April 2016

Access to seeds: lessons from the access to medicines debate

The history and dynamics of the access to medicines debate provide a number of reflections for those concerned with protecting farmers’ access to seeds. Taking the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health as its point of departure, this paper explores implications for interested parties at the international and national levels, as well as for multilateral institutions themselves.

Three lessons stand out in particular.

  1. The process that led to the Declaration highlights the significance of global public opinion in shaping negotiations, as well as the value of combining this with pragmatic coalition-building amongst states, NGOs and the media.
  2. Domestically, national governments should make creative use of TRIPS flexibilities. This has been done to bring down the cost of medicines in numerous countries and should be emulated by governments wishing to protect farmers’ seed systems, which rely on experimentation, storage, exchange and re-use of seeds. ‘Access’ in this paper is taken to encompass these activities, rather than simply referring to the availability of new varieties developed by commercial breeders.
  3. There is an urgent need for sustained, productive collaboration between relevant multilateral institutions. Collaboration between the WHO, WTO and WIPO on access to medicines has facilitated a broader consideration of innovation. Similar engagement is necessary between the FAO, WTO, WIPO and others to clarify the complicated governance structure for plant genetic resources and ensure farmers’ continued access to seed.

Freely available for download below under Creative Commons license.


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