GE - [BIO-IPR] FR: The crisis every Ugandan farmer needs to know about
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Subject: [BIO-IPR] FR: The crisis every Ugandan farmer needs to
TITLE: Farmers' Rights: The Crisis Every Ugandan Farmer Needs to Know
AUTHOR: Wamusiru Mundaka
PUBLICATION: Rural News, bi-annual publication of Intergrated Rural
Development Initiatives (Uganda), Issue 8
DATE: May 1998
SOURCE: IRDI, Kampala
THE CRISIS EVERY UGANDAN FARMER NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT.
By Wamusiru Mundaka, Programme Manager Agriculture and Extension
Small Scale farmers as one above will barely servive if natures 'gifts'
turned into 'properties'
The Leipzig NGO declaration on Farmers' Rights in 1996 reads in part:
"The central objective of Farmers Rights (FRs) is to ensure control of
and access to agricultural bio-diversity by local communities, so that
they can continue to develop their farming systems further and
sustainably ....' Farmers must have the right to benefit from their
biological resources and related knowledge. The right to save, exchange
and improve seeds is inalienable.
Ownership and innovation at the local level in Uganda are often of a
collective nature. Farmers' Rights should be based on this principle,
and should protect and promote such collectively held knowledge systems
and resources. Collective knowledge is intemately linked to cultural
diversity, land and biodiversity and cannot be dissociated from either
of these three aspects. Any definition and implementation of Farmers
rights should take this fully into account. Farmers' rights in Africa
are not compatible with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) systems based
on private monopoly control.
A major problem in the development and saving of agricultural
biodiversity is the lack of rights to land. Farmers' Rights should
include legal recognition of land rights.
"As Farmers' Rights are an expression of the contribution of farming
communities to their innovative capacity as breeders, users and managers
of biodiversity, they should include the right to an appropriate and
participatory research support ......."
Uganda is rich in biodiversity and even more important the farming
communities, comprising more than 90% the total population, have
nurtured and developed diversity, and should recover rights over these
materials as a basis for sustainable livelihoods. There is need to
advocate and take a radical stand to push for the difinition and
implementation of these rights in the national and international fora.
Accordingly, between 11th and 12th July 1996, a national NGO Workshop on
the convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was held in Kampala,
Uganda. A National NGO Working Group on Biodiversity (NGO WB) was
formed. A plan of action was developed outlining the goals, activities
and mechanisms through which NGOs in Uganda will implement various
articles in the CBO. Among their priorities areas of action were
...."Advocacy for protection of local peoples' indigenous knowledge and
intellectual property rights as well as promotion of equitable sharing
It has now been over one year since these deliberations in Kampala were
formed. That any progress has been made toward the "the protection of
local peoples' indigenous knowledge and intellectual property rights...
Although the protection of local systems has undoubtedly been the common
goal of all civil society organisations involved with the issue, it now
seems that many of the alternative regimes being developed actually work
against it. Conceptual chaos ensues as soon as an attempt or community
equivalent" of basic concepts of the present industrial property system.
Thus, "Collective intellectual property" or "just and equitable
distribution" are concepts that are not compatible with the western
systems of knowledge creation that are currently being investigated and
In Uganda's peasant communities (which is over 90% of the population)
the words "mine" yours" or "ours" do not necessarily refer to"
property". These words are normally associated with the concept of the
gift and thus something which cannot be appropriated, sold or
restricted, much less monopolised.
There is an important difference between a "gift" and "property". The
right to enjoy a gift (through various means such as use, sharing,
celebration or coutemplation) goes to hand in hand with the obligation
to protect it, strengthen it, ensure its proper use when needed, share
it with others and pass it on as a further enriched legacy. Our people
have always understood that weather, land, water, plants, seeds and
their corresponding knowledge are a gift, just like family community and
the ability to be in touch with God, Nature and life.
The concrete expressions of this cosmology are countless, but perhaps
the most common is that seeds and knowledge are shared with pride and
given away as a great honour. This part of the "gyamela gyenne"syndrome
- a verbal expression used when a white colonialist passed through
Busoga and requested to know who planted the huge mivule trees in the
sorrounding tropical forest; the native proudly answered "Gyamela
gyenne" meaning " they sprouted by themselves"- a gift of nature!!
The high appreciation for nature and this form of sharing is of
fundamental importance for the flow and creation of knowledge and for
the creation, adaption and dissemination of diversity. It is also of
importance for cultural survival. The system of exchange and free flow
established by our people enabled them to survive, adapt and "absorb"
non indigenous communities.
Two hundred years of cultural resistance was possible because peasant
culture derived from it, co-adapted to keep flowing and evolving through
any free space that was left for it. One hard blow was in the name of
Green Revolution which has been effective against local cultures. This
is because it prevents the flow of local knowledge by denigrating and
devaluing it. Farmers have been told that to be modern he has to
practice row cropping" when the issue is spacing and plant population.
Row cropping was developed to facilitate machinery which the peasant
farmers don't have and can't afford. Moreover they were discouraged to
use traditional methods particularly when peasant farmers were told
"that mixed cropping is primitive" and so on! Thousands of peasant
farmers and local researchers, elders and healers kept their knowledge
locked up in order not to be humiliated. It has taken little more than
a generation for much of this knowledge and its associated resources to
disappear from lack of use or circulation in modern context. The "gift"
of seeds and knowledge has been converted into "property". This
conversion is resulting into loss of value as well as sacredness of
With central values depreciating, there is profound impact on
communities, often affecting their ability to live with dignity and
creativity. It is also hard to maintain mechanisms for protection of
resources and knowledge once they are converted to merchandise. Any
mechanism allowing "property rights" to life and knowledge - no matter
how "communitarian" is at best gamble. To protect property rights over
knowledge and biotic resource" is infact a powerful weapon to destroy
indigenous knowledge and biotic resources (as long as they are viewed
from the industrial perspective).
Indeed, it seems that there is a trade off here which needs to be made
clear. Proposals which have been made to introduce sui generis
legislation to provide means for the recognition and registration of
community rights to traditonal knowledge, have the principle intention
of protecting indigenous knowledge and bio-technologyfrom being
monopolised by commercial interests. A cost may be that they facilitate
the commoditisation of indigenous knowledge, albeit in a less
exploitative manner. The social implications could nevertheless be
serious and need to be confronted.
A defense of the architects of current proposals for sui generis
legislation may be that (as one of us delegate retorted regarding
Farmers' Right at the May '97 FAO Commission meeting in Rome) the west
"does not understand" things which cannot be monetised, (and by
exercising their sovereignity rights can legislate patents on life and
knowledge) The best we can do is to protest such actions and hope they
will change. At the same time the sui generis legislation would
protect unregistered appropriation of genetic materials and knowledge by
the west and if commercialised should pay due royalties to the
originators. The WTO should be refused to impose such commercial
activities within our sovereign states. They can commercialise in the
US or wherever money is the only thing that can be "understood".
Western cosmology and culture is fake and always works to destroy itself
- it is only a matter of time. By imposing "property systems" on life
and knowledge the west loses fundemental values and rights as well as
possibilities for the creation of knowledge.
Firstly, sacredness of life is an essential part of the beliefs and
values which give full meaning to life. Without this, living and life
Secondly the foundations of our present scientific development were
created on the basic assumption that knowledge was a common value
created for the common good. However, not only is science manipulated
by economic and political interests, but the exchange between
scientists-basic tool for accelarating creation of knowledge - is being
systematically broken down.
Thirdly the more landable characteristcs of western values are being
violated and eroded with their ensuing problems. For example public
science (of free access, free creation and working for common good) is
There is need to do something about this trend of things. And one can
say NO. The next logical step is to exercise our rights and plainly
reject intellectual property altogether. We continue to negotiate,
however attempting damage control through accommodation and to accept
being governed by rules we know to be extremely damaging. The Sui
genesis legislation is bad enough and should probably be rejected.
The Integrated Rural Development Initiatives (IRDI) can be contacted at:
The Executive Secretary,
Integrated Rural Development
P.O. Box 10596,
Tel: (256-41) 26 64 92
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