GENES IN THE GULF

GRAIN | 25 February 1991 | Seedling - February 1991

As "Seedling" goes to print, armed conflict is once again besieging the Middle East, this time of untold dimensions. Open hostilities in the Gulf region could degenerate into a large scale tragedy involving chemical and biological warfare, as well as nuclear arms. While we all hold firm to the hope for a negotiated solution to the political problems of the region, GRAIN thought it valuable to acknowledge the important contribution that genetic diversity from the Middle East makes to world agriculture and review the region 's highly vulnerable conservation efforts. It is an area particularly rich in landraces and wild species of immense value for crop improvement and food production worldwide.

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SAVING POTATOES IN THE ANDES

Henk Hobbelink and Miges Baumann | 20 February 1991 | Seedling - February 1991

The home of the potato is to be found in the Andes, where many wild species grow alongside the indigenous varieties developed by local farmers. Throughout this majestic mountain chain, the potato is also the basis of the local diet. While farmers grow an impressive mosaic of different varieties, that diversity is under threat from several angles. The governments are pushing mainstream monoculture, but the people are working on other alternatives. GRAIN associates Henk Hobbelink and Miges Baumann travelled through Ecuador and give a firsthand report.

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1991 will be the year of major decision-making in the world 's two lead international bodies governing intellectual property rights (IPRs): the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). UPOV is scheduled to revise its convention laying out the rules for the plant breeders ' rights (PBR) system in March, while WIPO hopes to adopt an International Patent Harmonisation Treaty in June. Both initiatives could result in stronger laws for IPR protection over plants worldwide, in the shadow of the GATT Uruguay Round 's current difficulties.

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Herb grower Peter Lendi has filed a lawsuit against the first Swiss plant patent on a camomile variety. This struggle between an organic herb farmer and the German pharmaceutical company Degussa, who filed the patent could become a major test case in Switzerland. It is not only the camomile but the future of agriculture that is at stake. GRAIN Board member Miges Baumann reports on this fight between herb farmer David and pharma-giant Goliath.

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Farmers ' innovative capacity and their accumulated knowledge has provided the foundations for thousands of years of agricultural development. After being ignored for decades, it is now seen as the key to sustainable agriculture. But urgent measures are needed to ensure that indigenous knowledge is fully utilized for the benefit of Third World farmers themselves and not merely exploited for the short term profit in the North. Farmers ' knowledge must be protected, research institutions need to redirect their priorities to work with farmers, and funds should be made available to support local development initiatives.

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BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE SOVIET UNION

Vincent Lucassen | 15 October 1990 | Seedling - October 1990

With the breaking down of the Iron Curtain and widespread talk of "perestroika" and "glasnost", the political system in the Soviet Union is presently undergoing profound transformations. A search for the cause of fatal mistakes during the production of biotechnologically produced artificial proteins show some indications of what can happen if decisions on science and technology are left to a central bureaucratic apparatus only. However, the new winds blowing in the USSR do not only bring a more open discussion on these matters, but also revive interest of Western biotech companies to tap part of a huge unexploited market. The development of biotechnology in the flux of "perestroika" has its own dynamics. Vincent Lucassen of the Dutch Contact Group on Biotechnology and Society, and member of the GRAIN Board, went to the Soviet Union and reports on his findings.

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The Brussels-based European Commission has ended a long journey in putting together a proposed Community Plant Variety Rights (CPVR) law. The initiative is meant to be a response to EC breeders ' long-standing complaints about loopholes in the current Plant Breeders ' Rights (PBR) system. According to the Commission, the new proposal will harmonise the PBR system, so that breeders can get their protection EEC-wide rather then having to apply for it in each single country. However, as with many of the recent EEC proposals, when the Commission talks about "harmonisation", it really means "strengthening". If adopted, this proposed law would dramatically expand the property rights of plant breeders to the extent that the only difference between a plant patent and a plant breeders right might be in the name.

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Hail 53(b)!

GRAIN | 20 July 1990 | Seedling - July 1990

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