Reimagining the relationship between food sovereignty and intellectual property for plants: Lessons from Ecuador and Nepal | DJ Jefferson, K Adhikari | The Journal of World Intellectual Property

The concept of food sovereignty is regularly conceived as one side of a binary. Thus, scholars frequently juxtapose food sovereignty—as embodied in small‐scale, customary, or peasant agriculture—against large‐scale, industrial, and global modes of food production. The logic of this dichotomy suggests that the realization of food sovereignty is incompatible with the recognition of intellectual property for plants and seeds. In contrast, we argue that food sovereignty and intellectual property are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts. Instead, food sovereignty activists and lawmakers alike are reimagining intellectual property to move beyond a focus on exclusive ownership, thus deploying it in novel ways. Our argument draws on extensive fieldwork, based on which we relate the experiences of two case study countries, namely Ecuador and Nepal. We describe how these countries recently embedded rights related to food sovereignty in reformed constitutional frameworks. We also evaluate how these novel constitutional food sovereignty rights shaped the making of other national laws in Ecuador and Nepal, including frameworks whose purpose is to protect plant varieties as intellectual property. Throughout the article, we demonstrate that countries can both promote food sovereignty and protect plant varieties as intellectual property. One way that governments can achieve this goal is to ensure that all relevant laws and policies—including those which relate to intellectual property for plant varieties, seed certification, and commercialization, and access and use of native genetic resources—are tailored to the realities of local food and seed systems.

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