Bioprospecting the Public Domain

Essay Excerpt

"Bioprospecting" offers an approach that aims to returnbenefits to the stewards of biological resources. This approach establishes a contractual relationship between those who provide genetic resources, such as Andean potato farmers, and others who use resources, such as seed companies. Bioprospecting contracts provide for short-term payments and long-term (royalty) benefits to producers and stewards of genetic resources in return for access to those resources. The interplay of ideas about conservation, equity, and development that surrounded me in the farmer's field in 1978 has produced several responses among researchers and conservation planners, but none is more direct or apparently straight forward than bioprospecting. Bioprospecting was first defined as a means to compensate countries for genetic resources that are used to create natural compounds for chemicals and pharmaceuticals (Eisner 1989; Reid et al. 1993b), but the concept was quickly adapted to other genetic resources (for an example, see Chapela 1997). Agenda 21 (Robinson 1993) and the Convention on Biological Diversity: Texts and Annexes (Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD] 1994), texts from the 1992 United Nations Conferenceon Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, emphasize benefit sharing as a way to assure continued access to genetic resources. These texts aggregate resources and assert the need to find mechanisms for "sharingin a fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from commercial and other utilization of geneticre sources with the Contracting Party providing such resources"(CBD 1994:13). The framers of the CBD text propose that achieving fairness in the international flow of biological resourcesis essential to protecting those resources. Bioprospecting gives us a blueprint for implementing the CBD's mandates.  (Brush, 536)

About the Author

Stephen Brush was trained as an anthropologist and is Professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of California, Davis. At Davis, he serves as the Master Adviser for International Agricultural Development. He was Senior Scientist at the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute in Rome, 1994-1995, where he designed a global program for on-farm conservation of crop genetic resources. He was on the faculty of College of William and Mary, 1973-1984 and served as Staff Associate and then Director of the Anthropology Program at the National Science Foundation, 1980-1983. His research concerns agricultural ecology and the conservation of crop genetic resources. Brush has done field work on these topics in Peru (1970-1986), Turkey (1990-1994), and Mexico (1995-). He has been a consultant to the World Bank, the Office of Technology Assessment, the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN and UNESCO.

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