The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)

Non technical abstract


Yolanda Cristina Massieu Trigo 

The paper describes some elements of the situation of plant genetic resources in the international level and how these resources have been subjetc of controversy in recent years. Although this situation is not new, since agriculture was initiated there have been different forms and strategies to exploit plants’ genetic information, this problem is now more acute because of plant genetic engineering advances. For this science, genetic resources are its main raw material.

In the world, how to keep, own and conserve plants and seed collections has been subject of debates too. In the beginnings of the industrialization of agriculture this was an exclusive scientists matter. In recent times, however, there has been a concern for a more wide public about what to do with plant genetic resources. Since the eighties, there has been an alarm voice because of the rapid loss of genetic diversity that industrialization of agriculture has meant, specially with Green Revolution’s technology. In general, the aim of industrial agriculture to seek for high yields of one single crops mean that agro-biodiversity has been neglected. The paper touches the main arguments against this kind of agriculture that were raised by a group pf researchers and activists in late seventies. Many of this ideas were expressed in Pat Mooney’s Seeds of the Earth book, which was widely translated and distributed. This has meant that more social actors are interested in genetic resources’ access throughout the world.

The paper then considers the importance and world distribution of biodiversity, exposing Vavilov’s regions and the main crops that originated in them. It also exposes how intellectual property rights aim to more privatization of these resources, specially in favor of multinational corporations interests. It is considered how industrial agriculture of the North has used since the beginning genetic resources form the South. This appropriation was free, as these resources were considered a “common heritage of mankind”. It was until the eighties that this concept changed and now it is recognized the right of the origin countries and local peasants and indigenous people to obtain a payment and share benefits for the use of their genetic resources. This is expressed in Plant Breeder’s Rights.

In spite of this, there is a strong international pressure to encourage private appropriation of genetic resources through patents. In 2001 TRIPS agreement allows to patent all living organisms in the world.

In Mexico, a highly biodiverse country, there is growing a social opposition to this appropriation, while there are more applications from multinational corporations to make collects of genetic resources, in the form of bioprospection contracts. Some of these cases have been made public and there are national and international debates and struggles about them. This projects have been called “biopiracy” by certain social organizations. I start by giving elements to consider biopiracy a crime and how it is present in products different from agriculture, where genetic resources are not present.

In the paper I expose three recent cases of this kind: -one involved in microorganisms collect in a contract between Diversa USA firm and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), -other that involves medical plants collections in Chiapas since 1998, -a last one related to a Mexican yellow beans variety. We describe briefly each one of the cases, as they represent different situations of access to genetic resources in which the problems described in the first part are present. I finally make a brief reflection concerning the needs of a country like Mexico to make a rational and adequate use of its genetic resources


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