An increasing number of scientists and companies are starting to experience some of the negative implications of applying the patent system to life forms. Tremendous costs for law suits and huge time delays in getting products to the markets are just some of the factors that become apparent. The most recent controversy was triggered off by the US National Institutes of Health patent application for almost 3000 human gene fragments. The situation is getting to a point where companies are starting to argue that the whole thing might work against innovation. In the meanwhile, the European Parliament - not bothered by all of this - adopted a report that basically endorses the EC Commission 's proposal to allow for the patenting of life forms in Europe.

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Ethiopia is a country of tremendous genetic and cultural diversity. Local farmers have been maintaining and continuously adapting their indigenous crop resources, which now prove to also serve agriculture at the international level. The Ethiopian genebank is carrying out a challenging programme involving farmers in several stages of the seed-saving and breeding process, while encouraging farmers to maintain local varieties by improving the genetic performance of them. A diametrically opposed strategy is followed by Pioneer Hi-Bred, the worlds largest seed company, which recently started operations in the country. Pioneer also directs itself to the small farmers, but to convince them to buy imported hybrid seeds.

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THE URGE TO MERGE

Peter Einarsson | 15 October 1992 | Seedling - October 1992

This fall a major merger will become effective in the Swedish seed business scheme. Two major Swedish breeding operations, Svalöf and Weibull, became Svalöf-Weibull AB, with the new 100% owner being Svenska Lantmännen AB, which is the central holding company of the Swedish farmers ' cooperatives. The merger puts the new company high in the top ranking of seed corporations worldwide. It responds to the business logic of "Big is Beautiful", but what might be lost in the process is the unique public service that both Svalöf and Weibull provided to Swedish farmers over the past 100 years. Peter Einarsson followed the process from close by and reports for Seedling.

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Controversy raised by the Bush administration 's refusal to sign the Convention on Biodiversity at the Earth Summit in Rio filled headlines of daily papers throughout the world. Yet while all eyes were on Rio, the real connection with Washington was absent from the horizon: not the U.S. State Department but the World Bank, house of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The Biodiversity Convention, a small step forward for conservation is a large step backward for Third World control over the valuable international crop germplasm collections run by the CGIAR Centres in the name of the international community. Due to last minute pressure from the U.S. government, the Convention excludes these genebanks from its scope. At the same time, the CG donors, again under pressure from the Americans, are working on a policy to let the Centres patent those collections. GRAIN would like to thank Pat Mooney of RAFI for his contributions to this article.

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TOWARDS AN AGRICULTURE FOR THE FEW

Hannes Lorenzen | 25 July 1992 | Seedling - July 1992

In what was hailed by the press as "the most radical overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy in its 30-year history", EC ministers agreed last May to drastically reduce prices paid to farmers and install a system of direct compensation for them. The measures were presented as an important contribution to saving Europe 's environment, as they encourage farmers to take land out of production and offer subsidies to those who adopt environmentally-friendly activities. However, a close look at the reform shows that it might do just the opposite, with Europe 's genetic heritage being the first major casualty. Hannes Lorenzen of the European Parliament reports.

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CONSERVATIONISTS OR CORSAIRS?

Jack Kloppenburg and Silvia Rodriguez | 20 July 1992 | Seedling - July 1992

Last September, Costa Rica 's National Institute for Biodiversity (INBio) signed a million dollar with the largest drug company in the world, Merck, giving the multinational exclusive rights to develop new products from one of the world 's richest rainforests. The deal took many outsiders by surprise. To some, it looked like an eminently intelligent way to assert and exert national sovereignty over biological resources. To others, it seemed like a massive sell-out that would never benefit the rural communities of Costa Rica. To air the issues, GRAIN turned to Jack Kloppenburg, an American rural sociologist working at the University of Wisconsin, well-known for his research into what could be called "the commodification of the seed". We asked him to analyse for 'Seedling ' what was at stake with "the commodification of the rainforest". The following article is a piece he prepared for us with the assistance of Silvia Rodriguez, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the National University of Costa Rica.

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Key to the success of the "Earth Summit" is the funding mechanism. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), run by the World Bank, is the North 's candidate to take on this role. In this article we assess the need and possible mechanisms for funding, and conclude that the GEF, in its present form, does not match up to the challenges.

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The race to get new biotech products to the market includes the development of biological pesticides and pest-resistant crops. However, pests continually evolve and tend to develop immunity against the new cures. This seems to be already the case with the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which produces a toxin that kills harmful insects, and on which researchers have put their hopes for a chemical-free agriculture. This article looks at the background, points to the narrow focus of research and warns that, if current trends prevail, another promise of the new biotechnologies might prove to be an empty one.

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In a move intended to facilitate access to increasingly privatised biotechnologies, the Green Revolution Institutes are now contemplating not "whether" but "how best" to start claiming intellectual property rights over seeds collected from farmers ' fields throughout the Third World. GRAIN and many other NGOs and scientists are deeply disturbed by the proposals and urge Seedling readers to present their concerns to the relevant centres.

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The past thirty years have witnessed an important deterioration of the farming systems and rural cultures of Southeast Asia. The miracle rices of the Green Revolution and government policies to promote monoculture and high yields have reinforced genetic erosion, indebtedness, landlessness and vast environmental damage. However, over the past years, a growing movement of non-governmental and people 's organisations is working to design alternatives and reorient public policy in favour of local control over resources, technology and information to make sustainable agriculture really possible. A regional dialogue among NGOs and government officials, held in Bangkok last August, shows a promising level of consensus on how to move forward.

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