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close this bookLife Industry: Biodiversity, People and Profits (WWF, 1996)
close this folderPart 2 - The practice- bioprospecting or biopiracy?
close this folder4. Green gold
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1. Equity issues in bioprospecting
View the document4.2. The body shop model of bioprospecting
View the document4.3. Indigenous peoples, responses to bioprospecting
View the document4.4. The losers' perspective


Bilateral deals drawn up between bioprospectors and the countries or communities of origin of genetic resources are becoming increasingly common as a mechanism for sharing the benefits of bioprospecting activities. The 1991 Merck-INBio agreement was the first such deal to be struck. It is now just one of a rapidly growing number of bioprospecting ventures. Japan has launched a major biodiversity research programme in Micronesia, the US National Institutes of Health is screening wild species for compounds active against HIV and cancer, and both Indonesia and Kenya are establishing inventory programmes similar to INBio's, and are exploring possible biodiversity prospecting activities.

Three main forces have prompted the emergence of such deals. Firstly, natural products are back in fashion for industry. Genetic and biochemical resources have long been important raw materials in agriculture and medicine, but recent technological advances in biotechology have opened up new frontiers for genetic resource use. The renewed interest in biological compounds has stimulated a search for sample material from almost the entire range of life forms, in every corner of the globe. Tropical corals are being screened for anti-inflammatory potential, soils for antibiotic activity, shark bile for anti-acne properties, and so on.

The second push has come from the growing acceptance that genetic resources are not a freely available global commodity and that equity and ethical issues must be addressed in bioprospecting activities. Over the last ten years several international agreements and treaties have forced attention to be paid to these issues. The extent to which these issues have been taken on board by policymakers is reflected in the fact that part of the Biodiversity Convention's remit is to establish a policy framework for bioprospecting activities addressing the issues of ethics and equity.

The third force is the growing recognition of the economic value of biodiversity, the threat of genetic erosion and the need for conservation globally.

The new bioprospecting deals are seen by their promoters as 'win-win-win' opportunities to address these three issues. Corporations and research institutions gain from the exploitation of biodiversity's green gold, while the countries and communities which provide the raw materials and knowledge supposedly share in the profits and are compensated for the loss of their genetic heritage. In addition, part of the compensation package is used to ensure biodiversity conservation in the host country.

There is a clear need for the regulation of bioprospecting activities given the surge in interest from the commercial sector (see Table 2.1), for environmental reasons as well as equity and ethics In Kenya, nearly three tonnes of the widespread shrub Maytenus buchanani, source of the anticancer drug maytansine, was harvested as part of a screening programme undertaken by the US National Cancer Institute. When additional material was required four years after the initial harvesting, regeneration had been so poor that collectors had difficulty in obtaining it.

Bioprospecting initiatives such as the Merck-INBio deal are gaining popularity among policy makers, scientists and companies, particularly those in the North. But there is vigorous opposition from some NGOs and from indigenous communities. Their concerns range from practical considerations about who should receive the benefits, to the ethics of commodifying life.

4.1. Equity issues in bioprospecting


Biodiversity 'prospecting', under different guises and different names, has a long and complicated history linked to colonialism, the establishment of plantations and imperial botanical gardens, and the world trade in biological commodities. The term 'prospecting' itself contains the idea of a vantage point from which social, scientific, or botanical landscapes are viewed, or in anthropological discourse, are constructed. Every act of viewing or 'prospecting' in the developing world involves politics and power relations in which views of the tropics, natural environments, and biodiversity, as well as of peoples and nations, are embedded. Prior to the post-World War II, post-colonial era, the flow of plant materials from gene-'rich' developing countries to gene-'poor' developed countries, especially if their commercial value was unknown or speculative, was not often the object of contentious discourse or protest. Plant materials were often treated as a free, open-access public resource, or as the property of colonial governments. Only within the past two decades has the search for wild and cultivated organisms, their genes and chemical products, and the ecological and pharmacological knowledge associated with them, been characterized as socially inequitable and, potentially, environmentally destructive.

The scene for bioprospecting in the tropics began to change dramatically during the post-colonial era as developments in screening technologies made a return to the tropics technically possible and potentially profitable. The institutional and contractual arrangements under which bioprospecting was conducted became subjects of intense contention. Debate concerning North-South inequities and uneven development, movements advocating recognition and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and communities, and, since the 1970s, the debate on conservation and sustainable management, have all converged to highlight the controversy surrounding biodiversity prospecting. According to some critiques, it is not at all clear whether specific acts of bioprospecting, or bioprospecting in general, are acts of 'co-operation' or of 'co-optation'.

Contractual agreements are only one form of instrument, for articulating relationships between companies, nations, educational or scientific institutions, and local communities. Many recent policy pronouncements, at least by national and international environmental non-governmental groups, assume that capital- and technologically-rich, developed nations should equitably compensate the biologically-rich developing countries for access to their resources.

In this highly politicized arena, the description of several institutional and contractual arrangements offered below touches on many of the most contentious issues in the bioprospecting debate. On what legal theories and sources of law are claims to ownership or control of biological diversity justified? Will establishment of commodity values for biological organisms lead to conservation or sustainable management? What are the relationships and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, nations, and the 'global public' to biodiversity, local territory, and local knowledge? Is making links between advocacy for local communities, conservation, and North-South equity, a practical and politically feasible objective?

Debates about biodiversity prospecting often centre on how the contractual arrangement is structured, whether it is responsive to the relevant communities, and whether it is equitable. Several key issues are embedded in discussion of how concerns for social, economic and environmental equity may be embodied in particular contractual arrangements:

o What form should benefits take?
o Which are the relevant communities?
o Which institutions or actors are appropriate parties for negotiations with a 'prospector'?
o What is the process by which benefits are determined?

What form should the benefits take?

There are many forms of monetary and non-monetary options for providing immediate and longer-term benefits (see Table 4.1). The options for non-monetary benefits are numerous and can be targeted towards the needs and preferences of specific recipients, be they governmental or scientific bodies, specific communities or individuals. The most common non-monetary benefits offered are training, research exchanges, and contributions to scientific or institutional infrastructure. Innovative agreements may include unique technology and information exchanges, such as screening for host-country diseases.

Table 4.1. A matrix of options for return of benefits




Supply payments

Royalty payments

Per sample fee

Based on net sales

Lump sum advance payment

Depend on contribution to development of final product


Provision of health care

Technology transfer

Distribution of medicine

Research/academic exchanges

Training in collection and specimen-identification techniques

Screening for tropical diseases

Contributions to institutional infrastructure

Agreement to provide drugs at cost

Agreement for supply of raw materials

Sharing lab results

(Laird, 1993)

Which are the appropriate parties for negotiation?

Agreements may be made at a national or regional level with governmental as well as with non-governmental organizations. Biodiversity prospecting agreements may also be concluded with national or regional federations representing local peoples, as well as with individual collectors, informants, or specific indigenous groups. A key political and social policy issue in all biodiversity prospecting endeavours is: which institutions, public or corporate, governmental or community-based, are ethically and legally entitled to negotiate terms for the exchange of biodiversity and local knowledge?

The specification of the appropriate community may be further complicated where particular genetic resources are dispersed throughout a region, a country or many countries, or ethnobiological knowledge is possessed, as is often the case, by more than one community.

How should the benefits be determined

The use of terms such as 'benefits', 'compensation' and 'returns' reveals social and legal assumptions about the nature of the prospecting process. What is being extracted? What is being exchanged? Is there a legal 'injury', 'invasion' or 'faking'? If so, by which parties? What acts or injuries entail the offer of compensation? What are the processes, legal and institutional, by which decisions about the nature of the appropriate benefits are determined?

The purposes for which the benefits will be used are always policy decisions: what values and priorities underlie each contract? Are these policy decisions directly specified in the agreement or are they implied in the priorities and allocation principles employed by the biodiversity prospector, host country governmental agency, or indigenous people's organization?

Contractual agreements, because they are a form of 'private law', offer more flexibility than statutes in determining the goals, objectives, and means through which equity is achieved. It is as important to question the contractual priorities, how these decisions about priorities were reached, and the policy theory behind decisions, as it is to know the concrete terms of the agreement.

To investigate the issues posed above, we examine below aspects of policies and/or contractual arrangements made by three biodiversity 'prospectors: Merck, Shaman Pharmaceuticals, and Biotics. The discussion which follows should not be construed as an endorsement of any of these relationships, but rather as a lens through which some the equity issues posed above may be examined. It is hoped that concrete description of the details of these arrangements will stimulate further critical, comparative discussion of these and other arrangements.

Models of co-operation

The Merck-INBio deal

The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio) is a non-profit research institute established in 1989 by the Costa Rican government and a large number of biologists to meet the need for a unified biodiversity programme in Costa Rica. Although nominally independent, INBio is tightly linked to the national and private institutions that created it, including the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mines (MINREM). INBio has two aims: to conduct a comprehensive inventory of the biological species found in the protected areas of Costa Rica; and to exploit commercially the country's biodiversity in such a way that funds are generated for conservation efforts. INBio embodies a vision in which scientific research is a catalyst increasing knowledge of biodiversity, generating funds, and creating a stream of support for biodiversity conservation.

When negotiating commercial bioprospecting contracts, INBio insists on three kinds of benefits. First, direct payments in cash and in kind are required in exchange for the provision of samples and extracts. Second, direct contributions toward the cost of maintaining Costa Rica's National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), or 10% of the initial project budget and 50% of royalties must be provided. Thirdly, royalty payments on net sales from the commercialization of biodiversity materials, must also form part of the agreement. In addition, INBio policies place priority on carrying out pharmaceutical research and development in Costa Rica, the source country; minimization of the period during which the prospector has exclusive rights to commercialization of the sample; a clear definition of sample and patent ownership; and chemical synthesis or cultivation in-country.

INBio's agreement with Merck In exchange for a specified number of samples over a two-year period and the exclusive right to evaluate these samples for this time, the US pharmaceutical company Merck & Co provides INBio with research funding of $1 million and laboratory equipment and materials valued at $135 000. In addition, Merck will pay INBio a royalty of between 2% and 6% on any commercial product development as a reflection of INBio's contribution to product development. Merck owns any inventions created through this collaboration and has the right to file for patents. Merck also provides training for INBio staff in Merck facilities.

As part of the agreement, Merck receives the exclusive right to screen, develop, and patent new products derived from samples provided by INBio. The agreement also allows Merck access to all of the biological diversity located in Costa Rica's national parks, which constitute 25% of the country's total area. Due to the high level of government support for INBio, Merck also has access to a reliable supply of plant, insect and environmental samples which will be accurately labelled. Merck has generated and received considerable public relations benefits due to the high profile of the Merck-lNBio agreement.

As a result of the Merck-INBio agreement, INBio gains funds and inkind contributions for equipment, training, transfer of 'know-how', and support for the collection and inventory of biological resources. Costa Rica also gains increased support for conservation of biodiversity through more effective administration of its national parks.

Shaman Pharmaceuticals

In contrast to Merck, Shaman Pharmaceuticals (Shaman hereafter) exclusively uses ethnobotanical methods as a 'first screen' in the search for medically useful plant-derived compounds. Shaman seeks to extract, analyze, and scientifically build upon the knowledge and practices of local communities in developing natural product drug leads. One of Shaman's most promising products is an antifungal agent derived from a species commonly used as a folk remedy for wound healing in Peru and parts of Mexico.

While the Merck-lNBio agreement focuses on the allocation of benefits at a national level, Shaman concentrates on returning benefits to local communities. Shaman emphasizes a policy of 'immediate reciprocity', and company documents state that it has, or will, share benefits immediately with all communities with which it works directly. Benefits are said to be allocated via three mechanisms:

o a common pool trust fund, administered by the Healing Forest Conservancy and supported by Shaman's profit stream, to distribute funds to all communities and countries in which Shaman works

o support for sustainable natural product supply and extraction industries in local communities in host countries where Shaman operates

o provision of immediate benefits in response to requests from local people.

With the exception of immediate benefits, Shaman's policies focus on contributions to a general fund for 'all' local communities or indigenous peoples, often through indigenous organizations living in areas where Shaman has operated, rather than creating streams of long-term benefits to those communities or individuals which directly contributed knowledge, practices or plant materials to commercial products.

In the words of one of its senior scientists, Dr. Stephen King, 'A ten-year waiting period for any potential benefits for any particular indigenous group is almost the same as never'. Immediate benefits, usually targeted at communities in whose areas Shaman is collecting specimens, have included the construction of an airstrip in a Quechua community and temporary coordination of a supply of methaloquine for Yanomami Indians to cure malaria. Decisions on the nature and scope of these benefits are determined by Shaman executives; principles determining priorities, amount of support, and the selection of beneficiaries have not yet been articulated.

The Healing Forest Conservancy (HFC) is a non-profit foundation funded through a capital donation from Shaman Pharmaceuticals. The theory of the HFC is that after Shaman commercializes a product, the HFC will channel a percentage of product profits to each community and country with which Shaman has worked. The allocation of benefits is determined by an independent board of directors. The Conservancy currently has four projects:

o Medicine Women provides education and training programme for indigenous women.

o Terra Nova provides support for an ethnobiomedical plant reserve in Belize.

o Usko-Avar Amazonian School of Painting sponsors exhibits and sale of paintings from a Peruvian art school which trains students to record myths and plant knowledge in painted form.

o Richard Evans Schultes Award presents an annual award to an individual or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to ethnobotany.

Biotics Limited

Biotics is a biotechnology consultancy and service company, founded in 1983, that specializes in natural product chemistry and sample procurement. Biotics is also a broker of plant materials to developedcountry organizations and companies conducting high-throughput screening. Biotics embodies its agreements in a Letter of Intent which covers the first 100 samples provided to companies interested in commercial product development. If a company desires more samples, Biotics will negotiate an agreement for those samples that also retroactively applies to the first 100 samples. All agreements include a provision that Biotics' share of any royalties resulting from commercialized products will be shared equally with the collaborating institution in the source country.

Biotics does not articulate principles or priorities for the use of royalties derived from commercialized products, nor does it specify to in-country collaborating institutions the manner in which benefits must be dispersed. Biotics plans to establish a foundation or trust into which it will channel a part of its royalties, which will be allocated to 'source' countries or collaborating institutions.

Balancing the Benefits?

The characteristics of the three agreements are outlined in Table 4.2.

The INBio-Merck agreement: key issues

While initially heralded as a positive model for biodiversity agreements by many, the Merck-INBio deal raises many important questions. Did the money Merck paid represent the true value of Costa Rica's biodiversity, which has been estimated at millions of dollars, and should rights be sold at all for something for which the value is unknown?

Table 4.2. Comparison of approaches to return of benefits

Form of benefit

Recipient of benefit

Use of monetary benefit


Basis of decision


$1 million advance payment Lab equipment ($135K value) 2-6% royalty on net sales of commercialized product
Information sharing

INBio, a private non-profit organization authorized by the national government

National Inventory

INBio's charter as determined by national government
Specified in contract between Merck and INBio


Undisclosed % of profits to common pool trust fund administered by the Healing Forest Conservancy
Projects requiring immediate assistance (co-ordination of donation of medicine, provision of health care)
Agreement for supply of raw materials

All indigenous groups that Shaman works with

'Based on need' but not specifically defined

Decision made by HFC board of directors or Shaman executives on a case-by-case basis
Not based on contribution


50% of royalties received from the pharmaceutical companies it supplies

Collaborating institution in developing country

Not specified by Biotics
There is usually a general agreement that it will go toward conservation, research, and development

Negotiated individually with collaborating institution

(Zerner and Kennedy)

National sovereignty over biological resources Did INBio, as a private, non-profit organization have the authority to grant access to control of Costa Rica's national genetic wealth? Whether or not INBio had the de jure authority to sign such a contract, is a quasi-governmental or nongovernmental institution such as INBio an appropriate gatekeeper for expressly 'national' biological diversity? In the Costa Rican case, and other nations in which natural resources on public lands are considered a national patrimony, only governmental organizations with express authority to grant access for 'prospecting' purposes should possess the right to commercialize them. However, under the agreement with Merck, INBio possesses the right to determine how these national resources are marketed and how Merck funds are allocated. Has the Merck-lNBio arrangement, in a de facto sense, privatized national resources? The refusal to disclose the royalty rate negotiated in the agreement is often cited as evidence to support the proposition that Costa Rica's biological diversity is being privatized and national sovereignty is being eroded. It was only under considerable public pressure that INBio revealed the range of the negotiated royalty rate, despite the fact that this is information relating to the sale of public goods obtained on public land.

National vs local community needs The agreement between Merck and INBio addresses equity and benefits at a national level, but it does not address the concerns or the rights of local communities, including recognition of potential land rights or intellectual property. Costa Rica is atypical of most developing countries in Latin America and many countries throughout the developing world, within whose borders live many diverse and demographically significant indigenous cultural communities. The applicablity of this model to other countries is limited.

Shaman Pharmaceutical's approach to return of benefits: key issues Shaman's approach to the return of benefits to local communities also raises questions about compensation for indigenous knowledge, assumptions about the nature of local conceptions of property and its relation to ethnobotanical knowledge, and priorities and procedures for channeling trust funds to communities and countries. Because Shaman initally focuses on development of drug leads obtained by tapping into local practices and ethnopharmacological knowledge, it needs to articulate better the policy rationale for its common pool approach to benefits.

What problems, social or economic, does the common pool approach solve? While it obviates the necessity for calculating the 'worth' of individual contributions to the drug discovery process, it leaves unresolved several kinds of problems, including the question of individual contributions to the drug discovery process.

Local knowledge and the problem of authorship If local knowledge is crucial, then which policies deal with compensation to local people who provide ethnobotanical leads? Or is the principle of 'authorship' of ethnobotanical knowledge, collective or individual, outweighed by the general needs of all indigenous communities? Shaman, like many other organizations concerned with rights to ethnobotanical knowledge, assume that such knowledge is a collective - 'possession'. While such an assumption may be accurate in certain cases, it is certainly not justified as a generalization about tribal or peasant societies.

The cultural construction of ethnobotanical knowledge and property rights Cultural and historic variations in how property rights are constructed, and deployed, are as nuanced as are the uses of ethnobotanical knowledge. To assume that ethnobotanical knowledge is a certain 'thing' which entails 'property rights' is to transpose a preexisting cultural schema about property, knowledge, and rights on to peoples or individuals who may not share any of these assumptions or preoccupations. To assume further that such knowledge is a collective property is to assume that tribal or peasant peoples are somehow unable to create or value alternative notions of property, including individual property. What are the equities to be considered, moreover, when knowledge of a particular plant is dispersed among several communities?

Determining the proper community How does Shaman determine the demographics and social composition of a particular community or of an 'indigenous people?' The social and topographic 'mapping' of ethnic communities is a problematic venture, subject to the vicissitudes of particular community histories, state policy, migration, and other factors. For example, are seasonal migrants or immigrants not considered 'members' of indigenous groups? Would they be disinherited from Shaman's benefit scheme?

There is another practical question about the trust fund approach: if Shaman's equity policy rests on providing a trust fund for communities in general, is it not possible that the amount of compensation potentially available to specific local communities may be negligible?

Meeting national needs By focusing almost exclusively on meeting community needs as communicated by the local groups with whom it works, Shaman does not deal with the question of 'balancing the equities' between national and local needs. How are national needs and a public good larger than that of local communities to be met?

Biotics: key issues

Biotics' approach to the return of benefits raises critical questions about institutional responsibilities in the era of bioprospecting. Like the MercklNBio arrangement, Biotics' modus operandi is to conclude an agreement with non-governmental institutions which do not possess legal responsibility for the management or conservation of national lands. Should a private company like Biotics be permitted to conduct operations with institutions that are not vested with formal responsibilities 'rational gatekeepers' to national resources?

Unlike Merck and Shaman, which have invested considerable resources, human and financial, prior to any 'pay-off', Biotics does not provide upfront benefits. Moreover, the relationships between Biotics' potential royalty payments to source country institutions and the purposes to which they are directed is relatively open and ambiguous. Biotics negotiates on an individual basis with collaborating institutions in developing countries: there are no assurances that collaborating institutions will allocate the benefits for social, economic or environmental equity.

Whether developed country institutions or companies should be empowered to shape the purposes of any trust fund or benefit plan for source country institutions, nations or communities - at any level is a highly charged policy issue. It may be argued convincingly that the determination of allocation plans or principles by developed country institutions for developing countries or communities constitutes the imposition of another form of hegemony, whether 'green' or 'equitable'.


The comparisons and critiques offered in the above discussion need to be contextualized: whatever the imperfections, ambiguities or flaws noted in these private sector arrangements, they need to be recognized as exceptions to general practice. Preliminary results of an in-progress survey of pharmaceutical companies and research organizations being conducted by the Natural Resource and Rights Program of the Rainforest Alliance suggest that these companies are among a very small percentage of corporations that have actually developed concrete policies toward the return of benefits for natural product development or 'sourcing'.

These companies' attempts to address social equity and conservation policy within the context of commercial exploitation suggest a willingness to address problematic and highly politicized issues in areas where there are no simple solutions. While it is clear that colonial and neo-colonial assumptions about resource extraction and the institutional arrangements which underlie them are no longer acceptable, new arrangements inevitably bring to light a host of new challenges.

One of the fundamental lessons about designing equitable solutions in the era of bioprospecting is the recognition that there is no single appropriate model governing relationships among prospectors, source nations, nongovernmental institutions, local communities and individuals. Generic contracts designed for generic developing countries may only obscure the needs of specific communities and countries. In an era where plants, peoples, ideas and molecules travel and combine in unexpected, and often unpredictable, ways we may be learning that locally-crafted solutions, engaging particular peoples, their needs and histories, may be far more appropriate and useful than generic principles or contracts.

In this era of intense mobility, social uprooting and rapidly migrating capital, moreover, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to specify, in simple social or topographic terms, the boundaries of particular social communities, the needs of immigrants, and pockets of poor and disenfranchised peoples living in cities and on their margins, need to be as much the object of global policies on equity and environment as are those groups we continue to imagine as locally rooted in the forest.


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4.2. The body shop model of bioprospecting



There are two races running concurrently on planet Earth. The first, towards growth and development, will result in exhausting the planet of its resources before the end of the next century. The other is to find a more responsible manner for living on the planet.

Practical solutions are what we are looking for. There is no way we can wake up tomorrow morning and find that all the harmful elements of the marketplace have changed, and that we have a new set of rules. Neither can we continue waking up to the same dawn, one that gives us another day of non-stop environmental degradation. However, we can work to make the system more responsible. We can do this by understanding the production chain, by making sure environmental needs and human rights are addressed along the way. By following more responsible means of production we may extend life on the planet by a thousand years, and maybe give ourselves enough time to find a better future.

The first step towards more responsible production is sourcing and obtaining raw materials in a non-violent way. For this reason, the Body Shop is trading directly with several indigenous peoples. Groups like these are the custodians of much of the planet's biodiversity. Their knowledge is extensive, which is hardly surprising as their survival depends on it. Myth, religion, and lessons of the elders pass on that crucial knowledge, ensuring that in the future the experience of the past will keep the group in harmony with its environment.

One way to help the conservation of the biodiverse environments that indigenous people live in or near, is through providing them with the means to continue acting as custodians. This is one of the central tenets of The Body Shop's Fair Trade programme.

The erosion of cultural, as well as biological, diversity threatens the future of humanity. Many cultures are more endangered than the environments in which they live, and if they disappear their valuable knowledge of biodiversity disappears also. Recognizing and enshrining indigenous peoples' knowledge is crucial for the planet's future security.

Indigenous people number some 300 million people around the world, according to the United Nations. However, the funds made available to this important constituency for the 1993 United Nations Year of Indigenous People was a paltry $500 000, reflecting governments' lack of interest in helping or recognizing their indigenous populations.

There is a Masai saying, 'Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.' Likewise the historians of industrialized countries have already labelled this century an economic miracle. We trumpet the discoveries we have made, the drugs we've patented out of the jungle, the profits that have been gained. Yet the indigenous peoples who have seen their resources disappear have a different tale to tell. These groups are among the poorest inhabitants of the planet. One way of addressing this situation is through more equitable sharing of the wealth deriving from the biodiverse environments in which they live.

The moral and immoral economies

In the modern market economy, the moral dimension has been removed from the process of exchange, because producers and consumers rarely meet face to face. Care, responsibility and obligation, which mark the exchange process in traditional societies, have been replaced by interest, costs and profitability. The production trail is long and twisted, so it is easy to ignore or overlook the wrongs committed on people or the environment along the way.

In the moral economy, person-to-person relations are key to the trading process. The value of the product incorporates the value of the producer and seller. In traditional societies, buying and selling are fundamentally based upon the values of mutuality, trust, complementarity, and codependence. Direct relationships with primary producers and the better understanding of the path a product takes to the consumer could trigger the re-birth of the moral economy, helping consumers to make more ethical choices. The Body Shop's trading protocols are based on the principle that indigenous and traditional communities have a right to continue their traditional way of life and determine their own future.

Trading with the Mebengokre (Kayapo) Indians

Since 1991 The Body Shop has been trading with two Mebengokre communities of A-ukre and Pukanuv, for Brazil nut oil used in a hair conditioner product. These villages are two of sixteen Mebengokre communities which occupy an area the size of Holland in the Xingu River basin in the Brazilian state of Para. The Mebengokre number about three and a half thousand people, are fierce in defence of their culture and, until recently, were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers.

The extraction technique and hand-operated pressing machinery for Brazil nut oil production were developed with ICI Brazil. The Body Shop agreed to fund the start up of the business in A-ukre with an interest-free loan of about $80 000. During the gathering season nearly everyone in the community is involved in the business. The Brazil nuts are collected from the ground, dehusked and then ground into a paste before being pressed to extract the virgin oil.

The Pukanuv business was started a year later, and the two communities are now each producing 2000 kilos of oil per year. This may be the upper limit that the community can produce without disturbing traditional life practices and without disrupting natural propagation of the trees. The price for the oil ($35 per kilo in 1993) reflects the long and difficult process to extract the oil. It is considerably higher than the market price of $15 per kilo for Brazil nut oil. This agreement was formalized in a legal contract between the company and the two villages.

As an interim step, a Brazilian indigenist was appointed as a liaison officer between the company and the communities to help keep the accounts, appoint officers, deal with export controls and so on. He will soon act merely as an adviser. Both the A-ukre and Pukanuv communities have formed trading companies, which are the first to be wholly-owned and operated by Indians in Brazil. The directors are elected by the company members from the communities.

One of the main challenges encountered by The Body Shop has been in helping the communities learn numeracy skills, handle money and accounts, and invest the profits for the benefit of the communities. Their direct involvement in product development and production has played a key role in this learning process.

In an attempt to make the trading relationship more equitable, The Body Shop has been developing some new initiatives, such as a health programme and working out a mechanism to protect the intellectual property of the Mebengokre.

This trading relationship has given the Kayapo the opportunity to earn income by carrying out an activity which does not take them away from their lands and which simultaneously allows them to carry on their traditional activities of celebrations, hunting, fishing and tending their gardens. The success of these initiatives has caused a further ten Kayapo communities to ask The Body Shop to help them set up similar projects.

Intellectual property rights

In line with the Declaration of Belem, which was adopted at the first International Congress of Ethnobiology in Brazil in 1988, The Body Shop is pursuing a policy of 'just compensation' to be made to indigenous peoples for the research information they provide to trading partners or research institutions. This means involving indigenous peoples in the planning and decision-making, recognizing them as contributors to all phases of the trade link, and considering their intellectual property to be equally important to that of the company. Mebengokre leader, Chief Paiakan has played a key role in educating villagers about the concepts of intellectual property rights.

It is unfair to suggest that only nation states should enjoy the riches reaped from their territories' biodiversity. But compensating indigenous communities is a sensitive issue, and some advocate the involvement of local NGOs to disburse the rewards locally. This approach may work sometimes, but it is still patronizing to expect indigenous peoples to be dependent on intermediaries all the time. Trickle-down theory hardly ever works. And the expectation of some collectors that companies will sign third-party agreements with indigenous peoples, or that the collectors themselves will distribute some of the rewards to the primary producers, is slim at best.

The Body Shop is researching and developing a covenant which addresses intellectual property rights and other parts of its business relationship with the Mebengokre. This covenant embodies the spirit of the relationship between the company and the local people, and separate contracts are drawn up for each individual trading relationship using the covenant as a guide. The Nucleo Direitos Indigenas, the legal body which works for indigenous rights in Brazil, is overseeing the relationship between the parties.

The Xingu Health Project

Over the first two years of the trading relationship, The Body Shop initiated two health programmes for the A-ukre and Pukanuv communities, involving the training of Kayapo health officers and a dental programme. A wider and longer-term initiative, in partnership with the Federal Indian Agency in Brazil (FUNAI) and the Brazilian Health Ministry is providing primary health care to all of the Kayapo villages as well as other ethnic groups living in the region. This is a long-term project, and the initial work in two villages has now been expanded to include many other indigenous groups in the Xingu region.

Business and sustainability

Up to now, a false taxonomy has been used in dictating who can act on issues concerning biodiversity and indigenous peoples, and business has not been considered a force to lead change. But categorizing and ghetto-izing actors according to their titles as business, NGOs or government will not effect change. We want to help break the mould that has dictated the form of economic development, by going straight to indigenous people to create models of responsible development.

This call to action is echoed by Mebengokre chief Pykatire Kayapo who called for more economic alternatives for indigenous peoples in threatened environments at the UN Working Group on Indigenous People in 1994. We believe that a new approach to resource utilization is crucial to the protection of these biodiverse environments, and the survival of their custodians: indigenous and traditional peoples throughout the world.

4.3. Indigenous peoples, responses to bioprospecting


Indigenous peoples now face an intensifying challenge to the integrity of their societies. There is increasing pressure from outsiders to document, utilize and commercialize biodiversity and related indigenous knowledge. Some of this exploitation is being justified in the name of the conservation of indigenous culture. It is also being justified in the wider interests of humankind. The main threats that indigenous societies face from the wave of commercialization are:

o The expropriation of knowledge and resources
o The debasement of knowledge through the violation of sacredness and loss of identity
o The commodification of knowledge, biotechnologies and natural resources.

Indigenous peoples are now seeking new means of asserting their rights over knowledge and biotechnologies as part of a parcel of demands for the right to self-determination. The threats they see posed by the commercialization of their heritage are not confined to questions of intellectual property. The wider concern is to retain control of their territories, a struggle which has existed throughout history, but was intensified with devastating results with the expansion of colonial enterprises.

A historical perspective

It was immediately apparent to indigenous peoples that the invading societies held completely different views on their relationship to the land. Yet, encroaching Northern concepts of land ownership were hard to resist. Through a mixture of motives - some malign, some benign, but all largely misconceived - many indigenous peoples were accorded Northern-style titles to land. In many cases the results have been devastating: many communities discovered that the recognition of indigenous ownership rights to land was little more than a licence to parcel up, commodity and sell their lands and resources. The result was the fragmentation of indigenous territories and societies, and the wholesale alienation of land to outsiders. Outside forces were primarily responsible for this catastrophe, but internal division within indigenous societies were readily exploited. Individuals' shortsightedness, cash interest and personal gain all played a role in the break up of indigenous communities.

Many indigenous peoples concluded that indigenous and Northern concepts of land ownership were irreconcilable. A common statement among indigenous peoples up to the 1960s and 1970s was, 'We do not own the land, the land owns us'. However, in the ensuing years there was a more pragmatic acceptance that some kind of legal validation of indigenous land rights was necessary to secure their societies against the force of the market. In many countries, such as Colombia and Brazil, a conscious strategy was adopted to secure indigenous rights within the arena of the state.

Three concepts have been crucial to indigenous peoples in defining their relationship to land in Northern legal terms. The first is collective ownership as opposed to the individual titles favoured by the North. The second is the assertion of rights to 'territories' not to 'land', by which indigenous peoples assert their right to the whole ecosystem in which they live, including surface and subsurface resources, and not just the 'dirt' on which they dwell and plant crops. The third concept is 'inalienability' by which they mean not just that the land cannot be taken over by outsiders, but that indigenous peoples are one with the land and cannot be separated from their own territories. With these crucial modifications to Northern notions of land ownership, indigenous peoples feel better able to defend themselves against the pressures of the market in which they are increasingly involved.

However, even where these concepts are recognized in law and respected, indigenous peoples find that they are not automatically insured against exploitation. 'Inalienability' can be circumvented by a number of means. Imprecisions in the law about which collectivity owns land and resources may favour the interests of a few at the expense of the wider group. For instance, indigenous societies can lease their lands to the state, which then leases them back to an elite intent on commercializing resources for their own benefit.

There are two main lessons in all this. The first is that the overhasty application of Northern legal concepts of ownership to indigenous commons systems can do more harm than good, which often leads to the process of commodification of resources and the breakup of society. The second is that resistance to outside pressures depends ultimately on the unity and coherence of the peoples themselves and is not something that can be provided through external laws. Where indigenous societies are internally divided, 'ownership' titles may hasten the process of alienation.

Strategies for securing indigenous control

Indigenous peoples have made a number of statements demanding control of their knowledge and biotechnologies. The Charter of the Indigenous Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests set out in Malaysia in 1992, and the Maatatua Declaration of Indigenous Peoples articulated in 1993, demand the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples as the exclusive owners of their traditional knowledge.

International law is in the process of responding to such demands. The 1993 draft of the proposed UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that indigenous peoples are entitled to the recognition of the full ownership, control and protection of their cultural and intellectual property. It also reaffirms that they have the right to special measures to control, develop and protect their sciences, technologies and other genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literature, designs and visual and performing arts.

However, in some areas, such as South and South-east Asia, many indigenous people have been much more cautious about asserting their demands in such terms. Echoing indigenous anxieties about the impositions of inappropriate forms of land ownership and as a result of their long experience with the loss of control of their seed stocks to multinational companies spurred by the Green Revolution, they have expressed concern that the assertion of legal ownership of traditional knowledge may hasten rather than delay the commodification of their knowledge and natural resources. Such groups view the whole notion of intellectual property rights as a sophisticated form of theft.

Divergent as these two strategies appear, they both aim to protect indigenous peoples from exploitation by commercial interests.

Some kind of legal protection of indigenous traditional knowledge seems warranted, but until the legal framework can incorporate the concepts of collective ownership, territory and inalienability, the fear is that overhasty prescriptions may backfire on indigenous peoples in the same way that individual land titling has. Legal measures, beyond those of standard Northern property rights regimes, that exist or that have been suggested for securing indigenous knowledge include the following (described further in Chapter 6.1):

o existing controls over indigenous knowledge: e.g. confidentiality, secrecy

o direct control of natural resources: e.g. territorial and land rights, exclusive rights to resources

o political control over access and use: e.g. rights of control, management and self-government; 'discovery rights'

o new rights over indigenous knowledge: e.g. Model Provisions on Folklore (UNESCO/WlPO); recognized and/or registered community ownership

o options to limit the power of commercial enterprises: e.g. prohibition on the patenting of life forms; assertion and/or expansion of Farmers' Rights; codes of conduct and licensing of prospectors; model agreements between prospectors and the local people; licence of right to prohibit monopolization.

Outstanding dilemmas

The many dilemmas that indigenous peoples face in the assertion of their rights to maintain control over their traditional knowledge are discussed in Chapter 4.1. Some of the most thorny relate to the wide sharing of knowledge amongst these groups and to determining which indigenous institution should be the legal entity to hold and negotiate the use of the knowledge. It may be argued that in such circumstances indigenous peoples are better defended by the existing uncertainty than by the creation of new ambiguous legal mechanisms which would allow outsiders to sign contracts with false indigenous representatives. In my view, none of the proposals put forward so far, by non-indigenous and indigenous people alike, offer convincing means of overcoming these problems. Some of the proposals may even create serious new problems. In particular, there is an uncomfortable feeling about proposals to compensate indigenous peoples for the use of their knowledge through trustee arrangements not under full indigenous control, such as those relying on the good offices of state institutions or mechanisms such as Farmers' Rights (see p. 165).

Most indigenous groups are demanding the vesting of rights of ownership and control with the indigenous peoples and communities themselves. The main concern here is that the provision of inappropriate rights to negotiate contracts may accelerate the process of commodification. The introduction of sui generis legislation results in a trade-off between protecting indigenous knowledge and biotechnology from being monopolised by commercial interests and facilitating the commodification of indigenous knowledge, albeit in a less exploitative manner.

One of the problems highlighted by indigenous peoples is the risk of uniform legal solutions being imposed on very diverse local social and political realities. The needs of peasant communities struggling to retain control of their seedstock may differ in important ways from indigenous communities trying to prevent the commercialization of sacred herb-lore, and will differ again from other groups trying to assert some kind of copyright over traditional designs produced for the tourist market. Uniform national legislation and, worse still, inter-governmentally imposed international laws (such as under GATT) may pose serious problems to indigenous communities.

It is in the nature of knowledge that it can be shared and transmitted between individuals and generations. It is thus replicable in a way that land and territory are not. A legal equivalent to 'inalienability' applied to knowledge may thus be a contradiction in terms. If this is so, the break up and commodification of indigenous knowledge may he an unavoidable consequence of indigenous peoples entering the global market, and legal defence may be able to achieve little more than mitigate some of the worst abuses. It seems obvious that no single legal option will deal with the huge range of problems thrown up by this meeting of worlds. The aim should be to ensure that proposed solutions are mutually reinforcing and not contradictory.

4.4. The losers' perspective


Colonizing the seed

The biodiversity debate is at last receiving some of the attention it deserves. However, within this debate important issues are still being marginalized. One of these is the 'raw material' issue. Northern economic development could never have happened without colonialism, and thus access to the raw materials and markets of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Colonialism is a constant, necessary condition for capitalist growth: without colonies, capital accumulation would grind to a halt.

The industrial revolution required the Northern powers to have their feet firmly planted both in the sites from which they gained raw materials, and in the market. Both aspects had to be controlled, yet the raw material aspect, i.e. the impact of extraction practices on local communities and local economies, was ignored. In fact, destruction of local economies and structures was required to make these practices possible.

The second wave of colonization, the Green Revolution, has now been superseded by its 1990s counterpart, the biotechnology revolution. This third wave of colonization has shifted in focus, and is now overstressing the raw material angle. Everyone is talking about justice and compensation in their prospecting activities, but no one is questioning the technologies being used, the markets they create, or the impact they have on the societies which provided the raw materials in the first place.

The enclosure of life

Over the last few hundred years, capital has moved to wherever it could find sites for accumulation. And now that the world's land, forests and rivers have been exhausted and polluted, capital is looking for new 'colonies' to invade and exploit. The interior spaces of humans (particularly women), plants, animals and micro-organisms present the latest attractions. The technology enabling the colonization of new lands was the gun-boat. The enabling of the invasion and colonization of the life of organisms is genetic engineering, supported by the legal framework of intellectual property rights and patents.

The enclosure of living, self-renewing systems - by placing either legal or technological boundaries around free organisms - prevents free access to biodiversity and knowledge to the original custodians and innovators. Farmers, herbalists, and women - the sources of the biodiversity wealth on which our food and healthcare systems are based - are now being denied the gifts of knowledge and biodiversity.

The metaphor of piracy underlying the IPR debate reverses the roles of giver and receiver. Violence and plunder characterize this piracy, just as before. But now the exploited become the criminals and the exploiters gain protection. The North must be protected from the South in order to safeguard its continued exploitation of the South's resources. Farmers' exchanges of genetic material are treated by industry as theft, but protests by indigenous people over the theft of their genes by industry are not heeded.

Biodiversity: whose resource?

Common property biodiversity recognize the intrinsic worth of biodiversity and indigenous social systems generally use biodiversity according to the principles of justice and sustainability. This involves a combination of rights and responsibility among users, a combination of utilization and conservation, a sense of co-production with nature and of gift-giving among members of the community. As John Todd, a visionary biologist, has stated, biodiversity carries the intelligence of three and a half billion years of experimentation by life-forms.

In contrast, regimes governed by IPRs see value as created through commercial exploitatation. IPR regimes are based on the denial of creativity of nature and the creativity emerging from the intellectual commons. Since IPRs are more a protection of capital investment than a recognition of creativity per se, there is a tendency for ownership of knowledge, and the products and processes emerging from it, to become concentrated in the hands of a few. Biodiversity knowledge and resources are alienated from the original custodians and donors and become the monopoly of the corporate sector. Local knowledge devalued and local rights are displaced. This is being universalized through the TRIPS clause of GATT and certain interpretations of the Biodiversity Convention (see p. 81).

It is sometimes argued that monopolies exist in traditional communities. This is not the case in agriculture, where seeds and knowledge are exchanged freely. It is also not true of medicinal resources. It has been pointed out that in the Ayurveda classic, Charaka Sambita, healers learn about herbs and medicinal plants from cowherds, tapasvis, forest dwellers, hunters, land] gardeners'. In traditional communities, folk knowledge and medical systems, such as Ayurveda, support each other, while in the Northern system peoples' knowledge is devalued and unrecognized as a resource. In addition, monopolies and profits do not guide the practitioners or suppliers of medicine in non-Northern medical systems. Indigenous medical practitioners may not always exchange their knowledge freely, but they gift the benefits of it freely, and do not use knowledge as a means of amassing wealth. They practice what is known in India as gyan daan or the gifting of knowledge.

If IPR regimes reflected the diversity of knowledge traditions in different societies, they would necessarily have to reflect a triple plurality - of intellectual modes, of property systems, and of systems of rights - leading to an amazing richness of permutations. However, those being promoted through GATT are a prescription for the monoculture of knowledge. The TRIPs component of GATT is weighted in favour of transnational corporations, and against citizens in general, and Southern peasants and forest dwellers in particular. And yet people everywhere innovate and create. In fact, the poorest people often have to be the most innovative, since they have to create survival while it is threatened daily.

Impact of GAIT on farmers' right to seed

GATT-TRIPs is clearly not just about trade. It also calls into question the ethics of how we relate to other species and what we hold as moral and culturally valuable. It is a tragedy, therefore, that development directly related to the very fabric of society and our options for survival should be left in the hands of ministries of commerce.

IPRs imposed under GATT are highly restricted forms of rights. Firstly, they recognize only private as opposed to common rights. Secondly, they fail to recognize the value of innovation to meet social needs rather than to create profits. Thirdly, and most significantly, they must be 'trade-related', whereas the majority of innovation in the public domain is for domestic, local and public use. These restrictions will have a serious impact on farmers' livelihoods.

The requirement for countries to adopt 'patents or an effective sui generis system' to protect plant varieties (see p. 81) is the part of the GATT agreement that will most directly affect farmers' rights as innovators and plant breeders, and their community ownership of seed and plant material. While the phrase sui generis gives the impression that each country is free to set up its own IPR system, the inclusion of the word 'effective' makes the adoption of a global regime necessary. The use of the term 'effective' in all negotiations relating to IPRs and biodiversity is the result of pressure from the US to globalize IPR regimes to allow the patenting of all life-forms. The draft Plant Varieties Act that will soon be presented to the Indian parliament suggests that countries are under pressure to conform to industrialized country IPR laws as the universal standard.

Apart from patents, the only other IPR system which is considered 'effective' in international negotiations is UPOV's Plant Breeders' Rights (see p. 167). However, under the 1991 amendments to UPOV, farmers now have to pay royalties for saving seed on their own farms, so PBR is becoming as threatening to farmers as patents.

The farmers' movement in India has been protesting against the TRIPs component of GATT because of its far-reaching implications. In October 1992 the farmers of Karnataka State started the Seed Satyagaha movement at a five hundred thousand strong rally. In March 1993 farmers from across the country gathered in Delhi at the historic Red Fort to burn the Dunkel Draft of GATT. Indian farmers are not satisfied with government statements that India will negotiate to allow farmers the right to save and exchange seed non-commercially: for farmers, access to seed is a fundamental right, not a concession.

Plant breeders' rights, like patents, are aimed at weakening farmers as competitors of commercial plant breeders and making them more dependent on commercial suppliers of seed. 'Farmers' privilege' is a concession within this monopolizing system. But a privilege is not a right. Unlike 'Farmers' Rights', it is not a mechanism for recognizing the intellectual contribution of Southern farmers, the economic value of Southern diversity.

The very term 'privilege' implies that Southern farmers' knowledge and resources have made no contribution to the products being used. Seed varieties developed and conserved by farmers are declared to be land races' and 'primitive cultivars', whilst those developed by corporations are called 'advanced' or 'elite'. The tacit hierarchy of language becomes an explicit one in the process of conflict.

India already has experience of what happens when rights are replaced by privileges. During the reservation of forests by the British colonial regime, village communities which were losing their rights to their community forests started 'Forest Satyagraha' throughout the country in defence of these rights. However, these rights were reduced to privileges in the forest laws that were subsequently passed, and these privileges are now given at the whim and fancy of functionaries of the forest department. The original owners of the forests have thus been reduced to criminals and thieves. A similar process is now under way in the arena of biodiversity.

If the South is to retain political and economic control over its biological wealth, farmers' rights must not be reduced to farmers' privileges.

Diversity's choice-empowering local communities

It is often argued that patenting is a way of protecting indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. But is it? Protection of indigenous knowledge implies its continued availability to future generations in their everyday health care and agriculture. If we accept that the dominant economic system- i.e. capitalism - is at the root of the ecological crisis, because it has failed to address the ecological value of natural resources, expanding the same economic system cannot be an appropriate mechanism to protect indigenous knowledge or biodiversity.

What is needed is a transition to an alternative economic paradigm that does not reduce all value to market prices, and all human activity to commerce. Ecologically, this approach involves the recognition of the inherent and non-monetary value of all life-forms. At the social level, the values of biodiversity in different cultural contexts need to be recognized. Sacred groves, sacred seeds and sacred species have been the cultural means for treating biodiversity as inviolable. Community rights to biodiversity must be honoured, as must communities' roles in protecting and nurturing biodiversity.

At the economic level, if biodiversity conservation is to he aimed at conserving life, rather than enhancing profits, then the incentives given to biodiversity destruction, and the penalties that have come to be associated with conservation, have to be removed. If a framework for protecting biodiversity guides economic thinking rather than the other way round, it becomes evident that intensive monoculture of crops and animals is an artificial construct. Productivity and efficiency need to be redefined, reflecting the multiple input/multiple output systems characterized by biodiversity.

In addition, the perverse logic of financing biodiversity conservation by using a small percentage of the profits generated by biodiversity destruction should be questioned. This logic encourages destruction, and reduces conservation to an exhibit, not the essence of living and producing.

Women as nurturers of biodiversity

Neither ecological sustainability nor livelihood sustainability can be achieved without a just resolution of the arguments about who controls biodiversity Until recently it has been local communities, especially women, who have used, developed and conserved biological diversity. It is their control, their knowledge and their rights that need to he strengthened if the foundations of biodiversity conservation are to be strong and deep.

The marginalization of women and the destruction of biodiversity go hand in hand. Loss of diversity is the price paid in the patriarchal model of progress which pushes inexorably towards monoculture and uniformity. In contrast, women's work and knowledge is based on the principle of diversity, and is central to biodiversity conservation because women perform multiple tasks and work across the sectoral boundaries that characterize the patriarchal world-view (the boundaries between work and family, and between forest, livestock and crops).

In the production and preparation of plant foods, women need a wide range of skills and knowledge. To choose appropriate seeds they need to know about seed preparation, germination requirements and soil choice. To sow and strike seeds demands knowledge of seasons, climate, plant requirements, weather conditions, micro-climatic factors and soil enrichment. It also requires dexterity and strength. Nurturing plants calls for knowledge about the nature of plant diseases, pruning, staking, water supplies, predators, companion planting, growing seasons and soil maintenance. Harvesting requires judgements about weather, labour and grading; and knowledge of preserving, immediate use and propagation. It is because of this diversity of knowledge and an understanding of the interconnectedness of life that a woman farmer does not see rice simply as a food grain, but also as a source of cattle fodder and straw for thatch.

In most cultures women have been the custodians of biodiversity in agriculture. However, in common with other aspects of women's work and knowledge, this crucial role is often treated as non-work and nonknowledge, even though it is based on sophisticated cultural and scientific practices. Women's biodiversity conservation differs from the dominant patriarchal notion, where the conservation of diversity is seen as an arithmetical concept -'the number and frequency of ecosystems, species and genes in a given assemblage'.

In contrast, biodiversity is seen by women as a web of relationships which ensures balance and sustainability. Each element acquires its characteristics and value through its relationships with other elements. Biodiversity is ecologically and culturally embedded. Biodiversity cannot be conserved in fragments, as scientists and industrialists would have us believe. Diversity is reproduced and conserved through the reproduction and conservation of culture, in festivals and rituals which not only celebrate the renewal of life, but also provide a platform for subtle tests for seed selection and propagation. The dominant world-view does not regard these tests as scientific because they do not emerge from a laboratory or the experimental plot, and because they are carried out not by men in white coats, but by village women.

When women conserve seeds, they conserve diversity, and in doing so they conserve balance and harmony. Navdanya or 'nine seeds' are the symbol of this renewal of diversity and balance, not only of the plant world, but of the planet as a whole. The seed is sacred and is perceived as a microcosm of the macrocosmic world.

On the more earthly level, biodiversity implies co-existence and interdependence of trees, crops, people and livestock, maintaining the cycles of fertility through biomass flows. Mixtures of cereals and pulses create nutrient balance; crop mixtures maintain pest-predator balance; and diverse plant mixtures maintain the water cycle and conserve soil fertility. In the invisible spaces between all these flows and elements is women's work and knowledge.

Recovery of the biodiversity commons

Biodiversity prospecting is increasingly being promoted as a mechanism that will allow an equitable sharing of the benefits between a prospector and countries or communities where the biodiversity resides. Consequently, indigenous groups are being encouraged to enter into benefit-sharing agreements.

Biodiversity prospecting is the first step towards accepting the dominant system of monocultures and monopolies, and thus accepting the destruction of diversity. Taking knowledge from indigenous cultures through bioprospecting means developing an IPR-protected industrial system which must eventually market commodities that have used local knowledge as an input but are not based on the ethical, epistemological, or ecological organization of that knowledge system. This industrial system uses biodiversity fragments as 'raw material' to produce biological products protected by patents that displace the biodiversity and indigenous knowledge which it has exploited.

The issues of equity, fairness and compensation need to he assessed in a systemic way, both at the level of taking indigenous knowledge, as well as at the level of pushing it out through marketing of industrialized products. The key question to ask is: can the planet afford to have biodiversity and the 'alternative' lifestyles that conserve biodiversity swallowed up as raw material for a globally-organized corporate culture which produces only cultural and biological uniformity?

Recovering the biodiversity commons entails three levels of recovery and regeneration. It involves recognition of the creativity intrinsic in the diversity of life forms; it involves a recognition of common property regimes in the ownership and utilization of biodiversity; and it involves a recognition of intellectual commons - public domains in which knowledge of the utilization of biodiversity is not commoditized.

The first public demonstration in favour of the recovery of the biodiversity commons took place on India's Independence Day, 15 August 1993 when farmers declared that their knowledge and biodiversity is protected by a Samuhik Gyan Sanad. According to the farmers, any company using their local knowledge or local resources without the permission of local communities is engaging in intellectual piracy.

This concept has been developed further by the Third World Network. The positive assertion of 'collective intellectual property rights' (CIRs) creates an opportunity to define a sui generis system of IPRs centred on farmers' rights arising from their role in protecting and improving plant genetic resources. It requires the 'effective' clause in the TRIPS agreement (see p. 81) to be interpreted to mean effective in the specific context of different countries. IPR diversity that has room for a plurality of systems, including regimes based on CIRs, would reflect different styles of knowledge generation and dissemination in different contexts. Sui generis systems would develop a protection system for farmers' rights as plant breeders and for indigenous medical systems. Further, it would have to develop a relationship between Southern peoples' concerns and Northern IPR regimes which are unsympathetic to the style of inventiveness common in Southern societies. This relationship would need to be effective in preventing the exploitation of indigenous resources and knowledge, while maintaining their free exchange.

Sui generis systems that protect CIRs must necessarily be based on the assumption of biodemocracy - that all knowledge systems and production systems using biological organisms have equal validity whereas TRIPs is based on the assumption of bioimperialism. If unchallenged, TRIPs will become an instrument for displacing and dispensing with the knowledge, the resources and the rights of Southern people, especially those who depend on biodiversity for their livelihoods, and who are the original owners and innovators in the utilization of biodiversity.

Understanding and education are prerequisites for empowerment. The debate on the labelling of genetically engineered foods illustrates how ignorance is cultivated and the public is disempowered. The corporations fear that if people know the truth, their monopolies will be destroyed. So food goes unlabelled and consumers are denied access to information and the chance to make informed choices. Monopoly is first achieved in the mind, and then in the marketplace.

We can easily betray ourselves to the politics of uniformity. We can disempower ourselves by seeing the TRIPS route as the only way, and separating ourselves from other options. What we need is a politics of pluralism, in which we recognize our differences without dividing ourselves. We have to act together. Empowerment requires mobilizing local people in the South and consumers in the North. Acting together is not difficult: we have alternatives to build on and to share widely. But in examining our various solutions the key is to assess how many people can make use of the strategy and how many will he excluded from it.

The violence of the Green Revolution-the tragedy of Punjab

India's state of Punjab is the country's most prosperous region, with incomes 65% above the national average. Yet the region is seething with discontent and has suffered the largest number of killings in peacetime in independent India. The Punjab tragedy has commonly been represented as the outcome of conflict between two religious groups, but this view is misleading. Looking more deeply, the conflict also has political and economic roots, reflecting social breakdown and tensions between a disillusioned farming community and a centralizing state. At the heart of the conflict lies the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution began in the early 1960s, gathered momentum rapidly and by 1968 nearly half the wheat planted in India came from Green Revolution seed. The key to the so-called 'miracle' varieties of wheat and rice that responded to intensive inputs of chemical fertilizers was the introduction of a dwarf gene. The taller traditional varieties tended to fall over with high applications of chemicals because they converted the nutrients into overall plant growth, causing lengthening of the stems. The shorter, stiffer stems of dwarf varieties allowed more efficient conversion of fertilizer into grain.

Worldwide, the revolution was promoted as a strategy that would create abundance in agricultural societies, thereby reducing the threat of communist insurgency and agrarian conflict in developing countries. Science and politics were welded together in order to change the agrarian relationships that had previously been politically troublesome. However, in Punjab, as in many other Green Revolution areas, the strategy failed. This in turn meant that, at the political level, it turned out to be conflictproducing instead of conflict-reducing. At the material level, production of high yields of commercial grain generated new scarcities in ecosystems and among rural people, which in turn generated new sources of conflict.

The Punjab crisis can be viewed as arising from a basic and unresolved conflict between diversity, decentralization and democracy on the one hand and uniformity, centralization and militarization on the other. The Green Revolution was based on the assumption that technology is a superior substitute for nature, and hence a means of producing growth unconstrained by nature's limits. Its proponents argued that nature is a source of scarcity and technology is a source of abundance. But at an ecological level, the Green Revolution produced scarcity, not abundance.

Two decades later Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, waterlogging, and indebted and discontented farmers. Green Revolution technology required heavy investments in fertilizers, pesticides, seed, water and energy. This intensive agriculture generated severe ecological destruction, created new kinds of scarcity and vulnerability, and resulted in new levels of inefficiency in resource use. Instead of transcending the limits placed by the natural endowments of land and water, the Green Revolution introduced new constraints on agriculture by destroying land, water resources and crop diversity.

'Miracle' seeds and the destruction of diversity

The introduction of the Green Revolution 'miracle seeds' signaled the start of the privatization of agricultural genetic resources. After 10 000 years of producing and selecting their own seeds, peasants gave way to scientists as plant breeding specialists. Plant breeding strategies of nurturing genetic diversity and fostering the self-renewability of crops were substituted by new strategies centred on uniformity and non-renewability.

The bold claims made about the inherent superiority and productivity of the 'miracle seeds' belie reality. These claims are based on a reductionist analysis, in which the costs and impacts of using Green Revolution seed are externalized and misleading comparisons are made. The yield increases of the Green Revolution crops were at least partly counteracted by decreases in the yields of other crops in the farming system. In indigenous agriculture, cropping systems are based on a symbiotic relationship between soil, water, farm animals and plants. Green Revolution agriculture introduces a new element and eliminates some of the traditional inputs. In the reductionist analysis the interaction between the new seed/chemical package and soil, water, plants and animals is not taken into account in the assessment of yields.

Moreover, this analysis wrongly compares yields of single crops grown in a monoculture system with those of the same crop grown in a diverse, mixed farming system. Realistic assessments are not made of the yield of the diverse crop outputs in the mixed systems. And even where the yields of all the crops are included, it is difficult to convert a measure of pulses into an equivalent measure of wheat, because they have distinctive functions and values in the diet and in the ecosystem. The protein value of pulses and the energy value of cereals are troth essential for a balanced diet, hut one cannot replace the other. In Punjab, wheat has spread at the cost of pulses, barley, rape and mustard, which were usually sown as mixed crops with traditional wheat varieties. Rice spread at the cost of maize, pulses, groundnut, green fodder and cotton.

The term 'high-yielding' - often used to describe Green Revolution seeds is a misnomer because it implies that the new seeds are inherently highyielding. Palmer has suggested that the term 'high-response varieties' is more accurate since, in the absence of additional inputs of fertilizer and irrigation, the new seeds can perform worse than indigenous varieties. The gain in output is insignificant once the increase in inputs is accounted for (see Table 4.3).

Table 4.3. External input farming system

Genetic uniformity and the creation of new pests

The narrow genetic base of the Green Revolution varieties led to increased vulnerability to pests and diseases, whereas indigenous farming strategies are more resilient to pests and diseases because of rotational cropping practices and the inherent resistance and diversity amongst the crops grown. Planting the same crop over large areas year after year encourages pest build-ups. Before 1965, rice was an insignificant crop in the Punjab, but the percentage of cropped area under rice increased from 5.5% in 1966-67 to 23.73% in 1985-86, when semi-dwarf varieties accounted for 95% of the rice produced.

Table 4.4. Outbreaks of rice insect pests and diseases in the Punjab


Insect pests/ diseases appeared in outbreak form


District affected by outbreaks



Basmati 370, IR8



Root weevil

IR8, Jaya


Whitebacked plant

Sabarmati, Ratna,


Palman 579, RP5-3



Brown plant hopper

IR8, Jaya

Kapurthala, Patiala,

Ludhiana, Ropar


Brown plant hopper

IR 8, Jaya



Whitebacked plant

IR 8




Bacterial blight

IR8, Jaya, PR106

Gurdaspur, Amritsar


Whitebacked plant

PR558, PR559,




Sheath blight

IR8, Jaya, PR106

Amritsar, Jalandhar,


Kapurthala, Patiala

Sheath rot

PR 106, IR8

All rice-growing



Bacterial blight

PR106, IR8, Jaya,

All rice-growing


PR103, Basmati 370

Stem rot

PR106, IR8, Jaya

Amritsar, Gurdaspur

Patiala, Kapurthala,



Whitebacked plant

PR107, PR 4141

Kapurthala, Patiala,




Whitebacked plant

PR107, PR 4141

Patiala, Ferozepur




HM95, PR103



Yellow stem borer

PR4141, PR106



Brown plant hopper,


PR 196, PR4141

Patiala, Ferozepur

plant hopper

Pusa-150, Pusa-169


Yellow stem borer

PR4141, PR106

Basmati 370


Punjab Basmati 1



PR106, Jaya, IR8


PR106, PR414,


Punjab Basmati 1

All rice-growing



PR 103, PR 106,

PR 4141, IR8, Jaya,

Basmati 370,



Basmati 1


Source: Shiva, v. (1991), The Violence of the Green Revolution, Zed Books.

New varieties had to be introduced in rapid succession because of their susceptibility to diseases and pests (Table 4.4). The first dwarf variety introduced in 1966, the Taichung Native I variety, was susceptible to bacterial blight and whitebacked plant hopper. In 1968 it was replaced by JR-8 which was thought to be resistant to stem rot and brown spot, but proved to be susceptible to both. Later varieties were bred specifically for disease resistance, but few have held their own. PR 106, which currently accounts for 80% of the area under rice cultivation in Punjab, was selected for its resistance to whitebacked plant hopper and stem rot disease. Since its introduction in 1976, it has become susceptible to both, and also to several other insect pests.

Poisoning the soil

Twenty years of Green Revolution agriculture have seriously damaged the fertility of Punjab soils, because it was mistakenly believed that chemicals could replace the natural fertility of soils. The nutrient cycle from soil to plant and back again has been replaced by a non-renewable flow of phosphorus and potash derived from geological deposits, and nitrogen from petroleum.

The erosion and degradation of land in the Punjab is a direct consequence of the rapid change in land-use patterns, irrigation practices and the use of chemical inputs resulting from the Green Revolution. Croplands are now kept constantly under soil-depleting crops like wheat and rice, rather than being rotated with soil-building crops like pulses. As Kang has cautioned, 'This process implies a downward spiralling of agricultural land use - from legume to wheat to rice to wasteland'.

There are also micronutrient deficiencies and excesses. Organic manuring replaces trace elements such as zinc, iron, copper and manganese, but chemical fertilizers supply only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. More than half of 8000 soil samples taken exhibited zinc deficiency, which has reduced yields of rice, wheat and maize by up to 3.9, 1.98 and 3.4 tonnes per hectare respectively. Meanwhile, fluorine toxicity from irrigation has affected large areas and 26Mha of land is affected by aluminium poisoning. As a result of micronutrient problems, the increase in chemical fertilizer application has not produced a corresponding increase in the output of rice and wheat: productivity has been fluctuating or declining in most regions of the Punjab.

Cultural costs

Perhaps the least recognized of all the Green Revolution's impacts are its cultural costs. The rapid and large-scale introduction of its technologies dislocated the social structure and political processes at two levels. It created growing disparities among classes, and it increased the commercialization of social relations. In Punjab, rather than sweeping away communal conflicts as expected, modernization and economic development hardened ethnic identities and intensified conflict.

The Punjab crisis resulted from three kinds of conflicts:

o Conflicts arising from the very nature of the Green Revolution, i.e. conflicts over river waters, the use of labour-displacing mechanization, the decline in the profitability of modern agriculture, etc., all of which led to a disaffected peasantry engaged in farmers' protests.

o Conflicts related to religious and cultural factors revolving around the Sikh identity. These were rooted in the cultural erosion of the Green Revolution which commercialized all relations and eroded traditional ethics. Religious revivalism, which emerged to correct the moral and social crisis, crystallized finally in the emergence of a separatist Sikh identity.

o Conflicts related to the sharing of economic and political power between the centre and state. The shift from local organization and internal inputs to centralized control and external, imported inputs undermined farmers' power and shifted power to the state.

To a large extent, the movements for regional, religious and ethnic revival are movements for the recovery of diversity. The ecological crisis of the Green Revolution is thus mirrored by a cultural crisis caused by the erosion of diversity, changing structures of governance and the emergence of centralized external control over the daily activities of food production.

Biotechnology- the third wave

In Punjab, the financial and ecological problems created by the Green Revolution necessitated new initiatives. Two options were available. The first involved moving away from capital- and resource-intensive agricultural technology to low-input and low-impact agriculture. The second was to move away from growing staple foods for domestic markets to producing luxury foods and non-food crops for export markets, with a new dependence on imports of high technology inputs like seeds and chemicals. This latter option was officially adopted as the strategy for the second agricultural revolution in Punjab.

The main elements of this second revolution are:

o substitution of wheat and rice with fruits and vegetables to be processed for export markets

o substitution of Green Revolution technologies, with biotechnologies more dependent on chemical inputs and designed for food processing

o total neglect of staple food production as a primary objective of public policy.

The first major project under this new policy, the Pepsico project, was justified on the grounds of diversification of agriculture, increases in agricultural income and employment, and the restoration of peace and stability in Punjab. However, like the Green Revolution before it, the project looks set to aggravate the existing crisis by introducing new vulnerability in agriculture.

The new plant biotechnologies being introduced in Punjab and elsewhere will follow the path of the earlier high-yielding varieties in making farmers ever more dependent on external technology. Biotechnology will probably increase the use of capital and external inputs, further marginalizing the poor and destroying the natural ecological rhythm. The use of chemical inputs will increase, since the dominant trend in research is not for fertilizer and pest-free crops, but for pesticide- and herbicide-resistant varieties (see Chapter 2.2).

Biotechnology fundamentally changes the perceived value of biodiversity. By transforming the richness of the planet's genetic resources into a strategic material for the industrial production of food, pharmaceuticals, fibres and so on, biodiversity conservation becomes the conservation of the 'raw material' rather than conservation of a 'means of production'.

There is a belief that biotechnology development will automatically lead to biodiversity conservation. However, corporate strategies can lead to diversification of commodities, but they cannot enrich nature's diversity.

Similarly, the nature of seed is changed from being both a 'product' (the grain) and a 'means of production' to being just a 'raw material'. In the past, the penetration of capital into agriculture has been prevented by a simple biological obstacle: the nature of the seed is such that, given appropriate conditions, it can reproduce itself manifold. Therefore in order to be able to create a market for it, seed must he transformed materially.

Biotechnology renders seed inert without inputs, so that it cannot produce by itself. Modern plant breeding techniques also render it nonreproducible. In this way, biodiversity is transformed from a renewable to a non-renewable resource. The cycle of regeneration is replaced by a linear flow of free germplasm from farms and forests into corporate laboratories and research stations, and the flow of modified uniform products as commodities from corporations to farms and forests.


1. In LappF.M. and Collins, J. (1982), Food First, London, Abacus.

2. Kang, D.S. (1982) Environmental problems of the Green Revolution, with a focus on Punjab, India,' in Richard Barrett (ed.) International Dimensions of the Environmental Crisis, Boulder, Westview Press, p. 204.

3. Punjab Agricultural University (1985). Department of Soils, mimeo.