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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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BRAZIL ABOUT TO PATENT LIFE?

David Hathaway | 25 October 1993 | Seedling - October 1993

Brazil is one of the key developing countries under intense pressure from Northern governments to strengthen intellectual property protection over life forms. Transnational corporations are pushing strongly for Brazil to adopt a new patent bill that would make it possible for them to enjoy monopoly protection and huge profits over crop seeds, livestock, and drugs developed through biotechnology. The Western-led push to patent life in Brazil has spurred off intense debate over the impact on all layers of society and catalyzed new coalitions among the scientific, religious, farmer, environmentalist and NGO communities. David Hathaway, of AS-PTA, an NGO working to strengthen farmer control over local biodiversity, reports on the proposed bill and its likely impact on Brazilian society.

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One year after the signing of the global Convention on Biological Diversity at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the industrialised countries are sharpening their tools to twist the treaty in favour of the biotechnology industry. The US government is moving forward to sign the Convention, but only on the basis of its "interpretation" of the sticky points. Under pressure from the industry, other OECD countries are equally trying to converge into a common power bloc as to how to "interpret" the Convention. After four years of polite negotiations, the real power politics begin.

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After 15 years of evading a response to the thorny question of who owns the genetic resources held in the genebanks of the International Agricultural Research Centres, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has decided to approach FAO to construct a global solution. At a meeting of the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources last month, the CG and FAO agreed to start negotiations to give the CG genebanks a firm legal status and FAO a role in their political and physical protection.

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FAREWELL, CHRISTIAN

Erna Bennett | 15 May 1993 | Seedling - May 1993

Next month, June 1993, the renowned Gatersleben genebank in the former East Germany will celebrate its 50th anniversary. One man will be missing from the festivities: Christian Lehmann, who devoted his life to genetic resources and the success of the genebank. For next month is also the first anniversary of Lehmann 's unexpected death, which came at a time in his life when he was gearing up to work more closely with NGOs and community-based conservation initiatives. The following farewell was written for "Seedling" by Erna Bennett, also one of the greatest geneticists of this century and a revolutionary woman committed to people 's control over genetic resources. Erna was a stone setter in the move to get a global genetic conservation scheme set up in the 1960s, but now works actively with NGOs all over the world to secure viable and equitable farmer based approaches. Christian was her personal friend and colleague, so it is only apt that Erna offers him our collective farewell.

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A DECADE IN REVIEW

GRAIN | 25 February 1993 | Seedling - February 1993

Over the past ten years of Seedling 's history, what was once known as "the seeds issue" has passed from being a concern of very few individuals on this planet to the highlight of controversy among the 30,000 attendees of the UN Conference on Environment and Development -- the "Earth" Summit -- in Rio last June. To a large extent, the only progress traceable through Seedling 's trajectory over the past decade is the enormous growth of public awareness about the importance and causes of genetic erosion in world agriculture. The real work to effectively reverse this threat to global food security, to implement equitable and integrated strategies for genetic resources management, and to put farmers at the wheel of agricultural development, and their own destinies, still lies ahead of us.

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In January 1993, GRAIN staffers and Seedling co-editors Henk Hobbelink and Renée Vellvé sat down with Pat Mooney of RAFI to look back together over the first decade of Seedling. From a sporadic two-page telex written by Pat for 30 close collaborators in 1982, Seedling has become an internationally recognised platform for NGO networking on plant genetic resources and biotechnology. Since Pat was the first publisher of Seedling, before it was passed on to Henk in 1984, it was only appropriate for us to review together the history of the journal, the history of the issues it reflects, and the history of the NGO struggle it has served.

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