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on 3 November 2001. The Treaty’s Multilateral System, puts 64 of our most important crops – crops that together account for 80 percent of the food we derive from plants – into an easily accessible global pool of genetic resources that is freely available to potential users in the Treaty’s ratifying nations for some uses.

Most of these samples have been collected from the fields of the farmers who selected them and reproduced them from generation to generation. They represent nearly 40% of the samples stored in germplasm banks. Sixty percent of them come from national collections, 5% from private collections and 35% from international seed banks (CGIAR).

Agriculture needs an enabling access and benefit-sharing system. Such a system should recognize interdependence, trigger the exchange of genetic material of plant origin on a multilateral and facilitated basis. But most importantly such a system must instill fairness and recognize that the global pool to which access is facilitated is continuously enriched by the contributions of farmers worldwide.

A practical and fair access and benefit-sharing system must ensure that genetic resources continue to flow worldwide, while those individuals who selected and conserve those resources are adequately rewarded.

How the access to the Multilateral System works?

The mechanism for obtaining specific genetic resources is through a standardized contract referred to as a “Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA). The SMTA is a binding private bilateral contract between the provider and recipient which states the terms and conditions for use of the genetic resource.

According to the IPC, “Governments, when they negotiated the mechanism, limited the application of the Multilateral System to resources that they could manage and control directly, since most of them are held in national germplasm banks. Plant genetic resources in the public domain should be considered as those which are not the subject of intellectual property rights…[]..Facilitated access through the multilateral system is for the purposes of utilization and conservation for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture… Such purposes do not include chemical, pharmaceutical and/or other non-food/feed industrial uses.”

How the benefit sharing mechanism should work?

The ITPGRFA sets forth the basic structure of monetary benefit sharing under the Multilateral System, but it is the SMTA that defines how much is to be shared.

The beneficiary who markets products (containing PGRFA or genetic parts or components of PGRFA from the Multilateral System) with restrictions has two alternative options for monetary benefit sharing:

  • he or she pays 0.77 per cent on the net sales of the commercialized product with restrictions for a period corresponding to the duration of such restriction (for instance, 20 years in the case of intellectual property rights-based restrictions), OR
  • he pays 0.5 per cent on the sales of all PGRFA products of the same crop to which the accessed material belongs for 10 years (renewable).

In this second case, the payment is higher and in return, the beneficiary can access all the genetic material of that crop without paying for other SMTAs.

SMTA-generated monetary benefits flow into a multilateral fund – namely the Benefit Sharing Fund. This fund is also open to direct contributions and benefits arising from the use of PGRFA that are shared under the multilateral system would flow primarily to farmers, especially in developing countries, who conserve and use PGRFA in a sustainable manner.

However, these payments are optional when commercialized seeds are available “without restriction for research and breeding”, i.e. when they are free of any intellectual property rights or covered by a plant variety right that only limits farmers’ rights and not breeders’ rights.

But industry’s not paying its share

For 15 years, no payments have been made. Seed companies holding patents restricting facilitated access (for research and breeding), which are the only ones subject to mandatory payments, do not pay by taking advantage of the absence of a traceability requirement for PGRFA trade to avoid reporting their use of PGRFA from the Multilateral System. At the time of the blockchain, however, such traceability is technically possible and exists within each company. But industry hides behind trade secrets to provide no information.

In the absence of contributions from beneficiaries, some States and private individuals made voluntary payments to initiate the Fund. Over the past years, the Fund has only raised around $10 million. In comparison, the Global Crop Diversity Trust Fund for ex situ conservation (in gene banks) mobilized $314 million from contributions from rich countries and industrial foundations. It is therefore not the lack of money that explains the negligence of the Benefit Sharing Fund, but the political choice not to pay for the work of farmers in selecting, retaining and renewing PGRFA.

To get out of the circumvention of benefit sharing by beneficiaries, the IPC Working Group on Agrobiodiversity proposes to make payments mandatory through two mechanisms.

Access to the sole information on a genetic sequence contained in a PGRFA allows today, without the need to access the physical PGRFA itself, to reconstitute this sequence in the laboratory with synthetic biology or to identify it in other plants for integration into new seeds with new biotechnologies, or by crossbreeding if it has been identified in sexually compatible plants. Such information is compiled in huge databases of data that are freely accessible via the Internet. Whatever the conclusions of current international discussions on regulating access to such genetic information for benefit sharing, no State can now control free access to the databases that compile it on the Internet.

So, while the seed industry has benefited enormously from this facilitated access to the Treaty material, they never shared the benefits equitably and the majority of States continue to adopt intellectual property laws, which violate farmers’ rights. In response to this failure, the Treaty began work in 2013 to “improve” its functioning. The Ad Hoc Open-Ended Working Group to Enhance the Functioning of the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing was created.

Over the last five years no agreement has been reached, because differences remains between developing and reach countries. After 20 years since the Treaty entered into force, its survival is threatened by the seed industry’s refusal to pay its debt and respect farmers’ rights.

Digital Sequence Information – DSI

Recent advances in biotechnology and genetic sequencing enormously increase that risk. In fact, they allow industry plant breeders to stop working by observing the physical characteristics of plants, and to analyze on their computer screens the digital representation of their genetic sequences. Access only to the digital information of a genetic sequence (Digital Sequence Information – DSI) contained in a PGRFA now allows, without the need to access the physical PGRFA itself, to reconstitute this sequence in the laboratory with synthetic biology or to identify it in other plants for integration in new seeds with new biotechnologies, or by crosses if it has been identified in sexually compatible plants. Rich countries and industry consider that this DSI is not a genetic resource subject to prior consent and benefit-sharing obligations of the Nagoya Treaty or Protocol.

Industrialized countries make these claims even if the Treaty is very clear when it refers to the access to the physical material and the “associated information”. However, there is no agreement on this and rich countries do not take a step behind this red line.

Another main unsolved (and maybe unsolvable) issue is the payment rates in the subscription system. The industrialized countries, especially Canada, Germany and Switzerland want to set a very low payment rate of 0,011% of the sales of the material covered by the Multilateral System of the Treaty, while the payment requested by developing countries is 0,1%.

Source: La Via Campesina

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NGO WORK

Statement- Uganda: Seven Environmental activists brutally arrested, charged and released on police bail for protesting against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project

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On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala, Uganda and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. This was reported by the Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (StopEACOP) campaign on 29 May 2024.

The seven human rights defenders were peacefully protesting against the intended financing of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) by the Chinese government. According to the environmental human rights defenders, EACOP has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis. The EACOP is a project led by Total, spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. The seven environmental activists were sitting outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala in an attempt to present a letter of protest to the Chinese Ambassador expressing their complaints and demanding that his government refrain from funding an unfavourable project for them. Due to their arrest occuring before they had any chance of interacting with embassy representatives, their letter was not delivered. The peaceful protesters were violently rounded up by the police, who subsequently packed them in a vehicle and brought them to the Jinja Road police. The seven activists were released on police bail and were due to report back to the Jinja Road police station. On 18 May 2024, following several banks and insurance companies’ withdrawal from EACOP, Civil Society Organizations supporting energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and urged the Chinese President to rescind his interest in funding the project.

Local organizations have been denouncing that, in order to stifle complaints, silence protesters, and maintain pressure on those who defend climate, environment, and land rights, Ugandan authorities have turned to attacking and criminalising environmentalists, climate activists, and defenders of land rights. Uganda has recorded the most number of cases of violations against these human rights defenders, with 18 incidents documented in Africa, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center’s 2023 in their report titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023. The majority of these attacks seem to center around the EACOP and the environmental human rights defenders campaigning against the project, which the State regards as a significant infrastructure initiative.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the safety and security of the seven environmental human rights defenders and strongly condemns the recent instances of intimidation, criminalization and police harassment they have been subjected to, as it believes are an act of reprisal for their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of environmental and land rights in Uganda.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Uganda to take the necessary measures to guarantee the security and protection of environmental human rights defenders during peaceful protests. The organisation also demands that the brutal arrest of these seven human rights defenders be condemned. Front Line Defenders calls Ugandan authorities to guarantee that all environmental and land human rights defenders, including human rights organisations working on environmental rights, are able to carry out their legitimate activities and operate freely without fear of police harassment.

Source: Frontline Defenders

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NGO WORK

TotalEnergies African legacy: 100 years of environmental destruction.

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TotalEnergies, the French petro giant company with a legacy of destruction on the continent, this year celebrates 100 years. To be clear, that is 100 years of profit, environmental destruction and damage to people’s lives.

The company’s damage is widespread, extensive and well-documented.

In 1956, TotalEnergies entered Africa, exploiting natural resources as it went along. In chasing down oil and gas, it has wreaked havoc on communities, land, and the environment.

A 2022 study by the Climate Accountability Institute found the total emissions attributed to the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline totals 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making TotalEnergies a key contributor to Africa’s carbon footprint.

As Charity Migwi, a senior campaigner at Oil Change International, a research, communication, and advocacy organisation, notes, the company has its hands on various projects on the continent.

The project noted above will have about 460km of pipeline in the freshwater basin of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which directly supports the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in the region. On top of this, there are plans to extract oil from the fields in Uganda as well as the company’s prominent role in the Mozambique LNG Project, which is a major cause of carbon emissions

Closer to home, TotalEnergies has been given the go-ahead to explore for oil and gas off the south-west coast of South Africa, which sparked protests. As the company held its annual general meeting in Paris, France, protests by affected communities, civil society and activists in both countries took place.

Environmental justice group The Green Connection’s community mobilisation officer, Warren Blouw, said in a press release: “TotalEnergies and other oil and gas companies must consider the livelihoods of small-scale fishers, whose economic wellbeing is jeopardised by offshore oil and gas exploration. We must unite to protect Africa and its resources from those who only seek profit, at the cost of regular South Africans.”

Zinhle Mthiyane, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said: “We are protesting to protect the environment and prevent ocean pollution. Drilling for oil and gas in South African waters could degrade the environment, threatening livelihoods and cultural practices.”

One of those affected by TotalEnergies and its hunt for fossil fuels is Sifiso Ntsunguzi, a small-scale fisher from Port St Johns, on the Eastern Cape coast. Ntsunguzi made the trip to France to protest.

“We are in Paris to support the court case against TotalEnergies’ oil and gas projects. As a small-scale fisher and member of a coastal community, I do not support the exploration of oil and gas in the ocean. We use the ocean for cultural practices and as a means to sustain our livelihood. We are against exploration of gas and oil, as it may risk degradation of the environment and marine ecosystems, our livelihood and our health. I come from a fishing community and have become a fisher myself,” he said.

In another press release, environmental justice group Bloom wrote that TotalEnergies has been well aware of its climate harms as far back as the 1970s, yet the company still goes ahead with its oil and gas initiatives.

Initially, its strategy was to deny climate change, wrote Bloom. Now that it can no longer do so, it has changed tact and resorts to greenwashing, described by the United Nations as follows: “By misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is, greenwashing promotes false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay concrete and credible action.”

Total Energies portrays itself as a serious player in the renewable energy space and constantly punts its renewable efforts while going full steam ahead with its fossil fuel projects.

For example, it said of its project in the Northern Cape: “TotalEnergies and its partners are launching construction of a major hybrid renewables project in South Africa, comprising a 216 megawatt solar plant and a 500 MWh battery storage system to manage the intermittency of solar production.”

Bloom explained that chasing renewables is profitable but nowhere near as profitable as oil and gas, and it in no way negates the harmful search for and use of fossil fuels. For this reason Bloom and two other climate justice groups took TotalEnergies to court.

This case also hopes to halt the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. As The Guardian reports: “A criminal case has been filed against the CEO and directors of the French oil company TotalEnergies, alleging its fossil fuel exploitation has contributed to the deaths of victims of climate-fuelled extreme weather disasters. The case was filed in Paris by eight people harmed by extreme weather, and three NGOs.”

Joyce Kimutai, a climate scientist at the University Of Cape Town, said: “The fossil fuel industry will continue to undermine science, they will continue to expand their businesses,

they will continue to cause suffering to the people as long as they know that the law can’t hold them accountable.”

Whether the case will yield anything remains to be seen, but the important thing is people are standing up and fighting the harmful practices of these fossil fuel companies. International bodies like the UN climate change conferences yield very little results. It is up to us, the people on the ground, to unite for the good of our planet.

Source: mg.co.za

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NGO WORK

Incredible WIN! European Union withdraws from Energy Charter Treaty

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The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is an international agreement originally created with a focus on growing fossil fuel energy cooperation after the Cold War. Today, the Treaty is a major obstacle to effective climate action because it protects fossil fuel investments. By including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), the Energy Charter Treaty allows fossil fuel corporations to sue States that act to protect our climate when that action could impact a company’s profits.

Today, we celebrate because the European Council overwhelmingly adopted the EU’s proposal to exit the controversial Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), an outdated international investment agreement that protects and promotes fossil fuel investments.

CIEL and other organizations across Europe have worked tirelessly to educate European decision-makers about the dangers of the Energy Charter Treaty. Together, we proved how the treaty prevents effective climate action and is fundamentally incompatible with EU law.

This pivotal vote follows up an EU Commission’s proposal for the EU and European Atomic Energy Community to exit the Energy Charter Treaty.

The Commission found the ECT incompatible with the EU’s laws, investment policy and law, and energy and climate goals. Its proposal broke months of deadlock by offering EU countries the option to remain in the treaty while allowing other countries to exit. The European Parliament also adopted a resolution in April 2024 calling on the EU to withdraw from the ECT.

Today’s vote proves that people power can win critical victories!

Join us in celebrating this victory for the people, the environment, and the climate!

Demonstrators wear masks with the EU leaders under a sword that reads Energy Charter Treaty.

Why does this matter?

Fossil fuel investors have used the Energy Charter Treaty to sue States when they take climate action, claiming a right to compensation for alleged loss of investments. If they are serious about climate action, States must disentangle themselves from investor protections that allow fossil fuel companies to sue them in private courts when States act in the public interest to phase out fossil fuels. States could be squeezed from both sides: sued by communities for their climate inaction with ever greater frequency, and sued by investors when they do act to phase out the fossil fuel drivers of the climate crisis and accelerate the energy transition.

CIEL has worked for a long time to dismantle ISDS and ensure that the perspectives of communities inform ongoing arbitration.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'Exit the Energy Charter Treaty'

Policymakers in Europe, and beyond, now have a duty to end their dependency on fossil fuels, exit the ISDS system that allows industry to sue States for enacting public interest policies, and accelerate the clean energy transition.

This win in Europe is a milestone in the fight against investor state dispute settlements. Now, we are leveraging this momentum for other States and clearing the way for effective climate action around the world.

Today we celebrate this victory with you. Tomorrow we will continue working to uproot the fossil economy driving the climate crisis, and the trade and investment deals that stand in the way of a renewable energy future.

Source: ciel.org

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