Plant Variety Protection

Problems with the Indian Plant Varieties Regime (IV): Obliterating the “Farmers’ Variety” (Part III)?


We’re pleased to bring to you yet another insightful post in the ongoing series of posts by Prof. (Dr.) N.S. Gopalakrishnan on problems with India’s plant varieties’ regime. This post is Part III of the three-part post where Prof. Gopalakrishnan critically examines the procedure followed for registration of farmers’ varieties. Parts I and II of the post can be viewed here and here and the earlier posts in the series, here, here and here.

Problems with the Indian Plant Varieties Regime (IV):

Obliterating the “Farmers’ Variety” (Part III)?

Prof. (Dr.) N.S. Gopalakrishnan

The Parliament, as explained in the earlier post, envisages a simple and hassle free procedure for registration of farmers’ variety to promote agricultural innovation. Unfortunately, farmers have faced unexpected hurdles imposed (rather illegally) by the Authority as evidenced from the previous post. Notwithstanding these hurdles, farmers have, in the last few years showed considerable enthusiasm to get their varieties registered in the earnest belief that they will derive economic and other benefits promised by the Parliament. Registration trends shows that, in addition to varieties actually developed by farmers or groups of farmers, a large number of farmers’ varieties that are of common knowledge (traditionally cultivated and conserved by the farmers) were also registered. This appears to have been achieved by circumventing the stumbling blocks created by the Authority, resulting in unanticipated consequences. The details are discussed below with the help of registration data and a limited case study.

Registration trends and the “Pitfalls”

It is astonishing to note that as on 7th May 2018, out of the total number of 16105 applications received by the Authority, 11420 were for farmers’ variety though it may be a minuscule proportion of the total number of the farmers’ varieties that exist in India. As on 31st March 2018, out of the 3430 registration certificates issued by the Authority, 1550 were for farmers’ variety. But one has to strain every nerve to decipher from the official list (published by the Authority), the category of the farmers to whom registrations were issued. A perusal of the list reveals that registrations were given to farmers, community of farmers and group of farmers as separate categories identified in the 2013 form. In cases where the name and the address of an individual farmer were shown in the list, it is inferred that the registration was for a farmers’ variety “initially and exclusively developed and conserved” by the farmer. There were a large number of individual farmers who took registration and it is surprising to note that some, for example, Anjan Kumar Sinha (84), Linguram Thakur (18), etc., registered a number of varieties in their names. The Annual Report of 2016-17 indicated that Mr. Anjan Kumar Sinha was awarded the 2013 Plant Genome Saviour Farmer Recognition for engaging “in the conservation of 102 Landraces varieties of Rice, such as Raghusal, Nikunja, Nona-bogra, Malabati, Khajurchari etc., for development varietal improvement”. It is relevant to note that some of these varieties appear in his name in the registration list. It is also pertinent to note that 82 applications filed by Dr. Debal Deb (Ack. No. REG/2009/551 to 633) for different rice varieties were closed as seen from the list of closed applications published by the Authority on 7th May 2018. These facts cast a shadow of doubt as to the genuineness of some of these registrations which requires closer scrutiny through an independent study for further confirmation.

It was in 2014 that a large number (more than 400) of “group of farmers”, substantially from the State of Odisha, were given registration. In these cases the name of the individual farmer along with “and others” was shown as applicant’s name which gave the impression that it was for a “group of farmers”. For example;  (a) Gobardhan Sarlia and others, Barsuan, Block- Birsa, Dist- Sundargarh, State-Odisha (65/2014); (b) Budhadev Majhi and others, Kathrimajhisuda, Block- Mathili, Dist- Malkangiri, State-Odisha (66/2014); (c) Sri. Omma Padiami and others, Palmeta, Block- Korukonda, Dist- Malkangiri, State-Odisha (67/2014) etc. It is a requirement in Annexure I that if the application is filed by a group of farmers, it must be registered in the name of the group. Given this, it is difficult to understand why the registrations were made in the name of individuals and not in the name of groups. One possible inference is that these registrations were for farmers’ varieties developed by an identifiable number of farmers. It was reported in a study (kaye Lushington – 2012) that the State of Odisha took the initiative with the help the Director (Agriculture and Food Production), Government of Odisha, and the Director, Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack to register all possible farmers’ varieties from Odisha. The study also mentioned that these varieties are generally known to the farmers and collected from individual, groups and community of farmers. This leads one to believe that these varieties could fall under the second part of the definition of the farmers’ variety ie., “wild relatives or land races or varieties about with farmers possess common knowledge”. Since the majority of registrations are in the name of groups of farmers and not community of farmers, further study is required to ascertain the overlap, if any, created by these two categories.

It is interesting to note that a large number of certificates were issued in the name of organizations including local bodies and biodiversity management committees. The possible inference is that these farmers’ varieties were registered in the category of “community of farmers”. These include Dharohar Samith(185); Amarkanan Rural Socio-Environmental Welfare Society (ARSW Society)(34); Dr. Richariya Kisani Samwardhan Samiti(29); Vrihi(20); Secretary, Seed Care(20); Jankapur Janokalyan Samobay Krishi Unnayan Samiti Limited(7); President AMAPCON(7); President, Karen Welfare Association(5) etc. In addition, one could also notice registration in the name of Indramal Tribal Seed Saver Group(31/2016); Members of Sangai Uzhavar Mandram (65/2016); Members of Poovai Uzhavar Mandram(66/2016); Members of Kulipirai Uzhavar Mandram (132/2016); Lokmata Rani Rashmoni Mission (64 & 67/2016); Farming community of kharchi village (61/2015); Som Panchyat (63,146,247/2015); Bhandal Panchayat (143-45/2015); Gram Panchayat Haripura (135/2016); Gram Panchayat Pasholy (138/2016); Biodiversity Management Committee, Jhari (65/2015); Biodiversity Management Committee (30,32/2016) etc.

Based on the varieties registered from Kerala, which one is familiar with(Chennellu, Ghadhakasala, Chomala, Jeerakasala, Veliya, Thodi, (56 to 61/2013); Hondi Mullankayama (Mullanchanna), Valichoori, Onavattan, Kurumottan, Kunjootti Matta, Marathondi, Chenthadi, Koduveliyan Thuroodi(220 to 228/2015); Thonnuran Thondi (231/2015) etc.,), it is felt that these varieties largely fall under the second part of the definition of farmers’ variety ie., “wild relatives or land races or varieties about with farmers possess common knowledge”. Contrary to the assertions made in the previous postings (see here and here), it is satisfying to note that these farmers’ varieties are finding place in the Plant Varieties Registry as envisaged by the Parliament. At the same time it is pertinent to note that it reflects the pitfalls in the endorsement in Annexure I to the application. Annexure I categorically insists that when the application is by a group/community of farmers they must declare that “we are the initial and exclusive developers and continuous conservers of candidate variety”. One is at a loss to comprehend as to how the officials could give the certificate that the variety “… is bred/developed and continuously conserved and cultivated only by the applicant community of farmers….” when it is extremely difficult to find out which community initially bred/developed the variety since it has been in cultivation from generation to generation. It appears that it was based on the endorsement the Authority gave registration to these varieties. The worst scenarios were reflected in the certificates issued in the name of Grama Panchayats and Biodiversity Management Committees. This indicates the perception of the Authority as to the notion of “community” for registration of the variety and the seriousness it gave to the content of the endorsement in Annexure I. One is apprehensive of the intention of the Parliament since there is no explanation given for the term “group/community of farmers” in the Act. To say the least, the Authority, by using of the gaps in the Act, has made a mockery of the significance our Parliament attached to the registration of farmers’ variety. In the light of the case study discussed below, a detailed study of the various varieties registered under the category of “group/community of farmers” is needed to assess the implications.

Registration of Gandhakasala and Jeerakasala – A limited case study

A brief case study of the registration of two rice varieties, Ghadhakasala (57/2013) and Jeerakasala (59/2013) reveals a complex set of problems in the classification of the “group/community of farmers” and other related issues in the registration of farmers’ variety conserved and cultivated by a large number of farmers. The list of certificates issued by the Authority indicates that these varieties were registered in the name of “Seed Care, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation Community”. From the information available on the website of the Foundation it appears that Seed Care, “a farmer – lead Association of Traditional Crop Conservators of Malabar”, is a grass root institutional partner of the Foundation’s Community Agro-biodiversity Centre at Wayanad District, State of Kerala. As per the website, the objective of Seed Care is to “cultivate, conserve, consume and commercialize indigenous crop varieties”. Its achievements include registration of farmers’ variety and organization of a farmer cluster for the cultivation and conservation of pure seeds of indigenous rice varieties. No details are available about the members, structure and functioning of Seed Care established in 2009 to help determine its locus standi to file the applications for these rice varieties in 2009. On an enquiry it has been reliably learnt that Seed Care is a registered cooperative society of farmers in Wayanad, cultivating traditional varieties of different crops.

The available literature on Ghadhakasala and Jeerakasala reveals that the existence of these two varieties was reported as early as 17th century and they were traditionally conserved and cultivated by Wayanad Chettis, Kurichiya and Kuruma tribal groups. These communities claim that these varieties belong to them though currently they are cultivated by a different set of persons residing in Wayanad; majority of whom migrated from different parts of Kerala and nearby states. This being the current scenario, it is extremely difficult for these communities to declare that “we are the initial and exclusive developers and continuous conservers of candidate variety” as mandated in Annexure I. It is also difficult for the authorized officials to endorse that these two varieties are “…bred/developed and continuously conserved and cultivated only by these communities…” as mandated in Annexure I. It is in this context that one is worried about the registration of these varieties in the name of Seed Care. It is evident that Seed Care represents the farmers currently cultivating traditional crops. It is also clear that neither the tribal communities nor the members of Seed Care “bred/developed” these varieties but only continuously conserved and cultivated these varieties. In both scenarios, the twin requirements of Annexure I (bred/developed and continuously conserved and cultivated) to be satisfied by the “group/community of farmers” were not met. This being the situation, it is extremely difficult to appreciate how the local officials endorsed the certificate in Annexure I that led the Authority to register these varieties.  Ascertain the validity of the registration requires further investigation into  the status of the applicant, the farming communities involved in the submission of the application, the authorizations filed before the Authority, and the officials who issued the certificate in  Annexure I, since these documents and data are not readily available.

It is interesting to note that the Authority, in 2008, awarded the “Plant Genome Savior Community Award” to the Kuruchiya and Kuruma Tribal Communities of Wayanad for conserving these two varieties and other traditional varieties cultivated by these communities. This confirms that these communities are the traditional custodians of these two varieties and they are the most eligible group of farmers to file an application for the registration of these varieties as envisaged by the Parliament. If this be the case, it is surprising how the Authority registered these varieties in the name of Seed Care. This is a clear reflection of the anomalies in the categorization of farmers and the content of endorsement in Annexure I.

It is also important to note that these two varieties were registered in 2009 as GI (GI 186 & 187/2009) under the GI Act, 1999 jointly in the name of Kerala Agricultural University and Wayanad Jilla Sugandha Nellupadaka Karshaka Samithi as registered proprietors. It is to be noted that both the enactments (PV Act and GI Act) confer rights to use the denomination/name for the sale of seeds and farm produce respectively. It is worrying that two different organizations representing farmers are holding the registration to enjoy similar rights. This shows the possibility of overlap of registration under these enactments of certain types of farmers’ variety that particularly fall under the second part of the definition of farmers’ variety and the failure of the Parliament to take note of the same. The attention of the Parliament is urgently needed to rectify this problem to avoid similar conflicts in the future.

The worst part of the episode is that no effective steps have been taken till date by both the organizations towards the enjoyment of their rights. The registrations under the PV Act and the GI Act, it is informed, remain on paper rather than bringing any additional economic benefits to the farming communities. The registration under the PV Act is of little use since it cannot be enforced against any farmer cultivating these varieties in Wayanad. It is also not possible to enforce it against other farmers since these varieties could not be cultivated outside Wayanad District due to the lack of particular agro climatic conditions pre-requisite for cultivation of these varieties. This also brings to light the practical problems of attaching property rights (similar to that of formal IP) to farmers’ variety; a concern that requires serious reconsideration by the Parliament at the earliest. The details of this are going to be addressed in the forthcoming blog posts.

From these examples it is possible for one to infer that at least some of the other organizations (for eg., Grama Panchat, Biodiversity Management Committee etc.) representing “community of farmers” which were given registrations also stand on the same footing. If the intention of the Authority is to give registration to farmers’ variety that particularly falls under the second part of the definition of farmer’ variety to “community of farmers” who are currently cultivating and conserving these varieties, then there is an urgent need to change the format of the declaration and the endorsement in Annexure I. There is also an explanation required to the terms “group of farmers” and “community of farmers” keeping in mind the definitions of farmers’ variety, farmer and breeder in the Act to avoid complications and overlaps. This will also eliminate the impression one gets from reading Annexure 1 as to the intention of the Authority to exclude certain farmers’ variety from registration.

Conclusion

The lesson one learns from the limited case study discussed above and the steps taken by the Authority is that there are several pitfalls in the procedure followed by the Authority in registering farmers’ variety that need serious reconsideration. It is evident that the Authority had no clue on how to proceed with the registration of farmers’ variety keeping in mind the intention of the Parliament. The Authority was initially not sure whether to register farmers’ variety under the category of extant variety or under a separate category or under both categories since farmers’ variety is to be registered as part of extant variety under section 14(b) and independently under section 14(c). The Authority also failed to make a meaningful distinction between the farmers’ variety that fall under section 14(b) and (c) keeping in mind the overall objectives of the Act and the ground realities. This is evident from the application Form 1, Annexure I, Regulation 5 of 2009 framed based on section 15(2), details in the Annual Reports, the “Grow Out Test” for determining DUS, etc. It is surprising that even today the notification of the Authority for the registration of farmers’ variety states that it is “farmers variety (falling under the category of extant variety)” (See PVJ Vol.12 No.4 June 2018 p. 27) which is absolutely contrary to what is followed. It was only in 2013 that the Authority took note of the mandate to provide for a separate application form as per the proviso to section 18(1), but miserably failed to use the flexibility given to it by the Parliament to promote the interest of the farming communities. The failure of the Authority to capture the intention of the Parliament is writ large in the way in which the Authority proceeded with the registration of farmers’ variety. Hence it is safe to conclude that the steps taken by the Authority to register farmers’ variety were to obliterate farmers’ varieties developed through informal innovation. It is strongly felt that it is the failure of the Parliament to lay down special provisions for registration of farmers’ variety keeping in mind the informal innovation practices and the ground realities of in situ conservation that lead to the ‘sorry state of affairs’. One is hopeful that the Parliament will take urgent note of the practical problems that have emerged and bring necessary changes at the earliest to ensure that the farmers’ variety is registered with much ease so as to foster innovation and in situ conservation of traditional varieties.

Image from here

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