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Seedling - April 1991

From 15 to 19 April, the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources meets to continue the debate on how to manage the earth 's genetic resources. One of the main issues on the agenda is the implementation of Farmers ' Rights. If Farmers ' Rights is meant as a compensation to farmers for their impressive role in the conservation and development of germplasm, it has to provide for mechanisms that ensure that farmers really benefit from it. This article dives into the background and concludes that there is a gap between the consensus reached in FAO and the day to day practice in the farmers ' fields. It argues for a direct voice from grassroots organisations in the priority-setting and implementation of genetic resources activities. Most importantly, it stresses that the FAO diplomats now have the opportunity and the obligation the move beyond words and start acting.

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We are heading toward a frightening crossroads. The so-called international plant genetic resources community has spent the past 20 years putting together a world network of colossal, centralised "base collections" for major international crops: rice, wheat, maize, potatoes, pulses. Big food in big refrigerators in a couple of locations across the mighty globe: this is called food security. NGOs have all this time been critical of the ill-founded bases of the system: its technical shortcomings, political biases, unaccountability, mismanaged control and the sheer danger of dumping your eggs into one solitary and fragile basket. Without resolving any of those problems, the genebanks are now in the process of shifting strategy away from the failed mega-collections toward a sub-system of isolated and potentially arbitrary "crop networks" and "core collections" with perhaps even more dreadful consequences.

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As many of the trees, vegetables and fruits traditionally grown by farmers around the world are ignored by official research and extension services, indigenous knowledge about how they are grown and used for food, medicines and shelter is under threat too. But peoples ' organizations are striving to turn the tide. We report from Kenya where women farmers are showing renewed interest in these neglected crops.

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GREAT EXPECTATIONS

GRAIN | 10 April 1991 | Seedling - April 1991

Amongst the issues being considered by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) are biological diversity and biotechnology. But will the "Earth Summit" truly address these issues and their underlying problems or merely confuse current initiatives? In this article we look at the preparations for UNCED '92 and the negotiations toward a Convention on Biological Diversity facilitated by UNEP.

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