The conservation of biological diversity in the context of rapid
technological change and the commercialization of biological resources raises
many fundamental scientific, economic, socio-political and ethical questions.
Most of the world's biological diversity is located in countries
of the South. The North and its private industry is increasingly using these
countries as reservoirs of biological and genetic resources to develop new
products such as crop varieties, drugs, biopesticides, oils and cosmetics. The
diversity of the living world - biodiversity - has become the raw material of
the new biotechnologies and the object of patent claims.
The Convention on Biological Diversity aims to conserve the
variety of genes, species and ecosystems which sustain life on Earth. This
internationally legally binding instrument also seeks to facilitate the just and
equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources.
However, the negotiations around the Convention have highlighted
major differences in interest and priorities among stakeholders. For example,
Southern countries demand ready access to the new biotechnologies in
compensation for the use of biological resources that originate within their
territories. The Northern countries, for their part, insist on the recognition
of intellectual property rights for their technologies and payment for genetic
products derived from materials they have often obtained from the South.
Indigenous peoples and other rural communities are also demanding that their
knowledge of the uses of plants and animals, as well as their innovations and
intellectual contributions to the maintenance and development of biodiversity,
be acknowledged and rewarded. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is
interested in the hereditary characteristics of indigenous peoples: patent
claims on cell-lines of indigenous communities from developing countries are
What are the likely impacts of these trends on the
self-determination of peoples (and ultimately on human rights); biodiversity
conservation; the relationship between science and society; the growth of the
biotechnology industry; and development models in the North and the South? Can
the conflicting perspectives of different social actors be reconciled' and, if
so, under what conditions and with what implications for conservation and
The international symposium Patents, Genes and Butterflies
offered a lively context in which these important questions and concerns could
be discussed and relayed to a wider public by the media. The event was organized
jointly by SWISSAID, WWF Switzerland and WWF International and was held on 20-21
October 1994 in Berne, Switzerland. The symposium brought together some of the
leading thinkers on these issues as well as policy makers, journalists, industry
representatives and grassroot activists engaged in the debate on the uses and
abuses of biodiversity, both in the North and the South.
This book presents the contributions of the main speakers and
also reflects the collective learning and sharing of views which took place
during the symposium workshops. In editing these proceedings, we decided not to
put individual names to ideas, arguments, information and analysis offered by
the workshop participants. But to reflect the participative nature of the hook's
creation, some sections have been left unauthored.