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Pakistan has moved to protect farmers' rights to save, re-use and exchange genetically modified (GM) seeds, which will protect them from depending on multinational companies for seed each year.

The cabinet has approved draft legislation to enable Pakistan to fulfill the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The rules aim to preserve incentives for seed companies to continue to improve seeds and develop new plant varieties by stopping farmers from selling GM seeds on a commercial scale. But they will also protect farmers' rights to re-use GM seeds from one generation to the next.

The set of rules is similar to those adopted in India, where farmers are allowed to sell GM seed on a small scale as long as it is unbranded — known as 'brown bagging' in the United States.

Public sector research institutes will have ownership rights for their varieties and the scientists involved in their development will be given a 20 per cent share of any royalties from the sale of seed.

Speaking to SciDev.Net, Anwar Nasim, president of the Federation of Asian Biotech Associations and chair of Pakistan's National Commission on Biotechnology, welcomed the news saying "the bill is of great importance for farmers in Pakistan and we are happy that it has now been approved by the cabinet".

"This can serve as a model for other developing countries," said Nasim.

CropLife International — the global federation that represents the plant science industry — also welcomed the regulations, saying they underlined the patent protection that GM crop technology is already subject to.

"We hope that the newly enacted piece of legislation will foster the improvement of varieties, while safeguarding the proprietary rights of titleholders," said Javier Fernandez, Manager of Intellectual Property and Trade Affairs at CropLife International. 

The cabinet approved the draft legislation for plant breeder's rights this month (14 February). It will be submitted to the parliament after vetting by the Law, Justice and Human Rights division.