From 15 to 19 April, the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources meets to continue the debate on how to manage the earth 's genetic resources. One of the main issues on the agenda is the implementation of Farmers ' Rights. If Farmers ' Rights is meant as a compensation to farmers for their impressive role in the conservation and development of germplasm, it has to provide for mechanisms that ensure that farmers really benefit from it. This article dives into the background and concludes that there is a gap between the consensus reached in FAO and the day to day practice in the farmers ' fields. It argues for a direct voice from grassroots organisations in the priority-setting and implementation of genetic resources activities. Most importantly, it stresses that the FAO diplomats now have the opportunity and the obligation the move beyond words and start acting.

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We are heading toward a frightening crossroads. The so-called international plant genetic resources community has spent the past 20 years putting together a world network of colossal, centralised "base collections" for major international crops: rice, wheat, maize, potatoes, pulses. Big food in big refrigerators in a couple of locations across the mighty globe: this is called food security. NGOs have all this time been critical of the ill-founded bases of the system: its technical shortcomings, political biases, unaccountability, mismanaged control and the sheer danger of dumping your eggs into one solitary and fragile basket. Without resolving any of those problems, the genebanks are now in the process of shifting strategy away from the failed mega-collections toward a sub-system of isolated and potentially arbitrary "crop networks" and "core collections" with perhaps even more dreadful consequences.

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As many of the trees, vegetables and fruits traditionally grown by farmers around the world are ignored by official research and extension services, indigenous knowledge about how they are grown and used for food, medicines and shelter is under threat too. But peoples ' organizations are striving to turn the tide. We report from Kenya where women farmers are showing renewed interest in these neglected crops.

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GREAT EXPECTATIONS

GRAIN | 10 April 1991 | Seedling - April 1991

Amongst the issues being considered by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) are biological diversity and biotechnology. But will the "Earth Summit" truly address these issues and their underlying problems or merely confuse current initiatives? In this article we look at the preparations for UNCED '92 and the negotiations toward a Convention on Biological Diversity facilitated by UNEP.

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GENES IN THE GULF

GRAIN | 25 February 1991 | Seedling - February 1991

As "Seedling" goes to print, armed conflict is once again besieging the Middle East, this time of untold dimensions. Open hostilities in the Gulf region could degenerate into a large scale tragedy involving chemical and biological warfare, as well as nuclear arms. While we all hold firm to the hope for a negotiated solution to the political problems of the region, GRAIN thought it valuable to acknowledge the important contribution that genetic diversity from the Middle East makes to world agriculture and review the region 's highly vulnerable conservation efforts. It is an area particularly rich in landraces and wild species of immense value for crop improvement and food production worldwide.

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SAVING POTATOES IN THE ANDES

Henk Hobbelink and Miges Baumann | 20 February 1991 | Seedling - February 1991

The home of the potato is to be found in the Andes, where many wild species grow alongside the indigenous varieties developed by local farmers. Throughout this majestic mountain chain, the potato is also the basis of the local diet. While farmers grow an impressive mosaic of different varieties, that diversity is under threat from several angles. The governments are pushing mainstream monoculture, but the people are working on other alternatives. GRAIN associates Henk Hobbelink and Miges Baumann travelled through Ecuador and give a firsthand report.

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1991 will be the year of major decision-making in the world 's two lead international bodies governing intellectual property rights (IPRs): the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). UPOV is scheduled to revise its convention laying out the rules for the plant breeders ' rights (PBR) system in March, while WIPO hopes to adopt an International Patent Harmonisation Treaty in June. Both initiatives could result in stronger laws for IPR protection over plants worldwide, in the shadow of the GATT Uruguay Round 's current difficulties.

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Herb grower Peter Lendi has filed a lawsuit against the first Swiss plant patent on a camomile variety. This struggle between an organic herb farmer and the German pharmaceutical company Degussa, who filed the patent could become a major test case in Switzerland. It is not only the camomile but the future of agriculture that is at stake. GRAIN Board member Miges Baumann reports on this fight between herb farmer David and pharma-giant Goliath.

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Farmers ' innovative capacity and their accumulated knowledge has provided the foundations for thousands of years of agricultural development. After being ignored for decades, it is now seen as the key to sustainable agriculture. But urgent measures are needed to ensure that indigenous knowledge is fully utilized for the benefit of Third World farmers themselves and not merely exploited for the short term profit in the North. Farmers ' knowledge must be protected, research institutions need to redirect their priorities to work with farmers, and funds should be made available to support local development initiatives.

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BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE SOVIET UNION

Vincent Lucassen | 15 October 1990 | Seedling - October 1990

With the breaking down of the Iron Curtain and widespread talk of "perestroika" and "glasnost", the political system in the Soviet Union is presently undergoing profound transformations. A search for the cause of fatal mistakes during the production of biotechnologically produced artificial proteins show some indications of what can happen if decisions on science and technology are left to a central bureaucratic apparatus only. However, the new winds blowing in the USSR do not only bring a more open discussion on these matters, but also revive interest of Western biotech companies to tap part of a huge unexploited market. The development of biotechnology in the flux of "perestroika" has its own dynamics. Vincent Lucassen of the Dutch Contact Group on Biotechnology and Society, and member of the GRAIN Board, went to the Soviet Union and reports on his findings.

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