Thousands Drop A Line to the Prince Urging Him to Drop the Patent
On Tuesday, 12 May 1998 at the Fourth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, RAFI officially launched an international postcard campaign aimed at Prince Hans Adam II, the Prince of Liechtenstein. The Prince is the chairman of the RiceTec Group, whose Texas-based subsidiary, RiceTec Inc., holds the controversial patent on Basmati rice (#5,663,484).
Hundreds of NGOs and government delegates attending the COP IV meeting in Bratislava were eager to sign postcards and mail them to Prince Hans-Adam II. "The Prince needs to be held accountable. He made a mistake, and he can correct the situation by dropping the patent," said RAFI's Edward Hammond. "We're certain that the Prince will get the message because he'll be receiving thousands of postcards printed in English, German and Spanish from concerned individuals and civil society organizations all over the world," explained RAFI's Hammond.
RAFI's postcard campaign is the latest in a series of civil society protests of the Basmati rice patent. The controversial patent, issued in September 1997, lays claim to Asia's famous aromatic Basmati rice. The patent covers Basmati grown anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, and effectively claims ownership of traditional Pakistani or Indian Basmati strains when crossed with the company's proprietary lines. For further details, see RAFI's 1 April 1998 GenoTypes on the Basmati patent.
The Indian and Pakistani governments have vowed to fight the US patent, which is viewed as a threat to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farming families in India, Pakistan and Nepal who grow Basmati rice for export. When news of the patent reached New Delhi, over 50,000 Indians protested in front of the US Embassy. In India alone, basmati rice exports are valued at (US) $800 million per annum. Over 80% of Basmati rice grown in India is produced for export.
A wide coalition of Southeast Asian NGOs and Peoples' Movements recently denounced the Basmati rice patent at the World Trade Organization. The coalition called on WTO member states to recognize that farmers' and community rights have precedence over intellectual property rights and that IPRs destroy biodiversity.