Seed industry and UN agency ignore traditional ways to protect biodiversity and knowledge
Communities worldwide risk losing control over their traditional knowledge and biological resources because a UN agency, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and the global seed industry insist on using Western intellectual property standards for managing access to them.
This means farmers in developing countries are losing one of their best hopes to limit the impacts of climate change because of growing corporate control of the seeds they plant.
IIED’s research with partners in China, India, Kenya, Panama and Peru shows that the diversity of traditional seed varieties is falling fast and this means valuable traits such as drought and pest resistance could be lost forever.
The researchers say that customary approaches to protecting and sharing traditional knowledge and biological resources build resilience to environmental variability such as climate change.
They warn that while international rules seek to protect the profits of powerful private corporations, they fail to recognise and protect the rights and knowledge of poor farmers.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) requires member countries to equitably share benefits from the use of genetic resources and related knowledge, and to protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices.
But nearly 20 years after the convention was created it still has no legally binding rules to manage access to biological resources and traditional knowledge, and to govern how the benefits from their use are shared.
IIED and partners say this delay is accelerating the loss of biodiversity and the unfair commercial exploitation of knowledge and genetic resources long protected by traditional communities.
In addition to lobbying parties to the CBD on this issue, the research partners have taken their recommendations to forums such as the World Intellectual Property Organization in July 2009 and World Seed Conference in September 2009.