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close this bookLife Industry: Biodiversity, People and Profits (WWF, 1996)
close this folderPart 3 - Which way now?
View the document6.1. Choices
View the document6.2. Reversals for diversity - a new paradigm
View the document6.3 Seeds of hope

6.1. Choices

Amidst all the confusion created by the stampede for the new booty of biodiversity and the North-South tug-of-war over access and ownership, it is difficult to see the way ahead for those opposed to the North's utilitarian model of biodiversity management. Bioprospecting is rapidly gathering momentum, and industry's eagerness to glean what it can before the rules and regulations are tightened up is placing great pressure on governments and local communities all over the world to respond to its demands.

Three main strategies stand out as options which could be adopted to deal with the weighty questions of equity, rights and access to the global genetic pool are being considered in all the major global agreements and action plans for the environment. This issue is taking greater and greater precedence in the Biodiversity Convention, Agenda 21, and the Commission on Sustainable Development. Indigenous groups are becoming highly vocal in this arena, and at the 1995 Biodiversity Convention meeting, a post was created in the secretariat specifically to address the concerns of indigenous people. A growing number of voices are pointing out the limitations of existing approaches to dealing with access, rights and equity. In the debates, three broad strategies for addressing these issues stand out:

o compensation or reward - whereby compensation, in monetary or some other form, is given to a government, community or individual in recognition of its contribution to the development of a product

o intellectual property rights - whereby communities or individuals gain legal rights to their resources and knowledge, and therefore have control over their use

o reclaiming the commons- involving a rejection of existing mechanisms and advocating a much broader, stewardship-based approach to bioresource management.

The first two approaches require working with the system and adapting it to make it more equitable. The last requires a more radical reversal of the existing approach to biodiversity management. The pros and cons of each of these approaches will be discussed in turn.


This approach can be beneficial if local people are interested in cash or other forms of compensation and they have a strong hand in the negotiations. For many indigenous peoples, however, this approach is sacrilegious since it entails commodifying the sacred. Many groups find them selves caught in a difficult situation where they do not approve of the compensation mechanism, yet fear that if they do not engage in a deal they will lose their resources and knowledge without gaining anything. As Darrell Posey points out, the compensation approach is largely being advocated by the North - it is not the preferred option for indigenous peoples, but they are often not aware that they may have alternative options.

Bilateral deals Both monetary and non-monetary forms of compensation are being considered in bioprospecting deals. With monetary compensation, one of the greatest challenges of the compensation approach is assessing a fair price. Assessing the value of biodiversity is a far cry from assessing the value of tin or steel, partly because knowledge is implicit in the value of the 'commodity' and partly because the potential applications of a plant, chemical or gene are often unknown at the time of collection. The examples given in Chapter 4 demonstrate that corporations tend to regard compensation to local communities as a token gesture rather than treating them as equal partners in the deal.

Another problem lies in the fact that companies often consider that agreeing a price and writing a cheque is all they need worry about. They have little concern for ironing out a detailed agreement on who the beneficiaries are, in what form the benefits are given and how they are distributed (see Chapter 4.1).

A further problem is to establish intermediate forms of compensation and incentives that bridge the 10-15 year period sometimes required to develop a marketable drug. It is essential to ensure that false expectations of large immediate benefits do not develop in the source countries, but some form of short-term assistance could be provided. This could range from assistance in infrastructure development to support for social services, education and healthcare.

Christine Kabuye also notes that one of the difficulties in pursuing a compensation mechanism in bilateral deals, as advocated by the Biodiversity Convention, is that biodiversity is seen as being the property of sovereign states. If this is the case, governments will be the beneficiaries in any bilateral deals, and the communities which provided access to the resources and knowledge may not benefit at all.

According to GRAIN, in these kinds of deals the North calls the tune - it identifies the products it is interested in, largely determines the terms, and bases the assessment of a 'fair deal' on Northern ethical considerations. Consequently, these kinds of deals often tend to be paternalistic and oversimplistic in nature.

Conservation compensation Owing to the shortcomings of bilateral deals, alternative mechanisms have been proposed. Farmers' Rights (Box 6.1) is one such initiative. The main attraction of the Farmers' Rights approach is the elimination of a legal mechanism for intellectual property protection. Indigenous communities could be compensated on the basis of development needs and opportunity, without reference to law courts, patent offices or legal departments.

According to Jack Kloppenburg a multilateral system of compensation is particulary important for agricultural crops, for a number of reasons

o Unlike the bioactive agents sought by pharmaceutical companies, which are easily definable, the genetic material of value for agricultural development is not static and cannot be isolated. Even if a specific gene sequence can be linked to a certain characteristic, such as disease resistance, it must be embedded in many different varieties adapted to local or regional agronomic conditions in order to be effective.

o Only a multilateral framework can provide equitably for compensation for materials for which there is no unique ethnic or geographic provenance.

o Bilateral deals cannot be achieved for the majority of the genes collected in the world's communal genebanks, which are recognized as common heritage.

However, according to some critics a multilateral approach is open to abuse because the central fund is used not to compensate individual farmers or indigenous people, but to reward meritorious work that encourages conservation and sustainable use (see Chapter 4.3). There is no guarantee that farmers in a particular country will actually benefit from the compensation, because their government is the recipient of the reward.

Intellectual property right mechanisms

The advantage of IPRs is that they provide a certain amount of security and a defence against piracy. The drawbacks of IPRs are discussed more fully in Chapter 3, but can be summarized by two main points. Firstly, IPR provides for a monopolistic appropriation which may foreclose benefits to others. And secondly, Northern IPR law - the dominant model does not, and cannot, recognize informal community innovation (Box 6.2). Again, as with compensation, IPR would not be the mechanism of choice for indigenous peoples and farmers, but given the momentum given to this model by GATT and the Biodiversity Convention, many groups are considering ways of adapting and improving the IPR system.

Modifying the patent system Several mechanisms have been suggested to ensure greater equity in the existing IPR system. One suggestion, advocated by RAFI, is to adopt new deposit rules for gene bank accessions, requiring the attachment of detailed information about the source of the material, including names of individuals or communities where appropriate. This information would remain attached to all patent applications. Other ideas include the protection of all gene bank materials from patenting; introducing IPR ombudsmen to investigate patent claims on behalf of indigenous communities; and the establishment of a fund to cover IPR costs, such as maintaining gene bank deposits, and funding patent tribunals and legal representation for indigenous communities.

None of these suggestions would impose an unacceptable burden on the system and could be factored in to the existing fee structures used by patent offices.

Plant breeders ' rights In the 1960s, there was controversy in Europe over whether monopoly rights should be granted for food, chemicals, plants and animals by drawing them into the patent regime. It was eventually decided that plants and animals should stay out of the patent regime and a new system was drawn up for the protection of plants. The Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) was formed in 1961 and its convention was signed by a number of states - mainly from Europe and the US.

UPOV, however, has never really been effective internationally. Evidence began to appear showing that because of PBR, multinational companies were starting to take control of the breeding sector. It was also argued that the PBR system promoted a further impoverishment of genetic diversity because of its requirements for uniformity. To date there are only 18 signatories, and the gathering momentum of acceptance of the patent system as the preferred method of protection for life forms means that UPOV may well fade further into the background. This is somewhat ironic given that patents are a much more serious threat to the concerns which originally held back the adoption of PBR.

The major difference between patents and PBR lies in the scope of the protection granted (see p. 85). While patents can protect the entire genetic make-up of an organism, PBR does not provide ownership over the germplasm of the seed, it gives only a monopoly right for the marketing of a specific variety. Like patents, and for similar reasons, the PBR system has been undergoing change. There has been a progressive strengthening of the protection offered, which appears to favour commercial breeders and undermine the interests of farmers.

Sui generis systems Given that both the Biodiversity Convention and GATT allow the adoption of sui generis systems of IPR as an alternative to patents (see p. 81), there is scope for countries to introduce alternatives. However, who judges the acceptability of sui generis systems has yet to be clarified.

Many indigenous communities and governments are not aware that IPR systems include a number of options that do not imply exclusive monopoly control over inventions. Among these options are Community Intellectual Property Rights (see Box 6.3), the Model Law on Folklore (see Box 6.4) and Inventors' Certificates. The latter provides the option of discarding financial compensation altogether in favour of non-monetary awards and non-exclusive licensing arrangements. Governments can adjust the terms of compensation to promote local innovations in domestic or export markets, or to attract a foreign invention where access to the invention is deemed to be in the national interest.

Intellectual integrity RAFI has proposed the development of a framework that would allow indigenous communities to ensure the intellectual integrity of their ongoing innovations rather than to obtain intellectual property rights. This would ensure recognition of peoples' innovations, ensure access to them and protect them from piracy, without having to assign ownership to an individual or group. This could include some aspects of the various proposals described above, along with a few others. Indigenous communities would not need to endorse IPR systems in order to have their intellectual integrity protected. UN and other agencies would do this for them. Implicit in such a framework would be a strong focus on information exchange and information, so that indigenous groups can contribute more meaningfully to policy formulation and their views can be understood more deeply by people with a Northern value system and world view.

Traditional resource rights Traditional Resource Rights build on the concept of IPR and refer to a bundle of rights that can be used for protection, compensation and conservation. The term 'property' is omitted, since property for indigenous peoples frequently has intangible, spiritual attributes, and, though worthy of protection, can belong to no human being. The term encompasses a wide range of international agreements already in existence, and TRR could be used as the basis of a sui generis system of protection. IPRs are only one of these bundles of rights, and the term also encompasses human rights, religious rights and religious freedom, environmental integrity, cultural heritage rights, neighbouring rights, and customary law and practice, among others.

US lawyer Dinah Shelton suggests that international human rights law may provide the best framework for protection for communities and local environments in the future. Human rights bodies increasingly call for environmental protection because of the connection between human rights violations and environmental degradation. Invoking these rights could introduce more justice into the process of determining access to, and control over, biological diversity and local peoples' knowledge. TRR is a favoured mechanism amongst indigenous people because it is rights-driven, not economically motivated. It goes beyond other sui generis models, in that it seeks to protect not only knowledge but also asserts the right to selfdetermination and to safeguard culture in its broadest sense.

Reclaiming the commons

Both the IPR and compensation mechanisms described above see biodiversity very simplistically and are concerned primarily with the products of biodiversity rather than its more holistic counterpart, which defines it more broadly in terms of systems and relationships (see Chapter 4.4). The dominant world-view cannot accommodate this definition of biodiversity. Addressing the question of biodiversity conservation and management in this context requires more than just tinkering with the current system. A radical shift is required not only to change practices but also to alter the underlying philosophy and value system (Chapter 6.2).

The process of reclaiming the commons involves community empowerment that is explicitly linked with local ecological and economic regeneration. In relation to biodiversity, this means empowering communities, enabling all people to secure their rights and needs. It is through these processes that people are empowered to care for the environment and democratize control over the end uses of knowledge and biological resources.


1. Kloppenberg, J. (1994). W(h)ither Farmers' Rights? Paper written for a seminar held by GRAIN in Montezillon, Switzerland.

2. The Crucible Group (1994), People, Plants and Patents, IDRC, Ottawa.

3. Posey, D.A., Dutfield, G. et al. (1994). Beyond intellectual Property Rights- Protection, Compensation and Community Empowerment. Report for WWF-International.

4. Shelton, D. (1995). Fair Play, Fair Pay-Strengthening Local Livelihood Systems through Compensation for Access to and Use of Traditional Knowledge and Biological Resources. Report for WWFInternational.

5. Posey, D. (1995). Indigenous People and Traditional Resource Rights: A basis for Equitable Relationships? Green College, Oxford, UK.

6.2. Reversals for diversity - a new paradigm


In all of history there has probably never been a period as dramatic as the late 1980s and the 1990s for the scale and scope of unexpected and divergent changes in the human condition. In some regions wealth increases and concentrates and consumerism flourishes to excess; in others war, famine and civil disorder bring destitution and death. The communications revolution is touching people's lives and transforming their awareness and aspirations, not only in the centres of prosperity in the North but also in the poor, rural and indigenous communities in the South. Almost everywhere, in different ways and in different directions, change seems to be the norm, and universally the pace of change is accelerating.

While this occurs, a new paradigm has been coalescing. The word 'paradigm' is used here to mean a mutually-reinforcing pattern of concepts, values, beliefs, methods and behaviours. The prevalent or normal paradigm tends towards global homogenization through the interlocking effects of the market, communications, technology and professionalism. The emerging paradigm of 'reversals' turns this normality on its head. It seeks and supports diversity in many dimensions. And it does this as a means to sustainable livelihoods and a good quality of life for all.

The normal

To appreciate reversals, we must first understand what is meant by the 'normal' paradigm and its dominant concepts, values, beliefs, methods and behaviour. Appreciating reversals means learning to be open to the realities as seen by the majority (but seldom heard) population, rather than the dominant minority. In the normal paradigm, which continues to dominate our world, four dimensions stand out as common and powerful:

o Bureaucracy - tends to centralize, standardize and control.

o Professionalism - creates and works in controlled environments with precise measurements, using reductionist methods which tend to generate standard and simple packages and solutions.

o Capitalism and markets - tend to homogenize all aspects of life, appropriating diverse resources and exploiting them in uniform, capitalintensive ways, and seeking a unified global market.

o Development/conservation - rely on blueprint planning and top-down control-orientated implementation, with targets and regimented actions at the local level. They distrust people and participation and result in the ring-fencing of projects, national parks etc.

These four dimensions have been mutally reinforcing. They have combined in many ways through centralization, standardization, control, reductionism and the appropriation of resources by the wealthy and powerful. Centralization, standardization and uniformity have always been inherent in the structure and dynamics of large bureaucracies and of the state: in the classical Fordist mass-production line; and in the practical universality of Newtonian science, with its applications in engineering, medicine and other fields which deal with physical things in predictable environments. In agriculture, this generated the Green Revolution packages in which environments could be controlled to fit standard, high-yielding genotypes. Henry Ford is reputed to have said that Americans could have their massproduced Model T Ford car in any colour they liked as long as it was black. Transfer of technology packages and large-scale cultivation of uniform moncultures are biological analogues of the Model T.

These tendencies link in and resonate with patterns of North-South dominance. North and South are used here in their literal sense and also as metaphors. Many relationships can be seen as North-South, as magnets generating their own mutually reinforcing fields (Fig. 6.1). The Norths, or Uppers, dominate the Souths, or Lowers. Each magnet, or person, reinforces the field through dominance and instruction, North to South, or submission and compliance, South to North. It is then difficult for any one magnet to flip round against the force of the pervasive magnetic field.

Chain reactions of dominance pass downwards. Let us assume that a World Bank staff member puts pressure on an official in a country in the

Figure 6.1 Dominance, reversals and freedom

South, who then pressurizes a subordinate, who does the same to another lower official, who turns on a field worker, who goes home in the evening and takes it out on his wife, who shouts at the children, who go out and throw stones at the dog which, conceivably, chases a cat . . .

Bureaucracies, professions and markets can be thought of as mutually reinforcing. Their normal North-South dominance standardizes and simplifies, generating and transferring monocultures and Model Ts. The challenge is to weaken the magnetic field which sustains these; to offset and neutralize the patterns of dominance. It is not to cause complete flips from South to North, for these repeat the paradigm, reproducing the old patterns with different actors on top - as with Robespierre after Louis XVI, Lenin after Tsar Nicholas, Mao after the Chinese emperors, or Mengistu after Haile Selassie. It is rather to replace the old paradigm with a new one; to loosen the relationships so that people are free to spin and relate laterally as well as upwards and downwards in an egalitarian and open manner.

Whose reality counts?

The reality which those who are central and powerful seek to construct is universal, simplified, standardized, stable, controlled and measurable. The concept of poverty is an example: in the usual economist's definition, poverty is reduced to the measurable, a single dimension which is either low income or low consumption. But deprivation as experienced by poor people is multi-dimensional, including vulnerability, isolation, physical weakness, powerlessness and humiliation. But what has been measured - as incomepoverty or consumption-povery - masquerades as the much larger reality. Poor people have many other criteria of well-being (Fig. 6.2). But normal economists define poverty not by the many dimensions of the experience of the poor, but by their own reductionism to a single measurable scale. It is then not the needs of the poor, but the needs of powerful professionals, which construct the dominant reality of poverty.

The contrasting reality of the livelihoods and farming systems of poor people is local, complex, diverse, dynamic and difficult to control or measure. Although normal professionals often fail to understand this, many poor people seek to complicate and diversify their livelihoods and farming systems. They add enterprises to increase production and reduce risk. Farming systems, like natural ecosystems, tend to be more resilient the more complex they become. So farmers create and protect microenvironments in which they cultivate greater biological diversity. They add to their enterprises, multiplying linkages on- and off-farm, for example through aquaculture, composting, agroforestry, adding to livestock species, and so on. By complicating and diversifying their farming systems and livelihoods they buffer themselves against bad times and shocks. Their motto, as coined by Porter et al. is 'More diversity for more certainty'. A recent estimate is that there are almost as many people in the world who depend for their food on these complex, diverse and risk-prone (CDR) farming systems as on the simpler, more standardized and more controlled Green Revolution farming.

Farmers and villagers in two villages in Rajasthan in India were asked to determine their own categories and criteria of changing economic status; they named 38 criteria. Comparing data from fieldwork in the 1960s and 1980s, Jodha found that the 36 households which were more than 5% worse off in per capita real incomes were on average better off according to 37 of their own 38 criteria. (The one exception was milk consumption, as more was being sold outside the village). The improvements included quality of housing, wearing shoes regularly, less dependence in the lean season, and not having to migrate for work. Several of the criteria reflected greater independence:

Indicator of well-being

% of households



One or more members working as attached or semi-attached labour



Residing on patron's land or yard



Taking seed loans from patrons



Taking loans from others besides patrons



Marketing farm produce only through patrons



Family members seasonally out-migrating for work



Selling ,80% of their produce in post-harvest period



Making cash purchases during slack-season festivals



Adults skipping third daily meal during scarcity period



Women and children wear shoes regularly



Houses with only impermanent traditional structure



Houses with separate provision for humans and animals



(Source: Jodha, 1988)

The reality of these income-poorer villages contrasts sharply with a normal economist's reality. The economist sees them as poorer, but in their own terms they were on average much better off.

Figure 6.2 For richer or poorer - whose reality?

Resilient and adaptable small CDR farmers have often found themselves at odds with the normal paradigm. They have been encouraged to adopt technologies developed for the standardized and controlled conditions which they do not have. What they want is not a Model T package of practices, certified by bureaucrats and scientists, for transfer to controlled and uniform conditions, but a basket of choices from which they can mix and match the combinations to enhance adaptability, reduce risk and increase returns for their particular needs and environments.

The normal and new paradigms can be contrasted (Fig. 6.3). The normal focuses on things, blueprints and planning; the new serves people through process and participation. Linked with these are contrasts between modes of intervention and interaction - between dominating and facilitating, 'motivating' end enabling, controlling and empowering. The normal is more the paradigm of the powerful, dominant and wealthy; the new reflects more the conditions and needs of the weak, subordinate and noon



Analytical assumptions and methods



Universally applicable

Locally chosen, adapted or invented

Working environment






Standard package

Basket of choices

'Model T'


Interactions with local








Dominant orientation










Figure 6.3 Two paradigms contrasted




Things first

People first

Men before women

Women before men

Professional set priorities

Poor people set priorities

Technology transfer - packages

Technology choice - baskets











Tying down (family)

Also releasing

Inwards (urban)

Also outwards

Upwards (hierarchy)

Also downwards


From 'above'

From 'below'

Rural development tourism

Rapid, relaxed and participatory appraisal

Questionnaire surveys

Ranking, scoring, judgement

Measurement and statistics






Figure 6.4 Reversals for diversity and realism

The challenge is to move from the normal to the new; for the powerful to ask themselves how normal professionals and centrally-placed bureaucrats construct their reality and how this contrasts with the reality of those who are local and poor. The questions then are Whose reality counts?', 'Whose reality should count?' and 'How can the reality of those who are local and poor count more??


The paradigm of reversals answers these questions by turning the normal on its head, and reversing imbalances and power (Fig. 6.4). It puts people first, seeks to redress gender balance by putting women before men? and seeks to enable poor people to set their own priorities and to make their own choices. Sustainable livelihoods are an equalizing focus of reversals. For the rich, sustainable livelihoods mean much lower consumption. For the poor, sustainable livelihoods require choices, adaptability, versatility, participation, enhancing capabilities, and supporting cultural, biological and ecological diversity.

In this paradigm, diversity is not a static quality to be preserved through capture and protection, but a function of the permanence of change. Diversity is sustained and enhanced through versatile opportunism, adaptability, and the creation and exploitation of physical and economic niches. There are resonances between the strategies of poor CDR farmers and the precepts of avant-garde, post-modern business management. For example, Tom Peters' Thriving on Chaos, which was written as advice for business in the US, stresses diversity, becoming obsessed with listening', finding and exploiting transient opportunities, inventiveness and learning from mistakes.

The three D's' of decentralization, democracy and diversity underpin the paradigm of reversals. They interlink with and support the capabilities of poor people and their dynamism in relation to the market (Figure 6.6). The challenges to achieve the empowerment of poor people are for bureaucracy to decentralize, for political systems to become more democratic, and for professionals to embrace and contribute to diversity and choices. Together, these can enable poor people in communities to cope better with, and make use of, the market without being dominated by it.

Figure 6.5 Reversing imbalances and power

For this local empowerment, four elements stand out:

o rights security and territory to empower local people to resist the drives of capitalist organizations to appropriate territory and resources, to standardize agroecologies, to diminish the biodiversity on which local livelihoods depend, to reduce the security of people, and to infringe their rights

o information to enable people to defend and manage their resources better, and to operate in and gain from the market

o organization and political action to countervail centrally-based dominance and exploitation

o analysis by local people themselves to enhance their effective command over resources and management of their lives. Local people's analytical capability has been vastly underrated in the past, partly because of the top-down approaches that have been used to 'help' people. New techniques and methods, such as Participatory Rural Appraisal (Boxes 6.5 and 6.6) are building on and complementing earlier approaches to empowerment through participatory appraisal, analysis, planning and action.

Reversals are gaining ground. Increasingly professionals in agriculture and forestry are providing diversity of choice rather than standard packages. Democratic decentralization is a widely-stated political objective in many countries. Many movements seeking to reverse centralizing standardization are achieving success. The challenge now is to establish firm alliances, networks, mutual support and exchange of insights to liberate the magnets from North-South dominance, allowing and enabling them to spin freely, offsetting the normal with reversals.

Primacy of the personal

The ultimate reversal is personal, yet this crucial dimension has been curiously neglected. 'Uppers' need to step down and to become allies, convertors, consultants and facilitators of 'Lowers'. This entails reversals and transfers of power, rights, claims and responsibilities, from centre to periphery and from strong to weak. It also entails some personal disempowerment for almost all peoples, since almost all are 'Uppers' in some of their relationships.

To induce these reversals, two approaches are needed:

o Confrontation, negotiation and persuasion. Quite often some conflict and tension is inevitable where change is implicated, which threatens, or is seen as threatening, to the powerful. This can apply to bureaucrats, business people, politicians and professionals.

o The satisfaction and rewards of disempowerment, mutuality', and altruism. These tend to be neglected. It can, however, be hugely satisfying for an individual to devolve power to others. Part of the challenge is to find new ways of enabling the powerful to save face, so that it is easier for them to 'hand over the stick', and to experience those satisfactions.

Faced with normal market capitalism, bureaucracy, politics, law and professionalism, the individual appears powerless: the forces seem too universal, too strong, too overwhelming to be affected by personal action. But the 'magnetic' fields of these forces are no more than the product of the habits and actions of individuals. If individuals change, so too do the fields. So an important step is to recognize the primacy of the personal, that every individual has an effect, that analysis and action can start with the individual. This is the final reversal to put the personal at the centre and on top. It is to recognize that individual action can make a difference; that we are not just the helpless victims of blind forces, but are collectively their creators; and that change comes about through accumulations of personal decisions to change and be different.


1. Jodha, N.S. (1988). Poverty Debate in India: A Minority View. Economic and Political weekly, special number, November, pp. 2421-28.

2. Porter, D., Bryant, A. and Thompson, G. (1991). More Diversity for More Certainty. Development in Practice: Paved with Good Intentions, Routledge. London and New York.

3. Pretty, J. (1995). Regenerating Agriculture. Earthscan. London.

4. Chambers, R. and Conway, G. (1992). Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century. Discussion Paper 296, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.

5. Peters, T. (1989). Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution. Pan Books. London.

6. Bulgarian Society for the Conservation of the Rhodopi Mountains and WWFlnternational (1995). Planning for conservation: Participatory Rural Appraisal for Community-Based Initiatives. Report of the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) Training Workshop held in Ostritza, Bulgaria, 14-22 June 1993. Gland, Switzerland.

7. Neefjes, K. et al. (1993). Participatory Environmental Assessment and Planning, for Development. Report of a workshop held in Cambodia in Nov/Dec 1992. Oxfam, Oxford, UK.

6.3 Seeds of hope

A Vote for conscience over capital

On 1 March 1995, eight years of bitter squabbling and noisy protest finally came to an end when the European Parliament voted against a controversial directive on biotechnology patents. After heavy lobbying from groups opposed to the patenting of animals, plants and human genes, it resolved by 244 votes to 188 to abandon the directive. The directive's ousting was claimed as a major moral victory by those who had fought it, and was a big blow to industry.

The directive would have ironed out differences between national patent rules, so that a patent awarded in one member country would be accepted in the others. A setback for industry perhaps, but some representatives were relieved at the decision because the directive was a mess, reflecting the confusion among parliamentarians about the implications of the directive. Nick Scott-Ram of the Biolndustry Association is reported to have said that the final draft of the directive contained ambiguities that left some points of ethics open to more than one interpretation. This could have left patents vulnerable to challenge, thus holding up commercial development. The woolliest compromise, according to Scott-Ram, was the attempt to draw a moral distinction between human genes in the body which were deemed unpatentable - and synthetic versions of those genes produced in the laboratory- which the directive suggested could be patented. In industry's eyes, there is no question that they should all be patentable.

Throwing out the directive will have little direct impact on the awarding of patents, since this still remains under the jurisdiction of the European Patent Office, but it may have quite an impact indirectly, as it may indicate a change in the climate of opinion among parliamentarians. The following is the response of one NGO representative to the European Parliament's vote:

It was agony sitting in the semicircle of the European Parliament. MEPs spent two and a half hours voicing their final concerns about the directive, before passing to the resolve of action. The body was clearly divided, and the arguments were clearly split. Some said the directive meant 'white', while others insisted it meant 'black'. The power of science beckoning humanity's absolution through the directive was evident. The meaning of the law was confusing, while deciphering the ethical implications was the real challenge. And the Parliament's sense of fear grew.

The vote against the directive was historic and moving because it was an act of social responsibility not typical (unfortunately) of democratic institutions these days. The feelings were palpable as I cast my eyes across the room: these people, just for a moment, pushed all the talk of money away and acted as human beings. The interests of capital were momentarily cast aside and the primacy of conscience was allowed to guide and rule. For that alone, we have to salute the European Parliamentarians. They were fearful, but they were even more brave. The importance of this has to be recognized and honoured. In that final moment, what was scaring people most was the idea that this piece of legislation would not only:

o strengthen and harmonize intellectual property rights law in the European Union

o have a powerful normative function on the future of biotechnology R&D in Europe and elsewhere

o bear huge ethical implications, which are recognized by patent law but not embraced by it

but it would allow the patenting of human genetic material and bestow some form of legitimacy on to the permanent genetic alteration of humankind by humankind.

The directive would have provided financial returns to investors, on top of the numerous subsidies that public and private biotechnology researchers already receive from taxpayers. In addition, by seeking to determine what is patentable and what is not, the directive would have determined the parameters of what is economically-sanctioned research in the field of life sciences, keeping it in line with the needs of intellectual monopolies. What's more, this included human beings. But the Parliament said 'No thanks'.

We must salute that body for its courage. Money is intimidating. How could we powerless NGO folk forget the day back in 1991 when two of us walked into a Dutch MEP's office to talk to him about the issues raised by the patenting directive. He handed us a small card, 'Here is my lawyer'. Or, in other words, 'Pay up if you want to talk to me'. His ears - and his voting hand - were for hire, not for public duty. The Parliamentarians could easily have backed off from their moral disconcertedness and said, 'Okay, this legislation will promote research, which is good for industry and public health'. But they didn't. Dignity was the key word on people's lips. It was not to be sold off so easily.

The business press scoffed that the EP forgot the law of dollars and cents (= sense) and bowed to emotion instead. Why should we he intimidated? Why can people not ask questions and take brave decisions? What is politics if we are punished for being human? Why talk about democracy if all human rights are to be swept under the rug with derision?

For us NGO people who have been involved in the battle from the start trying to raise awareness, trying to promote broad public debate on the issue despite its seemingly abstract and technical nature the vote was a strong political statement to the world. It said, 'There are ethical problems with the way that biotechnology is being used in society and there is something very wrong with the idea of patenting life forms, especially human genes. We need to set rules for science and technology that are socially responsible'. For five seconds, industry's stronghold over politics was tempered by the politicians' attention to social values.

This is a unique awakening. In the 1980s we started 'greening' the world economy. The EP decision could be a signal that in the 1990s we arc starting to 'moralize' it. Of course people are scared; this is new; this is urgently needed. NGOs are only new clothing for what people have always done: fighting for liberation and justice.

On March 1, conscience, values, ethics, morality and dignity overrode the seduction of capital's greed and power. The fear was there at the final hour of the directive's fate. Let us not denigrate that fear: we should embrace it and help it metamorphose into understanding, strength and appropriate action this time - such as a total renegotiation of what innovation is, how we promote it and how we can protect people's rights in relation to it.

Source: RenVellvGRAIN

Europe's moratorium on BGH

Since 1986 farmers, consumers, animal welfare and environment organizations in the European Union have been demanding a ban on bovine growth hormone or rBGH (see p. 38) and products derived from its use. At the end of 1993 The European Commission recommended a ban on rBGH until the end of March 2000. The European Parliament voted for an unlimited ban on BGH. Nevertheless, the European Council of Agriculture Ministers decided to extend the existing moratorium for only one more year, until 31 December 1994.

It seemed that the Ministers wanted to keep their options open until they saw how BGH was received in the US, it having just been approved there. A year later the Council of Ministers agreed to extend the ban on rBGH for another 5 years, to the relief of the 300 groups that had campaigned against its introduction.

Monsanto, the manufacturer of rBGH, and US trade officials had previously warned the EU that a ban on US rBGH-derived milk, dairy and beef products might constitute, under new GATT regulations, an illegal 'restraint of trade'. But in a bluntly-worded letter sent to David Kessler, US FDA commissioner, Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, vicepresident of the EU Agriculture Committee, stated: 'Consumers in the European Union and their representatives in the European Parliament are apparently much more concerned about the unresolved human health issues related to rBGH than your agency was when it authorized the product.'

Graefe zu Baringdorf further warned the FDA that the only way to avoid a wholesale ban of US dairy exports to Europe would be to label genetically engineered meat and dairy products - a move that the Clinton administration and the biotechnology industry oppose. Polls indicate that if genetically engineered foods are labelled as such, consumers will not buy them.

The fate of rBGH in the US will be critical in determining whether rBGH is embraced or rejected altogether in Europe. NGOs are confident that as long as parliamentarians have access to reliable information, rather than industry propaganda, there is no likelihood of rBGH being approved. As Linda Bullard of the Greens in the European Parliament points out, 'There is clear resistance from both producers and consumers in the US. Where, for example, are the signposts showing that it is being enthusiastically welcomed? There are no reports of voluntary labels stating "brought to you with pride from cows treated with rBGH".'

A gene bank working with farmers

Ethiopia is one of the world's richest centres of crop genetic diversity. It is the original home of major world crops like sorghum and many millets, as well as coffee. All the coffee grown in Latin America can ultimately be traced back to a single cutting from a coffee bush in the Ethiopian Highlands. But Ethiopia is being hit hard by the plague of genetic erosion. Among the various factors contributing to the decline of its genetic heritage are the replacement of indigenous landraces (traditional varieties) by new, genetically uniform crop varieties, changes in agriculture and land use, the destruction of habitats and drought.

As new crops like corn, oats and imported varieties of wheat spread, old crops like teff, barley, and even sorghum have gone into decline. By the end of the 1970s, 37% of the wheat land was sown to 'improved' or 'high response' cultivars. The Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s had many causes - overgrazing, water management problems, politics, and, of course, the drought itself. But unnoticed among those problems was the pressure imposed by outside 'experts' for Ethiopia to abandon its drought-tolerant crops in favour of Green Revolution varieties. The seeds may have been low yielding, hut they would germinate even after long periods of drought, and there would always he something to harvest at the end of the season.

Throughout the famine, staff from the Plant Genetic Resource Centre (PGRC/E) were being dispatched in jeeps and on donkeys almost every day to search the fields, bins and hills for the traditional seeds that might otherwise have become extinct. The circumstances of the famine had made them realize more acutely than ever that Ethiopia's food security may depend on the survival of the old landraces.

The PGRC/E was set up in 1976 with the aim of conserving Ethiopia's biological resources. By 1992, the centre's gene bank held more than 50 000 samples of some 100 crop species comprising indigenous landraces recovered from all over the country. It is a genebank with a difference. In addition to the standard refrigerators, computers and white coats, the genebank uses another great asset: farmers who have nurtured Ethiopia's genetic heritage and have made it the important and rich resource it still is, despite heavy losses. Throughout the country, farmers have established networks to facilitate seed supply, including the exchange of seed through local markets. This provides them with an assortment of crop types with a wide range of adaptability to cope with unpredictable conditions.

The on-farm conservation and enhancement of landraces has been an aspect of the PGRC/E's work since 1988, involving farmers, scientists and extension workers. Farmers are not only the beneficiaries of technical assistance in improving their crops, but they act as an important source of knowledge for the PGRC/E in the identification of useful plant material. In addition, their fields act as dynamic field gene banks. For example, in order to improve crop security, local varieties of coffee are planted by farmers along the edges of the fields that they sow with the more uniform lines distributed by the Government Coffee Improvement Project. These living gene banks are a tremendous boost to the Centre's efforts to maintain genetic resources in the field, especially as it is difficult to store coffee seed safely on a long-term basis. Farmers also participate in the collecting missions undertaken by the Centre, more than 115 of which were made in its first 14 years of existence.

Sources: Growing Diversity, IT Publications, London, 1992; The Threatened Gene, Lutterworth, 1990

The MASIPAG experience

The MASIPAG programme was born out of Filipino farmers' bittersweet experiences with the Green Revolution. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Philippine government heavily promoted the adoption of high-yielding varieties (HYVs) and high-input agricultural production systems. The CGIAR's International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) played a key role in researching and marketing the new rice varieties. By 1970, 78% of the country's ricelands were planted with HYVs and the initial results were encouraging as crop production soared. Problems began to emerge with the global oil crisis in 1974 when prices of imports exploded. The government continued to import the agricultural inputs on which it depended so heavily to sustain its food production campaigns. At the same time, it pursued foreign loans to build the massive irrigation systems needed to support the Green Revolution seed, and funded expensive promotional campaigns for the 'miracle' rice. While debt increased, forest reserves decreased and farmers began to lose faith in the miracle.

By the late 1970s many farmers were seriously disenchanted with the Green Revolution. The problems they faced included the rising cost of seed and fertilizers; the increasing concentrations of chemicals required to keep production up; deterioration of the seed; and increasing pest problems and environmental degradation. Over the next five years, a farmers' strategy emerged from various formal and informal consultations. The strategy proposed, amongst other things, the launch of an initiative to develop a national agricultural programme independent of foreign support; an agrarian reform programme to address the problems posed by large plantations of bananas, coconut and sugar cane; a review of the government/IRRI programme with options of nationalizing its management or stopping its operation; and building a truly Filipino institution to research rice.

When their proposals were ignored by government, the farmers took the initiatives forward themselves, which resulted in the formation of MASIPAG or the Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development as it is known in English, in 1986. MASIPAG's activities centre on organic farming, the research and propagation of traditional rice varieties, alternative pest management and diversified farming systems integrating the production of rice, vegetables, livestock and aquaculture.

MASIPAG gives first priority to the needs, problems and aspirations of farmers since they know best what is good for them. Training focuses first on what farmers want to learn, and second, on what they need to know as perceived by MASIPAG's scientists and NGOs. By 1993 MASIPAG had the support of about 10 000 individual partners, spread among a variety of national and local NGOs and farmers' organizations. Between 1987 and 1993, MASIPAG trial farms were established in 28 locations in 16 provinces across the country.

Although seed collection was not seriously pursued, by 1993 MASIPAG had accumulated about 350 rice cultivars, which is about one tenth the number held by its big brother, IRRI. MASIPAG's seed collection contains traditional and improved varieties grown mostly on lowland irrigated and upland rain-fed areas. They exhibit diverse characters, productiveness and eating qualities, and offer a wide range of choice for farmers' use for commercial growing, home consumption and for varietal improvement work or breeding.

MASIPAG's breeding programme has demystified science for many farmers, who participate in practical programmes on the farm and at various centres. A thriving seed distribution network has also been set up. Monitoring and evaluation work demonstrated that between 1989 and 1992 traditional improved varieties and farmers' selections from MASIPAG farmers' fields outyielded IRRI's varieties, using lower levels of chemical fertilizer and biocides, in 22 regions. Farmers also reported a general decrease in quality of life during the 'IRRI years', followed by a sharp increase in the MASIPAG era. The quality of life in the MASIPAG years far exceeded that not only in the IRRI era, but in the pre-IRRI period.

Source: The MASIPAG programme: an Integrated Approach to Genetic Conservation and Use, Perfecto R. Vicente, MASIPAG, Philippines. In: Growing Diversity in Farmers' Fields, Proceedings of a Regional Seminar for Nordic Development Co-operation Agencies, Lidingo, Sweden, 1993.

The butterfly rises


It is appropriate that the title of the symposium referred to butterflies. The butterfly is the symbol of chaos theory, and chaos is exactly what we need to create in this world in its march towards uniformity.

Having spent the two days of the symposium talking about how terrible things are and how much worse they are going to get, it might seem difficult to be optimistic; but I am optimistic. The optimism comes from having been fighting this issue for so long, and seeing every year so many more people involved, with such a diversity of activities going on at the local level, the national level, and the international level. More and more people are fighting patents, saving seeds, struggling for indigenous rights and working together. There has been a tremendous change in the last few years and it gives me hope.

First of all, we must beware of the misleading language that is used in this arena, and see things as they really are. We've been talking about a 'genetic supply' industry. I think we should rename it the 'life' industry, because the same companies that are involved in pharmaceuticals are into pesticides, and those same companies are leading the biotechnology field it is a life industry and its corporations are turning into dinosaurs.

We also need to get the IP debate right. The world does not need IP: it needs a kind of intellectual integrity. We need to get back to celebrating innovation by communities, innovation as a collective social act, innovation where human beings work together towards a common goal, for the benefit of society, not for the purpose of profit. We need to re-evaluate the relationship between innovation and society and determine whether the social contract that was drawn up in Vienna when the IP system began almost 125 years ago needs to be rewritten. Because it is crazy; it is out of control. It is no longer IP, it is a kleptomonopoly. The rules of the game, once so clear and so strict, that were designed for dealing with microphones and sewing machines, are now grappling with the products, the processes, and even the formulae of life; and that cannot be allowed.

We need to get some of the broad international agreements set straight; it might seem impossible, but it is not. GATT is a multilateral agreement that wants to homogenize the world to adopt one common morality, one world view: a multilateral agreement to impose a unilateral ethic on all of us. When it is reviewed in a couple of years time, we need to be the ones to review it.

We need to get rid of this idea of 'bioprospecting'; there is no such thing. In the absence of a convincing global ethic, and in the absence of clear rules and systems of understanding between the poor of the world and the rich of the world, there is no bioprospecting; there is only biopiracy. There has to be a moratorium on collecting anything, unless the people themselves agree to it. We should be arguing for this until the rules are straight.

We need to look at the Biodiversity Convention. It is merely a multilateral umbrella imposing bilateral contracts between very large companies and very small countries and communities; this cannot be fair. As it was signed in 1992, it is a protocol for piracy, not the conservation of biodiversity. But it can be changed because it is a very hollow document. We can do it by talking to our governments and to our local communities. It is possible to restructure it to move towards a fairer global ethic.

We can work in a number of ways:

We can co-operate. We need co-operation, like butterflies do, to move between the local level and the global level - between the stratosphere and the biosphere of the realities. That means not just that those of us who travel internationally come down to earth occasionally, but that indigenous communities and farmers also work at the global level. We need to work laterally with each other - we have our differences but we also have commonalities: a common enemy and a common opportunity. We must also achieve a harmony between the citizens and the scientists. We need somehow to bring the two systems of innovation together - formal and informal.

William Blake said that anyone who talks about the common good is a fool. Art and science can only be conducted in minutely organized particulars and that is at the level of the community. Ultimately the strategies of science and politics must be to strengthen the community indigenous communities, rural communities, urban communities to give us all more independence and to bring the force of innovation back to the people.

We simply need to say 'no' to the patenting of life-forms; just plain 'no'; it is not acceptable; it can't be allowed; it is just immoral; life is not for sale. This is our most important task of all.

But, meanwhile, we can do some other things:

We can adapt the intellectual property system. In my view this should be in the form of the Michaelangelo computer virus of a few years ago that we can insert into what I see as a corrupt system. We need to say that there should be no IPR system unless it is open to everyone, and force the system to open up to incorporate indigenous rights, farmers' rights and so on. I don't think it will work, but the system will probably self-destruct in the process of trying to be honest and fair.

We can also suggest that intellectual property should be moved from civil law to criminal law, so that if someone steals the coloured cotton from the people of the Americas and takes it to the US, they can simply have the pirates thrown into jail. We should also create in our patent offices a post rather like an ombudsman, a 'plantsbudsman' who can represent the rights of those people who can't be there. We should also be looking at alternative systems of rights, such as traditional resource rights which stretch way beyond the boundaries set by intellectual property.

A few years ago, those of us who were campaigning on these issues could have met together in a telephone box. If all of us here now go away and apply ourselves to these issues at every level at which we live, we can be optimistic that in a few years time we will need to meet together in a conference hall much bigger than this, and there will be real hope of changing the way of the world.

After all, butterflies are what survive as the rest of the world collapses. When the volcano erupts, the butterflies stay around. We can keep on moving back and forth and we are very hard to catch. And we can survive. I like the concept of 'iron butterflies', the tough ones, the ones with muscles. NGOS are much more efficient than anyone else. We can beat our wings together and rise above the mire of patents and intellectual property rights. We can flap our wings and ... oops! there goes Cibasaurus Rex ... there goes GATT ....