There were quite a few adherents to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at the World Food Summit. The treaty defines plant genetic resources as any genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential value for food and agriculture. India ratified the pact along with Canada, Cambodia, Eritrea, Papua New Guinea, Jordan and Sudan.
Even though the pact acknowledges the farmers' right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed, it makes these provisions subject to national legislation and laws. In this regard, the director for seeds in the Union ministry of agriculture, Dolly Chakravarty, is satisfied with the provisions of the treaty.
But Shalini Bhutani, regional programme officer (Asia)of Spain-based non-governmental organisation Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN), feels that the agreement pays mere lip service to the concept of empowering farmers.
One of the most controversial clauses of the treaty is the one dealing with intellectual property rights (IPRs). The pact stipulates that material received from the multilateral system cannot be patented. However, patents are allowed for modified material.
"This means that the right to have access to genetic material can be restricted after a slight modification', says Suman Sahai, convenor, Gene Campaign, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation. But, says Chakravarty, "No country can work in isolation in the field of gene plasma. We have to be interdependent.'
"The IPR issue is totally muddled and needs to be resolved,' avers Bhutani. The implications of such a clause can be gauged from the fact that certain countries in the North allow patents for mere isolation of a gene from a plant, leave aside substantial modification.
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