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Microbial Commons: Building a legal instrument for farmers' rights on agricultural microbial resources

Project description

Microbial resources for growing agricultural productivity

Agricultural microbial resources are becoming increasingly attractive amongst global actors seeking new solutions to improve crop productivity. A race to patent microbial-based products is already underway. However, rules to regulate the rights to benefits or sharing programmes have yet to be proposed for agricultural microorganisms that were developed from the farming system and managing practices. This creates an environment where mutually agreed contracts may disadvantage farmers. To address this issue, the EU-funded MICROB-COM project will present and prove the shortcomings and threats posed by the present multilateral trade agreements. MICROB-COM will also develop a Microbial Commons, a legal instrument to incorporate systems of commons in sharing benefits from agricultural microorganisms.


Farm management practices have been shown to drive the evolution of specific consortia of agricultural microbial resources that contribute to increased agricultural productivity. The ecological traits of agricultural micro-organisms have made them an important target for patenting. Farmers' rights are an outcome of the recognition of the role of farmer communities in the evolution of crop varieties. Indigenous farmers have acted as selection agents in the development of crop as well as agricultural microbial resources by increasing reproductive fitness of particular genotypes. However, unlike with crop selection, no formal recognition of farmers' rights or potential benefit sharing programme has been proposed for agricultural micro-organisms that evolved from farming regimes. The central thesis that this project seeks to prove is that multilateral trade and environmental agreements have failed in protecting the rights of indigenous farmers for their intellectual contribution in selection of beneficial agricultural biodiversity. The coming into force of TRIPS agreement and the Convention on Biological diversity has concretized the patenting regime of micro-organisms. In the absence of effective international and national legal enforcement, benefits are shared through mutually agreed contract arrangements which are invariably skewed against indigenous farmers. A commons approach to micro-organisms has potential to align farmers' rights on agricultural microbial resources with legal instruments developed for plant genetic resource collections. Microbial commons is conceptualized and builds on other work that is done in the areas of genetic resource commons and networked information commons in digitized environments in the field of genetic resources. This project aims to analyse deficiencies and barriers in multilateral agreements and develop a legal instrument for the incorporation of a commons regime for sharing of benefits from agricultural micro-organisms.


Net EU contribution
€ 224 933,76
Richmond street 16
G1 1XQ Glasgow
United Kingdom

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Scotland West Central Scotland Glasgow City
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00