Presented by: Dr. Sheri Breen, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota-Morris
Abstract: Food and crop systems have been built on community stores of seeds since humans turned to agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago, yet questions about the privatization of seed varieties have reached an unprecedented pitch of urgency in the 21st century. At the international level, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization based in Rome wrestles with the contentious issues of farmers’ rights and benefit-sharing as part of the international treaty that governs global exchange of seeds. In Geneva, the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization struggles to determine how indigenous knowledge should interact with intellectual property rights in regard to plant genetic resources. Peasant and indigenous organizations such as La Via Campesina, arguing that such decisions have critical global and local implications for the political, cultural, and economic sovereignty of agricultural communities, are raising alarms about a global system that steadily has moved away from seeds as a community storehouse of wealth and toward privatized genetic resources. To analyze this trend and its implications, this talk will examine three of the central questions regarding the privatization of seeds, focusing on intellectual property rights, farmers’ rights, and indigenous knowledge, and illustrate these issues with case studies in the United States, India, and Norway.