What is UPOV?
The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants
(UPOV) is an intergovernmental organization with its head office in
Geneva, Switzerland. UPOV came into being with the adoption of the
International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.
The Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and was revised in 1972,
1978, and 1991. The mission of UPOV is, according to the organization,
“to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection,
with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants,
for the benefit of society.” In UPOV-speak, “protection” means privatization.
The history of UPOV is that of an ongoing and apparently limitless
expansion of seed company rights along with a concomitant shrinkage of
farmers’ rights and freedoms. The original convention only granted
property rights over varieties developed by the party requesting them;
it granted little more than an exclusive right to market a private
variety and did not establish specific sanctions. With its subsequent
revisions, UPOV now grants monopoly rights over “discovered” varieties
and the production, marketing, export and import thereof. In addition,
it allows property owners to apply for the confiscation of crops,
plantations, harvests, and products derived from the harvest. It even
allows companies to file criminal complaints, which can lead to prison
terms for farmers.
UPOV 91 is the version of the convention now being imposed around the
world under the pretext of “protection.” However, it has been clearly
demonstrated that UPOV 91 violates farmers’ individual and collective
right to save seed for replanting and allows corporations to monopolize
biodiversity. These provisions give the corporations total commercial
control over seeds and knowledge that were once owned collectively by
whole communities. A further menace represented by UPOV is that it
accelerates the erosion of biodiversity by promoting varietal
uniformity. This is tremendously risky because uniformity can lead to
crop loss and greater food insecurity. Finally, seed privatization
hinders research and the free flow of knowledge.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the following countries are UPOV
members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic,
Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. Of these, only Costa Rica, Panama, the
Dominican Republic, and Peru are currently applying UPOV 91.
Another example of the erosion of democracy but to quote further from the article: '
The surprising thing in a context of regional agribusiness ascendancy
is that resistance to corporate control of seeds has borne fruit in
nearly every country where campaigns have been mounted.' Included is a country by country analysis of attempts to take control of the ownership of seed rights and the opposition raised by local farmers and peasants. 'But it’s also in Latin America where citizens have successfully defeated many
such attempts to take away their rights. It is here that the most
committed resistance has been seen.' Power to the people!