The latest from GRAIN

CONSERVATIONISTS OR CORSAIRS?

Last September, Costa Rica 's National Institute for Biodiversity (INBio) signed a million dollar with the largest drug company in the world, Merck, giving the multinational exclusive rights to develop new products from one of the world 's richest rainforests. The deal took many outsiders by surprise. To some, it looked like an eminently intelligent way to assert and exert national sovereignty over biological resources. To others, it seemed like a massive sell-out that would never benefit the rural communities of Costa Rica. To air the issues, GRAIN turned to Jack Kloppenburg, an American rural sociologist working at the University of Wisconsin, well-known for his research into what could be called "the commodification of the seed". We asked him to analyse for 'Seedling ' what was at stake with "the commodification of the rainforest". The following article is a piece he prepared for us with the assistance of Silvia Rodriguez, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the National University of Costa Rica.

Last September, Costa Rica 's National Institute for Biodiversity (INBio) signed a million dollar with the largest drug company in the world, Merck, giving the multinational exclusive rights to develop new products from one of the world 's richest rainforests. The deal took many outsiders by surprise. To some, it looked like an eminently intelligent way to assert and exert national sovereignty over biological resources. To others, it seemed like a massive sell-out that would never benefit the rural communities of Costa Rica. To air the issues, GRAIN turned to Jack Kloppenburg, an American rural sociologist working at the University of Wisconsin, well-known for his research into what could be called "the commodification of the seed". We asked him to analyse for 'Seedling ' what was at stake with "the commodification of the rainforest". The following article is a piece he prepared for us with the assistance of Silvia Rodriguez, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the National University of Costa Rica.

FUNDING THE EARTH SUMMIT

Key to the success of the "Earth Summit" is the funding mechanism. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), run by the World Bank, is the North 's candidate to take on this role. In this article we assess the need and possible mechanisms for funding, and conclude that the GEF, in its present form, does not match up to the challenges.

Key to the success of the "Earth Summit" is the funding mechanism. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), run by the World Bank, is the North 's candidate to take on this role. In this article we assess the need and possible mechanisms for funding, and conclude that the GEF, in its present form, does not match up to the challenges.

ANOTHER PROMISE DOWN THE DRAIN?

The race to get new biotech products to the market includes the development of biological pesticides and pest-resistant crops. However, pests continually evolve and tend to develop immunity against the new cures. This seems to be already the case with the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which produces a toxin that kills harmful insects, and on which researchers have put their hopes for a chemical-free agriculture. This article looks at the background, points to the narrow focus of research and warns that, if current trends prevail, another promise of the new biotechnologies might prove to be an empty one.

The race to get new biotech products to the market includes the development of biological pesticides and pest-resistant crops. However, pests continually evolve and tend to develop immunity against the new cures. This seems to be already the case with the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which produces a toxin that kills harmful insects, and on which researchers have put their hopes for a chemical-free agriculture. This article looks at the background, points to the narrow focus of research and warns that, if current trends prevail, another promise of the new biotechnologies might prove to be an empty one.

IARCS WANT TO PATENT SEEDS

In a move intended to facilitate access to increasingly privatised biotechnologies, the Green Revolution Institutes are now contemplating not "whether" but "how best" to start claiming intellectual property rights over seeds collected from farmers ' fields throughout the Third World. GRAIN and many other NGOs and scientists are deeply disturbed by the proposals and urge Seedling readers to present their concerns to the relevant centres.

In a move intended to facilitate access to increasingly privatised biotechnologies, the Green Revolution Institutes are now contemplating not "whether" but "how best" to start claiming intellectual property rights over seeds collected from farmers ' fields throughout the Third World. GRAIN and many other NGOs and scientists are deeply disturbed by the proposals and urge Seedling readers to present their concerns to the relevant centres.

SOUTHEAST ASIANS TAKE ACTION ON GENETIC RESOURCES & BIOTECHNOLOGY

The past thirty years have witnessed an important deterioration of the farming systems and rural cultures of Southeast Asia. The miracle rices of the Green Revolution and government policies to promote monoculture and high yields have reinforced genetic erosion, indebtedness, landlessness and vast environmental damage. However, over the past years, a growing movement of non-governmental and people 's organisations is working to design alternatives and reorient public policy in favour of local control over resources, technology and information to make sustainable agriculture really possible. A regional dialogue among NGOs and government officials, held in Bangkok last August, shows a promising level of consensus on how to move forward.

The past thirty years have witnessed an important deterioration of the farming systems and rural cultures of Southeast Asia. The miracle rices of the Green Revolution and government policies to promote monoculture and high yields have reinforced genetic erosion, indebtedness, landlessness and vast environmental damage. However, over the past years, a growing movement of non-governmental and people 's organisations is working to design alternatives and reorient public policy in favour of local control over resources, technology and information to make sustainable agriculture really possible. A regional dialogue among NGOs and government officials, held in Bangkok last August, shows a promising level of consensus on how to move forward.

SUSTAINING THE SUSTAINABLE

Substantial funding has been directed towards building up formal seed supply organizations in developing countries - both parastatal bodies and private companies. But it is becoming very clear that often a much more effective network of informal seed diffusion based on farmer-to-farmer seed exchange exists. Elizabeth Cromwell of London 's Overseas Development Institute reports on the findings of some recent research.

Substantial funding has been directed towards building up formal seed supply organizations in developing countries - both parastatal bodies and private companies. But it is becoming very clear that often a much more effective network of informal seed diffusion based on farmer-to-farmer seed exchange exists. Elizabeth Cromwell of London 's Overseas Development Institute reports on the findings of some recent research.

EUROPEAN NETWORK ON GENETIC RESOURCES MEETS

On 24-30 June, GRAIN hosted the Second European Network Meeting on Genetic Resources and Biotechnology in Barcelona, Spain. The meeting brought together some 70 people from 50 European non-governmental organisations engaged in public information, campaign and practical activities to strengthen local control over genetic diversity and biotechnology. Four days of brainstorming yielded a range of new analyses and priorities for action on key issues in the fields of grassroots conservation, biotechnology, biodiversity and Farmers ' Rights.

On 24-30 June, GRAIN hosted the Second European Network Meeting on Genetic Resources and Biotechnology in Barcelona, Spain. The meeting brought together some 70 people from 50 European non-governmental organisations engaged in public information, campaign and practical activities to strengthen local control over genetic diversity and biotechnology. Four days of brainstorming yielded a range of new analyses and priorities for action on key issues in the fields of grassroots conservation, biotechnology, biodiversity and Farmers ' Rights.

EAST GERMAN GENEBANK IN LIMBO

On October 3 1990, when West Germany declared "re-unification" with East Germany, the merger included one of history 's most spectacular seizures of valuable genetic resources. The East German germplasm collection is one of the best and oldest in all of Europe. Since the annexation, not only the genetic resources but the very future of East German farming is in a state of suspension. Renée Vellvé (GRAIN) and Michael Flitner (BUKO-Agrarkoordination) report.

On October 3 1990, when West Germany declared "re-unification" with East Germany, the merger included one of history 's most spectacular seizures of valuable genetic resources. The East German germplasm collection is one of the best and oldest in all of Europe. Since the annexation, not only the genetic resources but the very future of East German farming is in a state of suspension. Renée Vellvé (GRAIN) and Michael Flitner (BUKO-Agrarkoordination) report.

PLANT PIRACY IN THE PHILIPPINES

The government of the Philippines is about to pass a new law making it possible to patent life forms. The Bill, which would allow for exclusive monopoly rights on asexually reproduced plants, is being pushed through without any public discussion whatsoever. On less than three sheets of paper, this amazing proposal sets no limits on the monopoly granted and penalises farmers who replant patented seeds with one to five years of prison. Nicanor Perlas and Rene Salazar, from CADI and SEARICE, two Filipino NGOs, spell out the concerns for their people.

The government of the Philippines is about to pass a new law making it possible to patent life forms. The Bill, which would allow for exclusive monopoly rights on asexually reproduced plants, is being pushed through without any public discussion whatsoever. On less than three sheets of paper, this amazing proposal sets no limits on the monopoly granted and penalises farmers who replant patented seeds with one to five years of prison. Nicanor Perlas and Rene Salazar, from CADI and SEARICE, two Filipino NGOs, spell out the concerns for their people.

KEYSTONE DIALOGUE CONCLUDES

After an intensive three-year off-the record battle in plenaries, working groups and bilateral discussions, the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources came to a final-final consensus at its last session in Oslo from 31 May to 4 June. As a result, a "Global Initiative" to urgently save the resources on which the world 's agricultural production depends, was launched into the public for international action.

After an intensive three-year off-the record battle in plenaries, working groups and bilateral discussions, the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources came to a final-final consensus at its last session in Oslo from 31 May to 4 June. As a result, a "Global Initiative" to urgently save the resources on which the world 's agricultural production depends, was launched into the public for international action.

FARMERS ' RIGHTS: TIME TO ACT

From 15 to 19 April, the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources meets to continue the debate on how to manage the earth 's genetic resources. One of the main issues on the agenda is the implementation of Farmers ' Rights. If Farmers ' Rights is meant as a compensation to farmers for their impressive role in the conservation and development of germplasm, it has to provide for mechanisms that ensure that farmers really benefit from it. This article dives into the background and concludes that there is a gap between the consensus reached in FAO and the day to day practice in the farmers ' fields. It argues for a direct voice from grassroots organisations in the priority-setting and implementation of genetic resources activities. Most importantly, it stresses that the FAO diplomats now have the opportunity and the obligation the move beyond words and start acting.

From 15 to 19 April, the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources meets to continue the debate on how to manage the earth 's genetic resources. One of the main issues on the agenda is the implementation of Farmers ' Rights. If Farmers ' Rights is meant as a compensation to farmers for their impressive role in the conservation and development of germplasm, it has to provide for mechanisms that ensure that farmers really benefit from it. This article dives into the background and concludes that there is a gap between the consensus reached in FAO and the day to day practice in the farmers ' fields. It argues for a direct voice from grassroots organisations in the priority-setting and implementation of genetic resources activities. Most importantly, it stresses that the FAO diplomats now have the opportunity and the obligation the move beyond words and start acting.

WANTED ALIVE: 3.3 MILLION SEED SAMPLES!

We are heading toward a frightening crossroads. The so-called international plant genetic resources community has spent the past 20 years putting together a world network of colossal, centralised "base collections" for major international crops: rice, wheat, maize, potatoes, pulses. Big food in big refrigerators in a couple of locations across the mighty globe: this is called food security. NGOs have all this time been critical of the ill-founded bases of the system: its technical shortcomings, political biases, unaccountability, mismanaged control and the sheer danger of dumping your eggs into one solitary and fragile basket. Without resolving any of those problems, the genebanks are now in the process of shifting strategy away from the failed mega-collections toward a sub-system of isolated and potentially arbitrary "crop networks" and "core collections" with perhaps even more dreadful consequences.

We are heading toward a frightening crossroads. The so-called international plant genetic resources community has spent the past 20 years putting together a world network of colossal, centralised "base collections" for major international crops: rice, wheat, maize, potatoes, pulses. Big food in big refrigerators in a couple of locations across the mighty globe: this is called food security. NGOs have all this time been critical of the ill-founded bases of the system: its technical shortcomings, political biases, unaccountability, mismanaged control and the sheer danger of dumping your eggs into one solitary and fragile basket. Without resolving any of those problems, the genebanks are now in the process of shifting strategy away from the failed mega-collections toward a sub-system of isolated and potentially arbitrary "crop networks" and "core collections" with perhaps even more dreadful consequences.

TRADITIONAL PLANTS IN KENYA: REVERSING THE APATHY

As many of the trees, vegetables and fruits traditionally grown by farmers around the world are ignored by official research and extension services, indigenous knowledge about how they are grown and used for food, medicines and shelter is under threat too. But peoples ' organizations are striving to turn the tide. We report from Kenya where women farmers are showing renewed interest in these neglected crops.

As many of the trees, vegetables and fruits traditionally grown by farmers around the world are ignored by official research and extension services, indigenous knowledge about how they are grown and used for food, medicines and shelter is under threat too. But peoples ' organizations are striving to turn the tide. We report from Kenya where women farmers are showing renewed interest in these neglected crops.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Amongst the issues being considered by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) are biological diversity and biotechnology. But will the "Earth Summit" truly address these issues and their underlying problems or merely confuse current initiatives? In this article we look at the preparations for UNCED '92 and the negotiations toward a Convention on Biological Diversity facilitated by UNEP.

Amongst the issues being considered by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) are biological diversity and biotechnology. But will the "Earth Summit" truly address these issues and their underlying problems or merely confuse current initiatives? In this article we look at the preparations for UNCED '92 and the negotiations toward a Convention on Biological Diversity facilitated by UNEP.

GENES IN THE GULF

As "Seedling" goes to print, armed conflict is once again besieging the Middle East, this time of untold dimensions. Open hostilities in the Gulf region could degenerate into a large scale tragedy involving chemical and biological warfare, as well as nuclear arms. While we all hold firm to the hope for a negotiated solution to the political problems of the region, GRAIN thought it valuable to acknowledge the important contribution that genetic diversity from the Middle East makes to world agriculture and review the region 's highly vulnerable conservation efforts. It is an area particularly rich in landraces and wild species of immense value for crop improvement and food production worldwide.

As "Seedling" goes to print, armed conflict is once again besieging the Middle East, this time of untold dimensions. Open hostilities in the Gulf region could degenerate into a large scale tragedy involving chemical and biological warfare, as well as nuclear arms. While we all hold firm to the hope for a negotiated solution to the political problems of the region, GRAIN thought it valuable to acknowledge the important contribution that genetic diversity from the Middle East makes to world agriculture and review the region 's highly vulnerable conservation efforts. It is an area particularly rich in landraces and wild species of immense value for crop improvement and food production worldwide.