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genetic resources” also includes newly developed varieties and special genetic A Common Heritage
stocks. The developing countries’ efforts to keep all types of breeding material within the public domain were at variance with the demand of the developed coun- K Divakaran Prathapan, Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan tries to provide and respect intellectual property protection. In 1989, developed countries succeeded in establishing Plant Biological Diversity (CBD)1 is a Breeders’ Rights as provided under the In- shift in focus from the ecological ternational Union for the Protection of and scientific value of biodiversity to its New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). This FAO commercial value. Articles 3 and 15 of the resolution,5 though it recognises farmers’ to plants or animals or the genetic CBD recognise the sovereign rights of rights, set the stage for the showdown diversity that man has been sources and their authority to determine North and the biodiversity-rich South over access to genetic resources through genetic resources in the United Nations Developing nations should realise national legislation. Several countries Convention on Biological Diver sity. In lieu menting mechanisms to regulate access terial in the public domain, the developed to genetic resources (Grajal 1999). This countries collectively bargained and suc- undermines global food security that is ceeded in establishing national sovereign critically dependent on transnational rights over genetic resources that was histori cally treated as a common heritage sources among human societies. National of mankind. The CBD in its current form, legislation like India’s Biological Diversity yet to be adopted by the US, is an outcome Act 20022 (Prathapan et al 2006; 2008; of this conflict over genetic resources.
Philippine Executive Order No 2473 shut National Sovereign Rights
down national boundaries against free The biodiversity-rich developing nations access and sharing of genetic resources. had high expectations for CBD under the Such parochial restrictive measures are premise that biological resources, being gradually becoming ubiquitous all over the raw material for the biotechnology, the world.
seeds and pharmaceutical industries, are the key to potential economic success in Common Heritage Strategy
the future. The high tide of publicity and No country ever possessed all the genetic hope in the popular and scientific media resources essential for its existence. Every portrayed biodiversity as the most com-country in the world uses exotic genetic mercially important natural resource like material to enhance the productivity of its oil or gold. The politicians and policy-crops and livestock as the genetic limits of makers in the developing world were car-the native stock can be overcome only by ried away by the waves of speculation, incorporating genes from such material. propaganda and lobbying by activists The Food and Agriculture Organi sation’s and NGOs, rather than empirical evidence. (FAO) 22nd conference adopted a resolu- tion (Resolution 8/83)4 that plant genetic age strategy adopted in the FAO and suc-resources are a heritage of mankind to be cessfully demanded national sovereign preserved, and to be freely available for rights over genetic resources in the CBD K Divakaran Prathapan is supported by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology use, for the benefit of present and future negotiations. They also pushed for and and Environment, Thiruvananthapuram.
generations. Developing countries en succeeded in including equitable sharing masse pushed through and adopted the of genetic resources in the K Divakaran Prathapan (prathapankd@gmail. com) is with the Kerala Agricultural University, resolution, while Canada, France, Germany, toric shift in position of the South that Japan, the United Kingdom and the United led to the loss of biodiversity from the Dharma Rajan (email@example.com) is with the States officially reserved their position common heritage of humanity was Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the with respect to the FAO undertaking as it chronicled by Kloppenburg and Klein- explicitly specifies that the term “plant man (1987) and Rosendal (2003, 2006).
Economic & Political Weekly EPW april 2, 2011 vol xlvi no 14
Walt 2008) that can be averted only by network of plant genetic interdependence. tries in CBD in 1992 for sovereign rights pooling the entire resour ces of the global This bondage is growing evermore stronger, over genetic resources and equitable shar- especially in the wake of climate change Wise management of land, water and and unprecedented loss of agrobiodiversity. little scientific input. It has been pointed biodiversity is the key to achieve sustaina- No region can afford to isolate itself, or to out that the scientific board of the CBD is ble food security. Among these three be isolated, from access to plant germ-dominated by politicians and professional pillars of food security, land and water are plasm in other regions of diversity, in negotiators hindering effective action on limited and the least amenable for aug- spite of the variation in regional relation- the basis of scientific evidence (Laikre et mentation. But the biodiversity compo- ships. The general global rule is extreme al 2008). As the developing countries are nent, being truly renewable, offers un- dependence on imported genetic materials the most populated with a gap between limited opportunities to enrich the food (Kloppenberg and Kleinman 1987). demand and production of food, they production as its use in a given system should ideally have argued for open ac- does not affect its availability elsewhere. Benefit-Sharing
cess and free exchange of genetic resourc- Our challenge of feeding the ever-increasing It is high time the developing nations re- es in Rio de Janeiro. But the thrust on population in the midst of the climate alise that a system of royalties for use of benefit-sharing led them to overlook the chaos can only be addressed by drawing genetic resources through multinational precarious state of food security. The year heavily from the global plant genetic arrangements would only heighten the 2008 witnessed the lowest foodgrain estate. Nationalisation of genetic resources mis trust and lead to chaos. Benefit-sharing, stocks in the last three decades and the to counter corporate patenting has its both as an incentive for conservation world consumed more food than it pro- roots in sheer ignorance of the world’s and royalties for access to traditional duced.6 Crop pandemics like the Ug99 interdependence on genetic resources and knowledge, is turning out to be unrealistic strain of wheat rust and increase in food the evolutionary history of crop plants. (ten Kate and Laird 2000; Laird and prices leading to riots in some parts of Cultivated plants have originated in Wynberg 2005; Wynberg et al 2009). Asia and Africa raise the spectre of an dif ferent regions of the globe. The nations Despite being associated with geopoliti-impending food crisis (Almeida 2009; of the world are locked in a complex cal entities historically, genetic resources EPW Research Foundation (A UNIT OF SAMEEKSHA TRUST)
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april 2, 2011 vol xlvi no 14 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
should be treated as a common heritage in realises that the commercial benefits that 8 International Plant Genetic Resources Institute the best interest of humanity (Rajan and can be derived through sharing of biodi- (2006): Developing access and benefit-sharing re- gimes plant genetic resources for food and agri- Prathapan 2009). The International Treaty versity and the associated traditional culture. Policy brief, viewed on 18 June 2010 on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and knowledge are insignificant and irrele- (http://www.bioversityinternational.org/filead- min/bioversity/publications/pdfs/1146.pdf). Agri culture,7 adopted after seven years of vant in the context of ensuring food secu- 9 Report of the Conference of FAO, Thirty-sixth Session Rome, 18-23 November 2009, viewed on 1 rity. Benefit-sharing can neither be a sub- March 2010 (http://www.fao.org/docrep/ meet- forward in this direction. Many of the core stitute for innovation nor a sustainable issues remain unresolved, yet the treaty source of income for rural communities.
facilitates access and sharing of germ- Moreover, restricting access to plant References plasm of important food and fodder crops genetic resources to counter corporate Almeida, C (2009): “New Hope in War against Deadly and underscores the societal need to leave patenting is akin to shadow-boxing as Wheat Fungus”, SciDev. Net, 19 March, viewed on 19 June 2010 (http://www.scidev.net/en/ news/ biological resources in the public domain. most multinational seed corporations new-hope-in-war-against-deadly-wheat-fungus.
The historic treatment of biological together deal with no more than nine spe- resources as a common heritage has enor- cies and are said to be self-sufficient with Gnann J, S Jungcurt, E Morgera, N Schabus and E Tsioumani (2010): “Summary of the Ninth mously benefited human societies across breeding material for most of these com- Meeting of the Working Group on Access and the globe. As a result of germplasm mercial crops. However, a corporate mo- Benefit-sharing of the Convention on Biological Diversity”, 22-28 March, Earth Negotiations exchanges through the network of the nopoly can be effectively fought by devel- Bulletin, 9 (503): 1-16, viewed on 19 June 2010 Consultative Group on International Agri- (http://www.iisd.ca/vol09/enb09503e.html).
Grajal, A (1999): “Biodiversity and the Nation State: cultural Research (CGIAR), countries have proprietary seeds. This is exemplified by Regulating Access to Genetic Resources Limits gained much more than their individual the public sector research and develop- Biodiversity Research in Developing Countries”, Conservation Biology, 13(1), 6-10.
contribution through access to a wide ment system that fuelled the green revolu- Kloppenburg, J and D L Kleinman (1987): “The Plant variety of invaluable material from all tion in India.
Germplasm Controversy”, BioScience, 37(3), 190-98.
over the world.8 As human biology is in no The means adopted by the South to Laikre, L et al (2008): “Wanted: Scientists in the CBD Process”, Conservation Biology, 22(4), 814-15.
address their grievances have now been Laird, S A and R Wynberg (2005): “The Commercial aries of nation states, tags of nationality proved to be wrong and counterproduc- Use of Biodiversity: An Update on Current Trends cannot be attached to plants or animals tive. A plausible way to address the issue in Demand for Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit- sharing and Industry Perspectives on or the genetic diversity that man has would have been to try to change the IPR ABS Policy and Implementation”, viewed on 19 been conserving over generations. They regime, rather than restricting access to June 2010. (http://www. cbd.int/doc/meetings/abs/abswg-04/information/abswg-04-inf-05-en.
are bound to be distributed across politi- biodiversity. The developing world, in its cal boundaries just as ideas in politics, own interest, should forgo benefit- sharing Prathapan, K D and P D Rajan (2009): “Biological Di- versity Act, 2002: Threat to Agricultural Produc- to facilitate free exchange of genetic re- tion and Food Security”, Current Science, 97(5), The negotiations on access and benefit sources as the benefits from the latter far 626- 29, viewed on 19 June 2010. (http://www.
sharing, within the current framework of outweigh those of benefit- sharing.
Prathapan, K D et al (2006): “Biological Diversity Act, the CBD, do not address the issues created 2002: Shadow of Permit-Raj over Research”, Cur- by nationalisation of genetic resources. Notes rent Science, 91(8), 1006-07, viewed on 19 June 2010 (http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/oct252006/ The continuing imbroglio (Gnann et al 1 Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 5 June 1992, viewed on 5 June – (2008): “Death Sentence on Taxonomy in India”, 2010 (http://www.cbd.int/ convention/ conven- tions, underscores the impracticality of a Current Science, 94(2), 170-71, viewed on 19 June
legally binding access and benefit-sharing 2 Biological Diversity Act (2002), No 18 of The Gazette of India Extraordinary, 5 February 2003, Rajan, P D and D Prathapan (2009): “Shared Owner- Pub Ministry of Law and Justice (Legislative ship of Biological Resources”, Science, 324, 1014-15.
Department), Government of India, New Delhi, Rosendal, G K (2003): “Interacting International Insti- the Conference of Parties (CoP) of the CBD viewed on 18 June 2010 (http://www.nbaindia.
tutions: The Convention on Biological Diversity and TRIPS – Regulating Access to Genetic Re- to take into account the special nature of 3 Executive Order No 247 (1995): Prescribing sources”, paper presented as part of Interaction guidelines and establishing a regulatory frame- between International Institutions: Synergies culture as all countries depend on genet- work for the prospecting of biological and genetic resources, their by-products and derivatives, for – (2006): “Balancing Access and Benefit-sharing ic resources originating elsewhere to ad- scientific and commercial purposes; and other and Legal Protection of Innovations from Bio- purposes, viewed on 18 June 2010 (http://www.
prospecting Impacts on Conservation of Biodiver- sity”, The Journal of Environment & Development, 4 FAO (1983): “International undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources”, Resolution 8/83, C 83/REP/8, ten Kate, K and S A Laird (2000): “Biodiversity and Business: Coming to Terms with the ‘Grand Bar- 5 FAO (1989): “Agreed Interpretation of the Inter- gain”, International Affairs, 76(1): 241-64.
national Undertaking”, Resolution 4/89, Rome, Walt, V (2008): “The World’s Growing Food-price Cri- sis”, Time, 27 February, viewed on 19 June. 6 FAO (2008): “The State of Food Insecurity in the (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,85 World”, viewed on 19 June 2010 (http://www.fao.
Nagoya Protocol on a framework to facili- org/docrep/011/i0291e/i0291e00.htm).
Wynberg, R, R Schroeder and R Chennells, ed. (2009): 7 FAO (2001): “International Treaty on Plant Genetic Indigenous Peoples, Consent and Benefit-sharing: Resources for Food and Agriculture”, Resolution Lessons from the San-Hoodia Case (New York: remains a pipe dream. It is time the South Economic & Political Weekly EPW april 2, 2011 vol xlvi no 14
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