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Last month in Nairobi, governments gathered to discuss how to move forward on the Convention on Biological Diversity. To their surprise, a new issue was forced on to their agenda: news of a World Bank “coup” on the international crop germplasm collections held by the International Agricultural Research Centres of the CGIAR. NGOs present in Nairobi reported that the World Bank was intent on blocking a new agreement between the CG and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which would finally grant some legal status — “trusteeship” — to the currently unprotected and vulnerable collections. The governments rebuffed the Bank 's initiative and endorsed signature of the agreement as soon as possible. This article gives the story, but also dives into the core of the matter: how well are those collections currently managed? We wish to thank Pat Mooney of RAFI for providing some of the materials for this article.

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International Transfer of GMOs - The Need for a Biosafety Protocol

CEAT Clearinghouse on Biotechnology, European Coordination Friends of the Earth and GRAIN | 25 July 1994 | Reports

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A SYSTEM IN CRISIS

GRAIN | 25 July 1994 | Seedling - July 1994

Many people may not realise that behind the increases in food production — and all its accompanying environmental and socio-economic problems — achieved in many areas of the world over the past thirty years, lies a “system”. The “system” is a rather invisible network of international scientific research institutes, supported and controlled by its financial donors in the North. Thirty years after the launch of the Green Revolution, the “system” which was ostensibly set up to “feed the world” is mired in a deep and decisive crisis. One for which all minds need to be tapped to find a creative and bold solution.

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International and national agricultural research is entrenched in a culture of top-down and often insensitive approaches to realities on the farm. This article by Dr. Michel Pimbert highlights the mismatch between the transfer of technology model of agricultural research and the needs and livelihood strategies of the poor. Michel is an agricultural ecologist and has conducted much research on biological pest control. He spent four years working at ICRISAT where his people-centred approach to research clashed against the internal norms of Green Revolution science. As Michel sees it, the professional challenge of the 1990s is to develop innovation systems and sustainable agricultures that support decentralisation, diversity and democracy rather than centralisation, uniformity and control.

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Universities are a vital national resource in training, research and extension for agricultural development, North and South. Many of them, however, are geared toward reinforcing conventional, high-input chemical-based farming methods and a reductionist agenda of narrowly-defined productivity gains and technology transfer. Most of them are also becoming marginalised due to government budget cuts and the increasing role of the private sector. Despite the dominant culture, some institutions are susceptible to change and can be helped to change when advocates of pro-farmer, sustainable agriculture join forces. The University of the Philippines offers an example of this. Dr. Pam Fernandez and her colleagues at the Department of Agronomy in UP 's Los Baños campus are struggling to make the University an active proponent of sustainable agriculture for resource-poor farmers of Southeast Asia. As Dr. Fernandez spells out for Seedling readers, this requires a small revolution in mentalities — a revolution that has to germinate at home.

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ANIMAL ALARM

GRAIN | 28 March 1994 | Seedling - March 1994

The UN 's Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, has released a new and important alarm. Not only is the vital diversity of our crops and forests succumbing to erosion under the guise of “development” programmes, but one-third of the 4,000 or so breeds of animals used worldwide for food and farming are dangerously flirting with extinction. The issues surrounding animal genetic resources parallel in many ways the problems that have been plaguing plant genetic resources. However, we know a lot less about it. Animals — domesticated and wild — are extremely important components of people 's livelihoods systems. In this article we give a background overview of the status of animal genetic diversity and resource use, and what is being done to safeguard and improve the benefits people can derive through the riches of the animal world.

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THE NEED FOR SUI GENERIS RIGHTS

Vandana Shiva | 25 March 1994 | Seedling - March 1994

From the moment the GATT negotiations were concluded last December, NGOs and people 's organisations began trying to assess what space was available to promote positive rights for farmers and local communities engaged in the conservation, development and use of biodiversity, and the indigenous knowledge associated with it. While the Biodiversity Convention — which entered into force two weeks after GATT was signed — engages governments to take new action to protect biodiversity, recognising the role of local communities, that action still has to be thought out. More decisively, the GATT treaty obliges governments to provide for intellectual property rights on plants, be it in the form of patents, breeders ' rights or an “effective sui generis system”. As Dr. Vandana Shiva, the well-known Indian writer and activist, sees it, we have to use the sui generis option to test our governments ' commitments to biodiversity and the farming community, and to evolve novel legislation that deliberately recognises and protects community rights over biological resources and indigenous knowledge.

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THE 'TRIALS' OF A MALARIA VACCINE

Luis Angel Fernandez Hermana | 20 March 1994 | Seedling - March 1994

For millions of people in the Third World, the dream of an effective vaccine against malaria might be coming true. The story behind this dream, however, can be described as a veritable nightmare. The vaccine was developed by Manuel Patarroyo, a Colombian scientist, in the 1980s and has since met every thread of economic and political resistance from the mighty drug industry and medical community — not to mention some development agencies — of the so-called First World. As the final trials are now under way in Africa, we asked Luis Angel Fernandez, a Barcelona-based journalist who has been following the story for years, to put Patarroyo 's nightmare on paper. The hard line played by the scientific and industrial circles of the North against the work of this determined Colombian researcher is an illuminating — and terrifying — example of “profits before people 's health”.

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Since the late 1970s, the member states of the UN 's Food and Agriculture Organisation have pioneered a global initiative to set up a more equitable system for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. By the late 1980s, FAO 's work in this area was eclipsed by growing popular attention to biological diversity at large, and the political heat around the negotiations of the Convention on Biodiversity. While FAO maintains its historic foot in the crop scene, the Biodiversity Convention establishes new rules for all forms of genetic resources. To avoid overlap and promote a solid programme for biodiversity specifically important to food and agriculture, a new relation between FAO 's work and the Convention are necessary.

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"Biodiversity prospecting" is being tooted as a new and viable framework to marry conservation of biological diversity with sustainable development. In the past months alone, we have seen an explosion of books, studies, reports and articles discussing the concept of "bioprospecting" and how it can be implemented. Its proponents, who are boisterously trying to secure financial and political support for this approach, claim that Third World countries will not generate or reap economic benefit from their ecological treasures unless they learn how to market the goods. The negotiators of the Biodiversity Convention seem to be talking about nothing else than that. But marketing national biological resources -- once considered a global commons, free for the taking -- also means marketing indigenous peoples ' knowledge about them. This article explores some of the fundamental problems underlying this new push to commodify and commercialise the planet 's biological and ethnobotanical treasure chest.

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