Resisting free trade agreements to protect local seeds, Thailand

Thai farmers resisting free trade agreements for their food sovereignty


For years, farmers in Thailand have been resisting pressure from the United States and Europe to adopt strong intellectual property laws on seeds. In the wake of Thailand joining the WTO, the country passed a PVP Act in 1999. The Act was a partial solution to avoid succumbing to stricter laws, such as UPOV, which would severely threaten Thailand’s 25 million peasant farmers. Although less restrictive than UPOV, the 1999 law already places some restrictions on what farmers can do with varieties protected by a PVP certificate. Farmers are allowed to re-use protected seeds, but there are many requirements: they must have purchased the original seeds themselves; they can only re-sow them on their own farm, meaning the seeds cannot be shared or exchanged; and in some cases there are also quantity restrictions.

See more...
Basic Data
NameResisting free trade agreements to protect local seeds, Thailand
Accuracy of LocationLOW country/state level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Biopiracy and bio-prospection
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific CommoditiesSeeds
Fruits and Vegetables
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThere are two main types of ‘intellectual property’ systems for seeds: patents and Plant Variety Protection (PVP). The US started allowing patents on plants in the 1930s, when flower breeders demanded a kind of copyright on their “creations” - they wanted to stop others from “stealing” and making money from their flowers. Plant patents are very strong rights: no one can produce, reproduce, exchange, sell or even use the patented plant without the owners’ authorisation. To use a patented seed variety, farmers must make a payment to the owner of the patent. Farmers who buy patented seeds are also obliged to agree to a set of conditions: that they will not re-use seed from their harvest for the following season, that they will not experiment with the seeds, sell them or give them to anyone else. Monsanto Company even asks farmers to spy on their neighbours and report anyone doing these things with ‘Monsanto seeds’ to the police. Today, patenting is standard for GMOs.

Plant Variety Protection is a kind of patent developed in Europe specifically for plant breeders. It has slightly different criteria and gives less extreme powers. In 1961, European states created the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) which harmonises rules on this through the UPOV Convention, which has been revised several times. In the early decades, UPOV gave breeders the right to prevent others from producing and using their varieties, but farmers were still free to save and re-sow seeds from protection varieties. Other breeders were also allowed to use protected materials in breeding programmes. However, with the 1991 revision of the UPOV treaty, plant variety protection became much more restrictive, Under UPOV 91, farmers are no longer allowed to re-use seeds of protected varieties except in rare cases. And when it is allowed, farmers still have to pay a royalty to the seed company to user their own farm-saved seeds.

Thailand passed the PVP act on November 26, 1999 (1).

If Thailand ratifies UPOV 1991, the period of protection of new plant breeds would further change from 12 to 25 years (2).

If Thailand ratifies UPOV 1991, the period of protection of new plant breeds would change from 12 to 25 years. (1)

According to a joint statement released by various NGOS (3), the UPOV 1991 act would impact Thai farmers in the following way (taken from the statement):

"1. It will withdraw the rights of the farmers to keep, conserve and exchange genetic materials of plants, which are natural rights of small-scale farmers, recognized in article 66 of the Thai Constitution 2007.

2. It will destroy the mechanisms for access and benefit sharing under the Plant Varieties Protection Act, 1999 which is a law conducted on the basis of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The amendment of Thai laws to make them consistent with UPOV 1991 would be seriously detrimental to the effective protection of our local plant varieties and would indirectly support biopiracy.

3. There are many studies which have reported that joining UPOV will have an impact on the utilisation of genetic materials by small scale plant breeders, community enterprise and would facilitate the increasing monopolization of the giant seed companies

4. From the studies in Thailand, it has been found that the small-scale farmers would face increased costs in buying seeds of 2-6 times higher than the present."
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date26/11/1999
Company Names or State EnterprisesMonsanto Corporation (Monsanto Co) from United States of America
International and Financial InstitutionsEuropean Union (EU)
Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAssembly of the poor

Biodiversity and Community Rights Action Thailand (Biothai)

Alternative Agriculture Network

Seed Freedom, Thailand

The Foundation for Knowledge Management and Farmer School Network of Nakhon Sawarn province

Food Security Network, Satingphra.

Network of fish folks,Phang-nga Bay.

The Network for Change in the East

FTA Watch

La Via Campesina

The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The final outcome is not yet clear.
Sources and Materials

(1) Plant Varieties Protection Act, B.E. 2542 (1999)
[click to view]


(2) Bangkok Post news article (28.11.2012) on EU-Thai talks regarding the Free Trade agreement (FTA)
[click to view]

(3) Letter to the Chairman of International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants UPOV 1991
[click to view]

Media Links

Video on impacts of FTA on Thai farmers
[click to view]

Video on Thai farmers protesting against the FTA talks
[click to view]

Other Documents

Thai farmers protesting the FTA talks held in September, 2013 Source:
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorEJOLT team
Last update17/02/2015