Whose Intellectual Property is it?

 This piece was posted by Tahsina Rumman Khan, Communications Intern at Find Your Feet.

FYF has supported weavers to get a GI for their work.

Since I started my internship at Find Your Feet I have become aware of the fact that, despite having a wealth of local knowledge and experience, poor farmers and traditional artisans are still struggling to survive. I was therefore particularly interested to hear about the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meeting on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) on May 7th.

This meeting, which was held following the World International Property Day on April 26th, included some interesting papers on the ways in which the Intellectual Property Rights framework was affecting poor communities, in particular the submission by the Centre for Peace Building and Poverty Reduction Among Indigenous African Peoples.I am divided on the issue of GM crops. I understand why it is being touted as one of the ‘solutions’ a food insecure world.

Hybrid Maize in Malawi

On the other hand, however, my time at Find Your Feet has caused me to question the effect that the privatization of seeds has had on some of the world’s poorest farmers. Large multinational corporations appropriate and privatize seeds ‘developed’ by them when they are in fact mere modifications of seeds originally developed by local farmers. In this way natural, local resources enter the rigid, legally enclosed domain of the private sector. Then they are sold to poor farmers who have to buy them year after year, or make royalty payments even to recycle the seeds! Read other articles that have been posted on this blog about GM crops.

On the other hand, IP rights look set to assist the survival of Benarasi sari weavers. Vanarasi is well-reputed for its vibrant, elegant Benarasi saris designed by specialist weavers. But, due in part to an influx of cheap imitation saris, there has been a decline in the availability of work for these weavers. Now, with Find Your Feet’s help, weavers have secured a Geographical Indication (GI) for their beautiful work. The GI will set the weavers’ work apart from cheap imitations, helping them to protect their livelihoods, their craft and their identity. Click here to read more.

Maybe it is time for a similar principle to be applied to poor farmers who conserve and protect Genetic Resources in the form of agro biodiversity. In Malawi there is, according to the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy, an ‘urgent need to recognize the efforts of local farmers and realize the true value of the local seed variety.’


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