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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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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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