Negotiations for a new International Undertaking took place on two fronts. The Commission Chair took a small regionally-representative group aside to discuss access and benefit-sharing in the Lebanon room while the Vice-Chair took on Farmers' Rights with the remainder of the delegation in the Green room. Both negotiating processes broke down when the North found itself without running room and the South presented "bottom line" positions in both arenas. Here's an overview of the dividing issues, what happened, and where diplomats can go from here.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) are moving quickly, and in concert to address abuses of their trust agreements covering several hundred thousand invaluable crop seed accessions, according to the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI).
The agricultural departments of at least four Australian state governments, as well as a bevy of other national public and private research institutes, are routinely pirating the indigenous knowledge of farming communities and international research institutes around the world, according to the Canada-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) - a rural advocacy organization with twenty years experience in the field. Accusing the Aussie agencies of making cowboy claims' on farmer-bred plant varieties from Brazil to India, RAFI's Executive Director, Pat Roy Mooney, says that several dozen plant 'patent' claims listed by Canberra's Plant Breeder's Rights Office are 'a clear rip-off of the genius of others. In most of these cases, the Australians appear to have done nothing more than select and multiply somebody else's seed and then slap a PBR (plant patent) monopoly on them,' Mooney insists.
Australian crop development agencies have been forced to abandon their claims on two chickpea varieties they admit were obtained from an international public research institute based in India (see RAFI's release of 6 January). In a blunt message sent January 8th, the institute, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) - acting on information from RAFI - demanded that the claims for Australian Plant Breeders' Rights (a patent-like intellectual property regime for crop varieties) be dropped. On January 16th, the two Australian institutes - Agriculture WA and CLIMA - said that the claims had been abandoned.
The Australian seed industry has applied for plant breeder's rights (PBR) on two chickpea varieties taken from ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) - an internationally-funded public research centre based in Hyderabad, India. If granted, the Australians will give themselves a 20 year monopoly on the Asian chickpeas, which they propose to market in South Asia and the Middle East. Neither variety, however, is new to farmers. In fact, both are ICRISAT accessions originating in farmer's fields in Iran and India. It's blatant biopiracy," explains Farhad Mazhar of Bangladeshi organization UBINIG and the South Asian Network on Food, Ecology, and Culture, "Australia is privatizing seeds that belong to our farmers, and they plan to sell them back to us with their own self-authorized plant monopoly."
CGRFA '97 Has More Work To Do Than It Thinks!
In 1997, the Consultative Group on Internatinal Agricultural Research (CGIAR) made notable progress in expanding the participation of the South and of women in their governance system. There is evidence that the trend that prevailed in the first half of the 1990's is reversing and that CG members and the Boards of Trustees of the 16 International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) are moving, albeit slowly, to achieve a better regional ration in their various levels of governance. Much of the credit for this shift goes to CGIAR's Chair.
The world's largest and most influential international agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is conducting its first full systemwide review in 17 years. In May, 1998 in Brayil, a prestigious review panel led by Maurice Strong will table its recommendations for the future of the network, which launched the Green Revolution.
In recent years, the CGIAR ( Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) has come under fire for a governance structure that far more reflects the orientation of scientists in the North than it does their counterparts in the South. At the time of the CG's second review in 1981, there were slightly more South trustees in the system than North. During the nineties however, the tables have turned, and the North now dominates the roster with most of the trustees and almost all of the key management positions. Since he took over the reins as Chair of the CGIAR in 1994, the World Bank's Ismail Serageldin has fought an uphill battle with the 16 International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCS) that form the CG network in order to increase the role of the South. Many credit Serageldin with limited, but praiseworthy, success.
RAFI's analysis of overlapping agendas for biodiversity, food security and genetic resources in the multilateral arena. The year 1996 was critical for food security, agricultural development, and biodiversity. The fights and fora include: FAO World Food Summit, the Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). A 12 page document.
The International Board of Plant Genetic Resources is undertaking an evaluation of each gene bank which is previously designated as a "base" for plant germplasm storage. A partial report covering the first 17 banks was submitted to the board in February, 1987, exposing major security problems.
The establishment of an international fund for the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources, participation of governments in the UN Food and Agriculture Organizations International undertaking to promote full exchange of genetic resources, and the establishment of an international system of gene banks under FAO auspices.