Farmers’ and Livestock Keepers’ Rights

Farmers' and Livestock Keepers' Rights

There is increasing recognition of the role that local farmers and livestock keepers play in developing and conserving plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture, and about their increasing significance in ensuring food security and local adaptation in a world affected by climate change. Recognition of customary laws, norms, and territories are of particular relevance for small-scale farmers and livestock keepers, with industrial practices and large-scale land acquisitions being two of the major threats. Farmers’ and livestock keepers’ rights are cross-cutting issues in multilateral negotiations concerning biodiversity, climate change, desertification, and plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Farmers’ rights are defined as consisting of “customary rights of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and propagating material, their rights to be recognized, rewarded and supported for their contribution to the global pool of genetic resources as well as to the development of commercial varieties of plants, and to participate in decision making on issues relating to crop genetic resources.” In 1989, the Food and Agriculture Organization declared that farmers’ rights are ‘rights arising from past, present and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving and making available plant genetic resources, particularly those in the centers of origin/diversity’ (Resolution 5/89). The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), which came into force in 2001, explicitly recognizes farmers’ rights though it does not define them. Elaboration of the notion of farmers’ rights since then indicates that they include intellectual property rights, development rights, and rights to conservation of traditional varieties and farming practices.

Similarly, livestock keepers’ rights are well-articulated in the Declaration on Livestock Keepers’ Rights. They have gained prominence in the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources and the Interlaken Declaration, adopted by the International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2007. The LIFE Network in particular is promoting their development and application in various international and national fora.

Natural Justice is supporting farmers and livestock keepers in Africa and Asia to articulate their biocultural rights and to engage with various stakeholders to ensure they are respected at the local level and enshrined in national and international laws and policies.

Read IISD reports and analysis relating to the Food and Agriculture’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.



Declaration on Livestock Keepers’ Rights (LIFE Network, 2010)
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Livestock Keepers’ Rights: The State of Discussion (Köhler-Rollefson et al., 2010)
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Biocultural Community Protocols for Livestock Keepers (LIFE Network, LPP, and LPPS, 2010)
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Invisible Guardians: Women manage livestock diversity (FAO, 2012)
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Livestock Keepers: Guardians of Biodiversity (FAO, 2009)
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Farmers’ Rights Project (Fridtjof Nansen Institute)
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Realising Farmers’ Rights under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Andersen, 2006)
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Farmers’ Rights: Intellectual Property Regimes and the Struggle over Seeds (Borowiak, 2004)
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The Regime Complex for Plant Genetic Resources (Raustiala and Victor, 2004)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating and Asserting Stewardship (Moving Images & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Rooibos Robbery: A Story of Bioprospecting in South Africa (Steps Southern Africa, 2012)
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Union for Ethical BioTrade Videos on ABS and Biopiracy
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