|BIO-PIRACY CHEATS DEVELOPING
AND THEIR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF $5.4 BILLION A YEAR IN PLANT AND
ROYALTIES, SAYS STUDY CONDUCTED FOR UNDP
New York, 25 October 1994
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|--- If royalty payments were made to
and indigenous peoples for their plant varieties and local knowledge
by big multinational food and drug companies, those providers would be
getting $5.4 billion a year that they do not see today, says a report
by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The value of Third World plant species to the pharmaceutical industry alone is estimated at more than $30 billion a year. But while more than 90 per cent of the earth's remaining biological diversity is located in Africa, Asia and South America, indigenous communities which have developed and nurtured such diversity are not acknowledged --much less compensated -- for the material and local knowledge that is taken from them, says the report. This inequity is exacerbated by the growing use of patents which grant exclusive protection to Northern corporations and researchers for material or knowledge which originated in the South.
"Our aim is to ensure that indigenous communities will, on their own terms, benefit from any commercialization of products of their knowledge, and avoid becoming trapped in a system of exploitation," says Sarah L. Timpson, Deputy Assistant Administrator of UNDP for Policy and Programme Support. Ms. Timpson says that UNDP has already begun consulting with indigenous people's organizations in the developing world to "seek their view of the most appropriate strategies for preserving traditional knowledge and gaining acknowledgement for their innovations and contributions."
The report, which was prepared by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), cites the need for changes in the rules governing the ownership of biological materials and indigenous knowledge about them in developing countries. In the area of agriculture, for example, "Industrialized countries patent material wholly or partially derived from farmers' varieties," says the report. "As private companies move into the developing countries' seed markets, indigenous farmers are finding themselves paying for the end product of their own genius."
As important as biological diversity and related indigenous knowledge are to the developed world, they are even more important to developing countries. RAFI estimates that "80 per cent of the world's people continue to rely upon indigenous knowledge for their medical needs and possibly two- thirds of the world's people could not survive without the foods provided through indigenous knowledge of plants, animals, microbes and farming systems."
"Because it is a matter of survival,
have carefully nurtured and developed diversity," say the report
"Unfortunately, they have seldom received the benefits from its
application. Even when it comes from developing countries, genetic
tends to be stored in, and controlled by, developed-country
Evidence includes the following:
The report contains a number of specific examples of large agricultural and drug companies making large sums on products derived wholly from plant, fungus or bacteria derived from -- but not publicly recognized as originating in -- developing country indigenous communities (pages 4-9 and an appendix with 100 examples, pages 45 to 54). Even the patent claims over the DNA of indigenous peoples themselves has become the focus of debate and law suits.
In calculating the cost of "bio-piracy" to developing countries, the authors acknowledge that there has also been uncompensated pirating of agricultural chemicals and pharmaceutical compounds from industrial countries by developing countries, amounting to as much as $2.7 billion a year in losses to the North. However, if developing countries were compensated a mere 2 per cent in royalties for global seed industry sales of $15 billion and 20 per cent for pharmaceutical products derived from Southern plants, the South would be owed an estimated $5.4 billion.
"Assuming access to legal support, indigenous communities could claim most (or all) of the biodiversity within their traditional lands," says the report, adding that in fact, "this is not likely to happen." There is little international machinery to assist indigenous peoples in this way. Whatever approach is taken by the South, it should be on a national, and cooperative basis, rather than trying to compete entrepreneurially, urges the report.
To help ensure acknowledgement and some form
whether royalties or some other benefit to a nation or indigenous
report calls for a new "intellectual integrity framework." Proposed
|Conserving Indigenous Knowledge:
Integrating two systems
of innovation. An independent study by the Rural Advancement
International. Commissioned by the United Nations Development
Contact on 24 & 25 October: Peter Gall, UNDP Washington, DC, (202) 331-9130
Contacts after 25 October: Peter Gall, UNDP New York, (212) 906-5312 Ms. Jean Christie, RAFI Ottawa, (613) 567-6880 PR9430 .
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