GFAR blog, Partnerships for impact

Webinar Wrap-up: Farmers’ Rights: Achieving Complementarity between the Informal and Formal Seed Systems

Peter Casier-CGIAR
Ghanian farmer collecting seeds for the next planting season

Smallholder farmers are at the heart of the informal seed system as both custodians and innovators of important crop genetic diversity. Their rights have been recognized globally, through the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, as a counter balance to the rights of commercial breeders in the formal seed system. However at the level of countries there are still challenges in having both the informal and formal seed sector work together. While farmer seed systems produce 80% of total seed demand in most countries there is very little policy/legal support for farmer seed systems.

So how do we achieve complementarity between the informal and formal seed systems?

GFAR has been working on this topic for a number of years. As a contribution to this effort, GFAR hosted a webinar (30 May 2017) bringing together several renowned experts to engage with the agri-food research and innovation community in a discussion on what is needed to achieve complementarity between the systems and the implementation of Farmers’ Rights.

Partnerships are Crucial

Bringing this community together surfaced agreement on the challenges being faced. These include:

  • Different understanding of the concept of Farmers’ Rights;
  • Lack of enabling environment;
  • Lack of trust among stakeholders;
  • Lack of holistic policy frameworks and legal measures; and
  • Lack of resources

In spite of the acknowledged challenges the webinar was able to demonstrate that there has been some positive action already taken to achieve complementarity between the informal and the formal seed systems.  Where there have been instances of success, partnerships have been key to these achievements.

Dr. Gloria Otieno from the Regional Office of Bioversity International, based in Uganda, shared results on how, through joint activities and partnerships community seed banks have been linked to national gene banks and participatory innovation, through participatory plant breeding.

A further example of the complementarity between the informal and formal seed systems was illustrated through the collaborative work between the Quechua farmers of Cusco-Peru, the NGO Asociación ANDES, and the International Potato Centre (CIP), with support from the IFAD-Oxfam Novib Programme.

Sida and the FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, have allowed 750 potato seeds from the Potato Park to be deposited in Svalbard Global Seed Vault (global genebank). This deposit reflects the complementarity of in-situ conservation in the field and ex-situ preservation in international genebanks, combining centuries-old tradition with cutting edge science, to conserve plant genetic heritage for future generations in case of any pests, diseases or impacts of climate change, which may lead to the loss of important food crops.

The private sector has also been seeking ways to enhance the complementarity between the sectors. Ms. Szonja Csörgõ, Director of Intellectual Property and Legal Affairs of the European Seed Association revealed that monetary sharing from the private sector has supported the empowerment of local level farmer communities and strengthened their organizational capacity.

Efforts have been made by some countries to improve their policy and legal frameworks to support the informal seed system and provide a more holistic approach for both systems (informal and formal). As Juanita Chaves Posada (Senior Advisor GFAR Secretariat) pointed out, alternative standards have been established for the registration of farmer varieties, the promotion of farmer seed enterprises, and the free distribution of protected varieties for smallholder farmers. As a further example of complementarity between the systems, there has been increased access to gene bank materials and farmers representation in decision-making processes in national policies, laws, governmental plans and strategies to be realized.

Collective Action will help us get there

By the end of the webinar participants acknowledged that joint efforts with different stakeholders and strong partnerships are needed in order to achieve complementarity between the systems and the implementation of Farmers’ Rights.

On behalf of GFAR, Juanita Chaves Posada challenged the participants to think about their own role and identify possible partnerships and collective actions that would further enhance such complementarity. CGIAR stepped up immediately in announcing its intention to co-organize with other GFAR partners a webinar on Farmers’ Rights as a collective action. The aim of the webinar would be to explore how the research community (national and international) promotes the implementation of Farmers’ Rights at local level, enhancing the complementarity between the formal and informal seed systems.

Others interested in this topic are invited to share collective actions and identify possible partnerships to enhance complementarity between the systems by contacting Juanita Chaves Posada (

The recording of this GFAR webinar can be found here

The Power Point presentations made during the webinar can be accessed here

For answers to the questions we were unable to tackle during our webinar, click here

Picture courtesy Peter Casier/CGIAR

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