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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SUSTAINING THE SUSTAINABLE

Elizabeth Cromwell | 15 October 1991 | Seedling - October 1991

Substantial funding has been directed towards building up formal seed supply organizations in developing countries - both parastatal bodies and private companies. But it is becoming very clear that often a much more effective network of informal seed diffusion based on farmer-to-farmer seed exchange exists. Elizabeth Cromwell of London 's Overseas Development Institute reports on the findings of some recent research.

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On 24-30 June, GRAIN hosted the Second European Network Meeting on Genetic Resources and Biotechnology in Barcelona, Spain. The meeting brought together some 70 people from 50 European non-governmental organisations engaged in public information, campaign and practical activities to strengthen local control over genetic diversity and biotechnology. Four days of brainstorming yielded a range of new analyses and priorities for action on key issues in the fields of grassroots conservation, biotechnology, biodiversity and Farmers ' Rights.

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EAST GERMAN GENEBANK IN LIMBO

Renée Vellvé and Michael Flitner | 20 July 1991 | Seedling - July 1991

On October 3 1990, when West Germany declared "re-unification" with East Germany, the merger included one of history 's most spectacular seizures of valuable genetic resources. The East German germplasm collection is one of the best and oldest in all of Europe. Since the annexation, not only the genetic resources but the very future of East German farming is in a state of suspension. Renée Vellvé (GRAIN) and Michael Flitner (BUKO-Agrarkoordination) report.

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PLANT PIRACY IN THE PHILIPPINES

Nicanor Perlas and Rene Salazar | 15 July 1991 | Seedling - July 1991

The government of the Philippines is about to pass a new law making it possible to patent life forms. The Bill, which would allow for exclusive monopoly rights on asexually reproduced plants, is being pushed through without any public discussion whatsoever. On less than three sheets of paper, this amazing proposal sets no limits on the monopoly granted and penalises farmers who replant patented seeds with one to five years of prison. Nicanor Perlas and Rene Salazar, from CADI and SEARICE, two Filipino NGOs, spell out the concerns for their people.

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After an intensive three-year off-the record battle in plenaries, working groups and bilateral discussions, the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources came to a final-final consensus at its last session in Oslo from 31 May to 4 June. As a result, a "Global Initiative" to urgently save the resources on which the world 's agricultural production depends, was launched into the public for international action.

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