Giving Farmers a Voice and a Vote

Jesus Zepeda San RafaelEarlier in our series of interviews on the implementation of Farmers’ Rights around the world, we heard from Teshome Hunduma of the Development Fund of Norway, followed by William Chadza of the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy in Malawi, and Sergio Alonzo of the Asociación de Organizaciones de los Cuchumatanes (ASOCUCH) in Guatemala. This time, Afshaan Shafi speaks with Rosalba Ortiz of the Development Fund of Norway to hear about their work on Farmers’ Rights in Central America, particularly in Guatemala and Honduras.

The Development Fund of Norway and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) have been partnering for the benefit of Farmers’ Rights in Central America since 2013. But even before then, the Development Fund had been supporting small-scale farmers and agricultural bio-diversity in Central America since 1999, starting with the creation of the network for Participatory Plant Breeding in Mesoamerica (PPBMA), which brings together the common efforts of farmers, educators, researchers and government institutions in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. What was expected to be a 5-year program has grown and includes promoting on-farm conservation and development, raising awareness about the role of farmers in conserving and innovating on-farm agriculture biodiversity, and bringing decision-makers and educational institutions on board to promote these common goals. Over the years, others have joined the Development Fund’s efforts in Central America, notably the Benefit-Sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Plant Treaty), national Commissions on Genetic Resources, other donors and government institutions.

How has the work done by your Organization & the GFAR Secretariat helped promote Farmers’ Rights in Guatemala and Honduras? 

The promotion of Farmers’ Rights has been a core activity for the Development Fund of Norway during the last decade. Our work with the GFAR Secretariat has helped to document and to create awareness about the achievements of long-term support for conserving agricultural biodiversity on-farm and by the farmers. The Development Fund of Norway first started working with GFAR in 2013, when we invited Juanita Chaves from the GFAR Secretariat to give a presentation about the Plant Treaty in our seminar: “Incentives for agro-biodiversity conservation with smallholders farmers: a viable strategy for food security and climate adaptation” in Bougainvillea, Costa Rica. This was the beginning of our dialogue and further collaboration. We started working on the documentation of core activities in Guatemala and Honduras in 2014. The first Farmers’ Rights booklet was produced in Guatemala in 2014, then in Honduras in 2015. We have had a good collaboration between the GFAR Secretariat, the Development Fund, farmers and partners in both countries. We appreciate very much our collaboration with the Global Forum, and look forward to developing it even further.


Has this new initiative to build capacity in Farmers’ Rights impacted national policies in Guatemala and Honduras?

Yes. The Development Fund of Norway has helped to build the National Genetic Commission for Genetic Resources both in Guatemala and Honduras, and works very closely with them. The documentation of Farmers’ Rights has helped decision-makers understand the importance of creating national mechanisms to recognize the rights of farmers to conserve genetic diversity on-farm and to participate in decision-making. The Global Forum, through its Secretariat, has also supported capacity building with local authorities in the field of agriculture, so they eventually create national conditions and mechanisms that properly recognize Farmers’ Rights. In Honduras and Guatemala, small-scale farmers are represented in decision-making as members of Working Groups from the National Commission on Genetic Resources. The advocacy work done by The Development Fund is constant, and having documentation of fieldwork and achievements helps create awareness among decision-makers.

The creation of awareness, promotion and recognition of farmers’ rights into practice is not a short-term task. A number of other donors and government institutions have adopted methodologies and have received capacity building from local partners in the countries. Staff members of local partners are invited to national and international conferences – such as the climate summit and regional events organized by the Plant Treaty – to present their achievements. Farmers in the program have even won prizes at conferences in Central America.

Do you have any stories from your personal experience with Farmers’ Rights to share with us?  

On one visit to Honduras, I was met at the airport in San Pedro Sula by two female staff, a technical expert from our local partner La Fundación para la Investigación Participativa con Agricultores de Honduras (FIPAH), and a female farmer, Luisa, from a place called Yorito. When I asked our local FIPAH partner about the progress made in the National Commission on Genetic Resources, the technician turned to Luisa, who immediately said, “I can inform you, since I am just coming from a meeting there. I am the farmers’ representative in the Honduran National Commission on Genetic Resources. Nobody will come to my farm to hear what I have to say, so now, I come to the Commission where I have a voice and a vote, and I use it.” In talking with Luisa, I was happy to realize that the work of the Development Fund of Norway and the GFAR Secretariat is really supporting farmers in their struggle for recognition and for a voice. I am happy to say that, so far, we are succeeding. Farmers’ Rights regarding agricultural biodiversity should be defended by the farmers themselves. They are the best ones to inform us and to defend their rights. And the work farmers like Luisa are doing is building the foundations for a greater, more practical recognition of Farmers’ Rights in Honduras.


What do you think is the biggest challenge in the implementation of Farmers’ Rights in Guatemala and Honduras? How do you think this can best be addressed? 

Two main challenges are (1) the erosion of genetic diversity and (2) the gap of support to on-farm agricultural diversity as a key strategy for current and future food security for mankind, in terms of research and direct technical support and in terms of financial support to farmers. The main agricultural producers in these countries are still relying on a few varieties and genetic erosion continues. Wild relatives, key for future breeding, are also disappearing. And those farmers who do maintain diversity on their farms – usually small-scale – lack proper incentives to continue doing so. Their efforts are perhaps recognized on paper, but very little is done in terms of providing them with actual technical and funding support. The recognition of Farmers’ Rights should not only be on paper; there must be sustainable measurements, institutions and permanent funding to keep track of these rights and to promote them further, so that farmers can maintain, develop and generate innovations needed for agricultural diversity.

Do you see any link between Farmers’ Rights implementation and climate change adaptation?

Adaptation in agriculture depends heavily on greater agricultural diversity on-farm, on the knowledge of farmers about this agro-biodiversity and on their ability to use and develop this further. The role of plant genetic resources for climate adaptation is considered by multilateral organizations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (particularly in the Fifth Assessment Report) to be of crucial importance in order for farmers to adapt to climate variability and extreme weather events. Innovations needed for adaptation in the agricultural sector may be rooted in local varieties and local associated knowledge. Timely and local availability of seeds through local seed banks, and genetic diversity are crucial for farmers to recover from climate shocks and extreme weather events. Mapping of domesticated and wild relatives of food crops, as well as continued farmer research should be supported as a key adaptation measures.


About the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR)

GFAR is working to transform and strengthen agri-food research and innovation systems to improve lives and livelihoods in the developing world. The Global Forum is helping to ensure that Farmer’s Rights are recognized and reconciled in national policies with breeders’ rights on varieties.  At regional and national levels GFAR is providing technical and legal support to the Latin American and African Regions (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Malawi), and to other countries and regions in Near East, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Afshaan Shafi is a Communication and Liaison Consultant working with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research.

Photo credit: Veronica Zelaya

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