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Patent-like claims on native potatoes spark protest by Peru's indigenous farmers

Asociación ANDES
26 Sep 2013

Peruvian indigenous farmers have been angered by a government research agency that has claimed it owns intellectual property (IP) rights over more than fifty traditional varieties of potatoes bred in the Peruvian Andes.

The potatoes were bred not by government researchers but by indigenous farmers, who consider the claims to be an affront to their culture, knowledge and resources. In letters to the government, meetings, and a protest in the city of Cusco, the farmers have insisted that the claims be dropped entirely.

Observers have been surprised by the government’s attempt to expropriate the potatoes, in view of Peru’s relatively progressive legal protections for indigenous peoples’ rights. But the intellectual property (IP) claims come under a new plant breeder’s rights law, which may have tilted the legal environment against indigenous farmers by permitting others to claim farmers’ resources and innovations as their own.

In light of the claims and new law, Peru’s protections for indigenous farmers now appear to be insufficient to prevent misappropriation of indigenous agricultural diversity.

The National Agricultural Innovation Institute, known by its Spanish acronym INIA, is the agency seeking exclusive rights over the potatoes. Responding to critics, INIA argues that the IP claims are intended “to recognize that [the potatoes] are Peruvian”, and “to contribute to their legal protection.”

But it was Peru’s indigenous farmers, and not INIA, who bred the varieties, so it is unclear on what ethical and legal basis the Institute believes that it can claim intellectual property over them.
Rather than “protecting” native potatoes, indigenous farmers say that INIA’s IP claims are usurping them. The Institute has not directly responded to the farmers’ criticism that they, as creators and custodians of the native potatoes, are who rightfully should decide how the varieties are used.

Indigenous farmers have met in the city of Cusco to assess INIA’s move and have resolved to oppose the claims until the government Institute drops all of them.

Read the full communiqué (PDF).

For further information, please contact:
Alejandro Argumedo
Skype: ammaru