Biodiversity meet ignored interests of farmers: expert

STAFF REPORTER, THE HINDU, NOVEMBER 19, 2012

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/biodiversity-meet-ignored-interests-of-farmers-expert/article4109993.ece

Agriculture scientist G.V. Ramanjaneyulu has criticised that the recent international biodiversity conference in Hyderabad focussed only on how business could be done with bio-resources instead of suggesting measures to protect biodiversity.

The deliberations completely ignored farmers and their interests and also their role in the protection of biodiversity. The conference deliberately sidelined the need to protect biodiversity, he said while delivering a lecture on ‘Farmer in Biodiversity’ organised by the Jampala Chandrasekhara Prasad Trust in memory of the late student leader, here on Saturday night.

State role

He said the government should have a major role in protecting biodiversity, environment and eco-balance for which it should involve the farming community. On the contrary, it was encouraging farmers to use dangerous pesticides and chemical fertilizers, he added.

In pesticides only one per cent was useful to kill pests and the rest would mix in soil and air polluting the environs. So also, in fertilizers only 45 per cent was useful to protect plants and the remaining 55 per cent would mix in soil and water. Dr. Ramanjaneyulu said pests were gaining resistance and the farmer was getting caught in a vicious circle by investing more money. Excessive use of fertilizer and pesticide make the food grains poisonous with their residues remaining in them. Pesticide residues were creating fat in human bodies, he said.

GM propaganda

In this backdrop, governments and corporates were resorting to propaganda on the necessity of GM crops for food security, but behind this lay business interests rather than human interests, he said cautioning that, “Our food habits are getting spoilt with such a false campaign.”

Listing out the ill-effects of fertilizers and pesticides, he said the Green Revolution in Punjab destroyed biodiversity and today one in every third family in that State was suffering from cancer. He said for the protection of biodiversity farmers should have freedom in cultivation.

‘Meet focussed on how business can be done with bio-resources instead of suggesting measures to protect biodiversity’

ప్రజలకు నిర్ణయాధికారం కావాలి: Ramanjaneyulu

(ఆంధ్రజ్యోతి, హైదరాబాద్ సిటీ )

ఆంధ్రజ్యోతి: అంతర్జాతీయ జీవ వైవిధ్య సదస్సు వల్ల ఏమైనా ప్రయోజనముందంటారా?

జీవీ రామాంజనేయులు: అభివృద్ధి చెందిన దేశాల్లో జీవ వైవిధ్యం పెద్దగా కనిపించదు. అభివృద్ధి చెందుతున్న దేశాల్లో ఎక్కువగా కనిపిస్తుంది. దీన్ని వాణిజ్య అవసరాల కోసం వాడుకుంటుండటంతో ముప్పు వాటిల్లుతోంది. ఈ ప్రమాదం నుంచి బయటపడే ఉద్దేశ్యంతోనే దాదాపు 193 దేశాలు కలిసి జీవ వైవిధ్య సదస్సును నిర్వహిస్తున్నాయి. ప్రస్తుతం నగరంలో జరుగుతున్న సీఓపీ-11లో కార్టెజెనా బయోసేఫ్టీ ప్రొటోకాల్ గురించి చర్చ జరిగింది. జన్యు మార్పిడి పంటల వల్ల ఉత్పన్నమవుతున్న సమస్యలను గురించి చర్చించిన సదస్సు సామాజిక, ఆర్థిక విషయాలను దృష్టిలో పెట్టుకోవాలని అభిప్రాయపడింది. ఈ పంటల వల్ల జీవ భద్రతకు నష్టం వాటిల్లుతుందని ఒప్పుకుంటే దానికి ఎవరు జవాబుదారీతనం వహించాలనేది ప్రశ్న. ఒకవేళ విత్తనాలను ఎగుమతి చేస్తే అక్కడ నష్టానికి ఎవరిని బాధ్యులను చేయాలనే సమస్య. ప్రస్తుతం బయో డైవర్సిటీ ఆతిథ్య దేశమైన భారతదేశం వచ్చే రెండేళ్లు అధ్యక్ష పదవిలో ఉండనుంది. అంటే ఇక్కడ జరిగిన నిర్ణయాల అమలు పట్ల శ్రద్ధ వహించాల్సి ఉంటుంది. బయో డైవర్సిటీ సదస్సు మూలంగా పెద్దగా ప్రయోజనాలేవీ ఉండే అవకాశం లేదు.

ఆంధ్రజ్యోతి: గతంలో జరిగిన నిర్ణయాలేవైనా అమలు జరిగాయా?

జీవీ: 2010 సీఓపీ జపాన్‌లో జరిగింది. అక్కడ జరిగిన కొన్ని నిర్ణయాలు ఇప్పుడిప్పుడే ఆచరణలోకి వస్తున్నాయి. జన్యుమార్పిడి పంటల విషయంలో ఆర్థిక విషయాలను సైతం పరిగణనలోకి తీసుకోవాలనేది గతంలో జరిగిన నిర్ణయమే. వాటిని ప్రస్తుతం సీరియస్‌గా అందరూ అంగీకరిస్తున్నారు. ఎక్సెస్ బెనిఫిట్ షేర్ గురించి చర్చ జరిగింది. వాణిజ్యం కోసం జీవ వైవిధ్యాన్ని వాడుకుంటే అప్పటి వరకు వాటిని కాపాడిన వారికి ఎలాంటి ప్రతిఫలం అందించాలనే అంశంపై కూడా ఈ సదస్సులో చర్చ జరిగింది.

ఆంధ్రజ్యోతి: సీఓపీలో జరిగే నిర్ణయాలు అమలు చేయడంలో స్థానిక చట్టాలు అంగీకరించకపోతే?

జీవీ: ఎక్కడ ఏ నిర్ణయం జరిగినా స్థానిక ప్రజల భాగస్వామ్యంతో జరగాలి. ప్రజలకు నిర్ణయాధికారం కావాలి. గ్రామస్థాయిలో బయో డైవర్సిటీ మేనేజ్‌మెంట్ కమిటీలు ఉండాలి. అవేవీ లేకుండా, ఎవరితో చర్చించకుండా,ప్రజల భాగస్వామ్యం లేకుండా నిర్ణయాలు తీసుకోకూడదు. ప్రస్తుతం జీవ వైవిధ్య సదస్సు అలాగే నిర్వహిస్తున్నారు. ఎలాంటి ఒప్పందాలైనా ప్రజలదే నిర్ణయాధికారం కావాలి. కేంద్రం, శాస్త్రవేత్తలది కాదు. దేశంలో బీటీ వంగ విషయంలో మాత్రమే ప్రభుత్వం ప్రజాస్వామ్యయుతంగా వ్యవహరించింది. ఇక అన్ని విషయాల్లో ప్రజల అభిప్రాయాలతో సంబంధంలేకుండానే నిర్ణయాలు తీసుకుంది. రాష్ట్రంలో జన్యుమార్పిడిపై జరుగుతున్న ఫీల్డ్ ట్రాయిల్స్ ఇందుకు ఉదాహరణ. అందుకే ఈ సదస్సును వ్యతిరేకిస్తూ ‘పీపుల్స్ బయో డైవర్సిటీ ఫెస్టివల్’ను నిర్వహిస్తున్నాం.

ఆంధ్రజ్యోతి: జీవ వైవిధ్య నష్టానికి కారణాలేంటి?

జీవీ: జీవ వైవిధ్యాన్ని కాపాడుకోవడమంటే సమస్యకు మూలాల్ని వెతకడం. బయో డైవర్సిటీ సదస్సు సందర్భంగా పిచ్చుకలు, రాబందులు అంతరించిపోతున్నాయంటూ భారీ హోర్డింగులు పెట్టారు. కారణమేంటో చెప్పలేదు. అందుకు ప్రభుత్వ నిర్ణయాలు, విధానాలే కారణం. జన్యు మార్పిడి విత్తనాలు, క్రిమి సంహారక మందులు, సెల్‌ఫోన్ టవర్లు పక్షుల మనగడను ప్రశ్నార్థకంగా మార్చాయి. వైవిధ్యాన్ని రక్షించే పంటల్ని ప్రోత్సహించాల్సింది పోయి… అనువుగానివి వేసి రైతులు ఆత్మహత్యలు చేసుకుంటుంటే, అడవుల్ని విధ్వంసం చేసి మైనింగ్‌లకు అనుమతిస్తున్నారు. సోంపేట లాంటి ప్రాంతాల్లో బీల భూముల్ని కాపాడాల్సిన ప్రభుత్వాలే… పవర్ ప్లాంట్‌ల పేరిట ప్రైవేటు వ్యక్తులకు కట్టబెడుతున్నాయి. ఇలాంటి ప్రాజెక్టుల మూలంగా జీవ భద్రతకు ముప్పు వాటిల్లుతోంది.

ఆంధ్రజ్యోతి: జీవ వైవిధ్యాన్ని కాపాడడానికి ఏం చేయాలి?

జీవి: జీవ వైవిధ్యాన్ని కాపాడడానికి ప్రభుత్వం ప్రత్యేక శ్రద్ధ వహించి దీర్ఘకాలిక కార్యక్రమాన్ని చేపట్టాలి. వైవిధ్య పంటల్ని ప్రోత్సహించాలి. రైతులకు ఆర్థిక భద్రత కల్పించాలి. పర్యావరణానికి, జీవ వైవిధ్యానికి నష్టం చేకూర్చే ప్రాజెక్టులను నిలిపివేయాలి. పర్యావరణాన్ని కాపాడే పరిశోధనలను ప్రోత్సహించాలి. అప్పుడే జీవవైవిధ్యాన్ని గుర్తించినవాళ్లమవుతాం. ప్రజలు సైతం జీవవైవిధ్యాన్ని కాపాడడం తమ బాధ్యతగా స్వీకరించాలి.

Beware of access sans benefit sharing, says review

T. V. Padma

http://scidevnet.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/beware-of-access-sans-benefit-sharing-says-review/

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Is India’s access and benefit sharing (ABS) more of an access regime sans the benefit sharing component?  A post-Nagoaya protocol briefing paper prepared by Kanchi Kohli and Shalini Bhutani for the NGO Alliance on CBD, India, says yes.

After all these years of various Acts, committees and draft guidelines, the country does not have any benefit sharing cases to speak of. In fact, its only laudable benefit sharing agreement – between Tropical Botanical Gardens Research Institute in Kerala and the Kani tribe, on a herb that is a source of an anti-fatigue substance.  But that was much before the country had a national biodiversity authority. The agreement expired in 2003 and despite attempts to keep it going, finally ended in 2008.

The plant from which an Indian institute developed the Jeevani drug and entered into a benefit sharing agreement with the Kani tribe. Credit: WIPO

OK,  there is one more benefit sharing case – with PepsiCo India. The company paid India’s National Biodiversity Authority  about 62,400 Euros  for a sea weed (Kappaphycus alvarezi) accessed from the Gulf of Mannar. Pepsico signed an agreement with NBA, to access and export the sea weed to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines for commercial use in food and cosmetics industry!!.

In reply to a 2010 query under India’s Right to Information Act, NBA said the money is “yet to be ploughed back to the benefit claimers”, as the guidelines  for depositing the money were yet to be finalized.

As of 2011, India’s National Biodiversity Authority approved 607 cases for access, IPR and transfer of research results. Of these, 437 were permissions for applying for IPRs.

BUT none of these cases had mandatory consultations with local biodiversity management committees.

Meanwhile,  the country’s own local people are often not involved in  such agreements, their review says.

Makes me wonder… whose access and whose benefits?

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Relief as Parties to the Biosafety Protocol adopt key decisions: TWN

 

Hyderabad, 9 October (Lim Li Ching and Doreen Stabinsky) – There was a palpable sigh of relief as Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety closed their sixth meeting following the adoption of key decisions.

After difficult negotiations, key decisions were adopted on socio-economic considerations and risk assessment. While these may have been weaker than what many Parties would have liked, they advance the work of the Protocol on these issues.

The sixth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity serving as the Meeting of the Parties (COP-MOP6) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was held in Hyderabad, India from 1st to 5th October 2012.

[The Cartagena Protocol is a protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity and is the only international treaty specifically regulating genetically modified organisms, or living modified organisms (LMOs) as they are known under the Protocol.]

The decision on socio-economic considerations establishes an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) to develop conceptual clarity on the issue. The AHTEG will submit a report to COP-MOP7 in 2014, with a view to enabling Parties to the Cartagena Protocol to deliberate and decide upon appropriate further steps towards the development of guidance for Parties on socio-economic considerations.

The decision on risk assessment commends the progress made on the Guidance of Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms, which has been developed and improved following numerous rounds of peer review, over the last four years by an open-ended online forum on risk assessment and the AHTEG on Risk Assessment and Risk Management. However, it stopped short of endorsing or commending the Guidance itself. Nonetheless, the decision also extends the existing online forum and establishes a new AHTEG that will serve until COP-MOP7, to conduct further work related to risk assessment.

Other important decisions were also taken on Article 17 (unintentional transboundary movements and emergency measures), which has links to the risk assessment discussions.

Socio-economic considerations

The issue of socio-economic considerations was one of the most controversial issues during the negotiations of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Developing countries wanted to preserve their right to take socio-economic considerations into account when taking a decision on imports of LMOs. Some developed countries opposed this, and did not view the issue as important, giving it low priority.

The compromise is contained in Article 26 of the Cartagena Protocol. Article 26.1 in particular states that “Parties may take into account, consistent with their international obligations, socio-economic considerations arising from the impact of LMOs on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity to indigenous and local communities, in reaching a decision on import under the Protocol or under its domestic measures to implement the Protocol”.

At COP-MOP5 in 2010, attempts by developing countries to have a decision that established an AHTEG on socio-economic considerations were thwarted. Instead, COP-MOP5 only called for an online forum to discuss the issues, supplemented by online regional conferences and a workshop on capacity building for research and information exchange on socio-economic impacts of LMOs, which was held in New Delhi, India in November 2011. This was the first time intersessional work (between COP-MOP sessions) on socio-economic considerations was conducted under the Cartagena Protocol.

Twelve years after the Cartagena Protocol was adopted in 2000, Parties have finally adopted a decision at COP-MOP6 that advances the issue of socio-economic considerations further.

A principal difference between Parties during the negotiations in Hyderabad was whether or not to set up an AHTEG to carry out further work towards developing guidance on taking into account socio-economic considerations in the context of national decision-making. Parties such as Bolivia, Mexico and Norway were eager to establish the AHTEG and to start substantive work, given the urgency of work needed and in light of already documented adverse socio-economic impacts in some countries growing genetically engineered crops.

Several Parties, notably Paraguay, were fundamentally opposed to the AHTEG as the way to move forward. A number of Parties, including Japan, were concerned about the budgetary implications of an AHTEG.

Other Parties, such as the European Union (EU), Japan and Paraguay, noted the need to proceed in a stepwise manner, rather than immediately initiate development of guidance as the next step. They noted the need for “conceptual clarity” on what constituted socio-economic considerations, as the first step to be taken.

The work at COP-MOP6 to develop a decision on socio-economic considerations was taken into a Contact Group, co-chaired by Gurdial Singh Nijar of Malaysia and Ruben Dekker of the Netherlands. The Contact Group met three times and steady progress was made in outlining what work was necessary in the next intersessional period and which entities would appropriately carry out the work.

The Contact Group concluded with an outline for a multi-step process. First, the Executive Secretary of the Convention (and its Cartagena Protocol) would be requested to compile, take stock of, and review information on socio-economic considerations arising from the impact of LMOs on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, especially with regard to the value of biological diversity to indigenous and local communities. The stocktaking exercise would include a review of existing institutional frameworks, capacity-building activities, existing expertise and experience, and other policy initiatives concerning social and economic impact assessments, in order to develop a global overview.

Online discussion groups and regional online real-time conferences would then be established to facilitate and synthesize the exchange of views among Parties, other governments, relevant organizations and indigenous and local communities.

Finally, an AHTEG would be established to examine the outcomes of the stocktaking exercise and online forums, to develop conceptual clarity on socio-economic considerations. The report of the work of the AHTEG would be submitted to COP-MOP7 for further deliberation and a decision on possible next steps towards developing guidance on taking socio-economic considerations into account in national decision-making on imports of LMOs.

Because of the reluctance of some Parties to explicitly mention the development of guidance, the decision does not do so, but instead relates the next steps to Operational Objective 1.7 of the Strategic Plan of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety for the period 2011-2020, and its “outcomes”. Operational Objective 1.7 is “to, on the basis of research and information exchange, provide relevant guidance on socio-economic considerations that may be taken into account in reaching decisions on the import of living modified organisms.”

This delicate compromise was then taken forward to Working Group 1 for adoption. One bracket remained, as Japan had raised its concern that Parties, other Governments (that are not Parties) and relevant organizations should not be “urged’ to make funds available to organize a meeting of the AHTEG, but rather be “encouraged” or “invited” to do so. Co-Chair Nijar had wryly observed that “pray” might be a better verb to use. The final decision “encourages” the making available of funds for the AHTEG meeting.

At the Working Group discussion, the governments of Norway and South Korea announced they would provide funding to enable the AHTEG on socioeconomic considerations to meet and carry out its work, alleviating somewhat the concerns of Japan. Furthermore, at the closing plenary, Bolivia, which had been championing the issue, made the offer to host the meeting of the AHTEG on socio-economic considerations, demonstrating its commitment to furthering the work on the issue.

Risk assessment and risk management

Risk assessment and risk management are at the heart of the Cartagena Protocol. Annex III of the Protocol provides a general framework for environmental risk assessment of LMOs. However, Parties have long felt that further guidance is necessary. At COP-MOP4 in 2008, Parties established an AHTEG on Risk Assessment and Risk Management to develop further guidance on specific aspects of risk assessment.

Over the four years since then, the AHTEG, with the assistance of an open-ended online forum, has developed a package of guidance material – the Guidance on Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms – which includes the ‘Roadmap’ on steps to take when conducting a risk assessment, along with guidance on living modified (LM) abiotic stress-tolerant plants, LM plants with stacked genes and LM mosquitoes. These initial documents were welcomed by Parties to the Protocol at COP-MOP5 and have benefited from numerous rounds of feedback, peer review and testing. The AHTEG then developed new guidance on LM trees and monitoring of LMOs released into the environment, themselves subject to several rounds of review.

Nonetheless, when Parties came to discuss the issue at COP-MOP6, resistance to endorsing the Guidance and continuing the work of the AHTEG was strong. While all Parties acknowledged the improvements made to the Guidance since COP-MOP5, and that the Guidance was a living document that needed continuous updating and would benefit from testing at the national and regional levels, they disagreed on several fundamental points.

Given the diverging opinions, a Contact Group, co-chaired by Helmut Gaugitsch from Austria and Eliana Fontes from Brazil, was established. The Contact Group met twice during the week.

Discussion first pivoted on whether or not the Guidance should be “endorsed” by COP-MOP6. A seeming conundrum arose, with some Parties like the Philippines, New Zealand, Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil and Japan claiming that since the Guidance was still to be tested, it was incomplete and should not be endorsed. Other Parties such as Bolivia, Norway, Moldova speaking on behalf of the Central and Eastern European (CEE) group, the EU speaking on behalf of its 27 Member States and Croatia, Peru and China wanted to endorse the Guidance so that it could then be used and tested at the national and regional levels.

Another major point of contention was whether or not the AHTEG, established by COP-MOP4 in 2008, should continue, and if so, in what composition, with what mandate and for how long. While there was universal agreement with the AHTEG playing a role in the testing of the Guidance, some Parties were reluctant to agree to the integration of the Guidance with the training manual on risk assessment produced by the Secretariat, while others were adamantly against assigning the AHTEG the task of developing guidance on new topics of risk assessment and risk management.

The eventual compromise weakened the language on integrating the Guidance and the training manual, to aligning them in a coherent and complementary manner. This was further qualified by the phrase “with the clear understanding that the Guidance is still being tested”.

On the issue of guidance on new topics of risk assessment and risk management, the AHTEG is only to “consider” its development. Moreover, the related expected outcome was only a recommendation on how to proceed with respect to the development of further guidance on specific topics of risk assessment, and not guidance in itself, even though several Parties had proposed that the AHTEG take up the development of guidance on at least one new topic.

Given the strong opposition, the final decision adopted by COP-MOP6 was a carefully balanced compromise package. It commends the progress made on the Guidance of Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms, but stopped short of endorsing or commending the Guidance itself. However, the decision also extends the open-ended online forum on risk assessment and establishes a new AHTEG, which should have a balance of current and new members, to serve until COP-MOP7.

The terms of reference of the open-ended online forum and new AHTEG on Risk Assessment and Risk Management sets out three tasks, in order of priority: (a) to provide input to assist in the structuring and focusing of the process of testing the guidance, and in the analysis of the results gathered from the testing; (b) to coordinate the development of a package that aligns the Guidance with the training manual in a coherent and complementary manner and (c) to consider the development of guidance on new topics of risk assessment and risk management, based on the Parties’ needs, and their experiences and knowledge concerning risk assessment.

The Working Group 2 session that adopted the text for forwarding to COP-MOP6 ended on Thursday night (4 October) at about 10.30pm. It was a tense session, with a near unraveling of the compromise package. Moldova had proposed the addition of the word “and” in operational paragraph 1, so that the sentence would read, “…commends the progress made on and the resulting Guidance on Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms”. This addition would thus commend both the progress made on the Guidance, and the Guidance itself. (Several Parties did not want to commend the Guidance as such.)

Brazil immediately responded that if anyone started to open up text it would also make its additions and changes to the compromise package. Moldova eventually withdrew its suggestion, but only after stressing how they had wanted to strongly endorse the Guidance and this was really a compromise for them.

Bolivia, however, added to paragraph 3(c) of the terms of reference of the AHTEG, a reference to Operational Objectives 1.3 and 1.4 of the Strategic Plan of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and its outcomes. Operational Objective 1.3 relates to risk assessment and risk management and its outcome is guidance on risk assessment and risk management. Operational objective 1.4 relates to LMOs or traits that may have adverse effects, with outcomes spelled out as modalities to identify these LMOs, for which the related indicator is guidance on such LMOs.

This therefore clearly ties the expected outcome of the AHTEG on a recommendation on how to proceed with respect to the development of further guidance, with the relevant outcomes of the Strategic Plan that are in effect, new guidance. This addition will help the AHTEG in its deliberations to proceed on the development of new guidance.

The compromise package on risk assessment was thereafter adopted by the Working Group and eventually by the plenary, with no further changes.

Unintentional transboundary movements

The objective of the Cartagena Protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs, specifically focusing on transboundary movements. Central to ensuring this protection are both knowing the risks of the LMO in the receiving environment, through a risk assessment, and the advance informed agreement of the Parties of import to accept or reject those risks in their territory and design appropriate risk management procedures in the case of import.

Parties continued in Hyderabad with discussions over the implementation of an important provision of the Protocol related to transboundary movement: Article 17 on Unintentional Transboundary Movements and Emergency Measures.

As unintentional transboundary movements circumvent the central mechanisms for ensuring an adequate level of protection – a risk assessment in the receiving environment and advance informed agreement for importation in light of these risks – consideration of how to prevent such movements is critical for achieving the objective of the Protocol. Parties were guided in their consideration of Article 17 by the operational objective for this work outlined in the current Strategic Plan, which requires Parties to develop tools and guidance that facilitate the implementation of Protocol provisions. The outcome envisaged in the Strategic Plan is guidance to assist Parties to detect and take measures to respond to unintentional releases of living modified organisms.

Japan contributed to the consideration of the agenda item with a brief intervention on its experience in 2011 with unintentional transboundary movements, specifically with the identification of illegal papaya growing in the country from seeds imported from Taiwan. They noted that the more information that is provided in a timely manner, the less mitigation cost an importing country has to take. They noted their position that while existing guidance in the form of decisions and the risk assessment guidance are useful, it is not sufficient to address or prevent unintentional transboundary movements, and they suggested that actual procedures needed to be developed.

Discussion continued among the rest of the Parties as to whether new guidance was needed or whether existing guidance in relevant decisions, rules and guidelines for implementing Article 17 was adequate. The Republic of Korea agreed with Japan that guidelines were needed for emergency measures. Several developing countries, including Jordan, Uganda, Malaysia and Tunisia emphasized that capacity was crucial in order to both detect and respond to unintentional transboundary movements.

Another point of discussion linked with negotiations over the AHTEG on risk assessment, and whether or not the existing Guidance on Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms developed by the AHTEG should be referenced in the decision. Paraguay was opposed to the reference. This opposition was overcome after consultations. Paraguay eventually agreed to the reference to the Guidance following the insertion of a preambular paragraph noting that the Guidance is not prescriptive and does not impose any obligations on Parties. This language was part of the compromise package agreed in the decision on risk assessment.

The final decision reflects recognition that the ability to detect unintentional transboundary movements was an important step in prevention and response to such movements, and invited cooperation in building capacity, transferring technology and exchanging information necessary to detect and response to unintentional transboundary movements. The issue will be further considered at COP-MOP7, with a consideration of “challenges and experiences relating to the implementation of Article 17 or the Protocol and on the scope and elements of possible guidance or tools that may facilitate appropriate responses” to unintentional transboundary movements.

It was thus with bated breath that the two key decisions on socio-economic considerations and risk assessment were adopted by COP-MOP6, with fears that the delicate balance achieved could be unraveled at any point. Together with the decision on unintentional transboundary movement, these place great importance on the intersessional period over the next two years in advancing these issues, with a heavy burden put on COP-MOP7 to make the right choices for biosafety

Pro, anti- groups spar over safety of GM corn

HYDERABAD, OCTOBER 8:

K.V. KURMANATH

A few tiny rats have become the centre of a hot discussion in the global scientific community about the safety of genetically modified corn.

It all started when a group of French scientists published a study last month in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal that suggested that rats fed with GMOs die earlier and suffer from cancer more often than the others.

This triggered vociferous protests and opposition from pro-GM groups and scientists. This row, in fact, spilled over to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) here. While the pro-GM camp is distributing a document to disprove the claims of the French study, the team that conducted the study strongly defended the outcome of their study.

The study titled Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and A Roundup-tolerant GM maize found tumors in rats fed with GM corn. Roundup is a seed technology that gives the crop genetic strength to withstand herbicide used to kill weeds.

“The new research took the form of a two-year feeding trial on 200 rats monitored for outcomes against more than 100 parameters. The results, which are of serious concern, included increased and more rapid mortality, coupled with hormonal non-linear and sex-related effects. Females developed significant and numerous mammary tumours, pituitary and kidney problems. Males died mostly from severe hepatorenal chronic deficiencies,” the French research team that conducted the two-year study, said.

The pro-GM Adriana Brondani, who is Executive Director of the Brazilian Council for Biotechnology Information, felt that besides technical errors, there is evidence of an ideological bias in the conclusions of the study. “Some of the scientists involved in the research have a clear history of militancy against GM products,” she said.

The pro-GMO document quoted Tom Sanders, who is the Head of Nutrition Research at Kings College in London. It argued that the strain of mice used by the French team is prone to developing tumors by aging, especially when given unlimited food or maize contaminated by a common fungus that causes hormonal imbalance.

Robin Mesnage, who is part of the research team, told Business Line that they had previously evidenced signs of toxicity in the liver and kidneys of rats fed GMO in Monsanto experiments. “We have decided to repeat the experiment, and to go forward with a longer test with additional measurements. We were surprised by tumorigenic effects from the fourth month, which led us to go up to the whole life of the rats (two years),” he said.

“We used rats in the research, and they are talking about mice,” he said, wondering whether the opposite camp had ever read the article in full.

ABLE-AG response

Meanwhile, the Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises has said everyone involved in agri biotech, including academia and industry, are “deeply perturbed by the fallacious ideas being propagated by such studies.”

Quoting the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), it said that an initial review (of the research) found that the design, reporting and analysis of the study, as outlined in the paper, are inadequate.

kurmanath.kanchi@thehindu.co.in

Biodiversity for Human Survival – Amit Sengupta

http://indiacurrentaffairs.org/biodiversity-for-human-survival-amit-sengupta/

THE divide between poor and rich countries in the world can also be roughly mapped into another kind of division – that between gene or biodiversity rich countries and patent rich countries. A major part of the earth’s biological diversity – in the form of different kinds of naturally occurring plants, animals and micro-organisms – are present in the poorer countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. On the other hand, the countries of Europe and North America, while poor in biodiversity, control the use of knowledge to utilise the planet’s biological resources.

CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

This divide underpins the history of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The convention was launched in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and came into force in 1993. 193 countries are signatories to the convention. The United States stands out as one of the handful of countries that has signed but not ratified the convention, meaning that the United States is not bound by its provisions. Among the reasons cited by the US for not ratifying the convention is its ‘fear’ that the convention will interfere with intellectual property rights (including patents) that are held by US citizens and US based corporations.

The CBD has three principal aims: a) conservation of biological diversity; b) sustainable use of the biological resources of the planet; and c) equity in benefit sharing arising from the technological exploitation of biological resources.

The convention was hailed as an important step towards conservation of the planet’s ecology as it was the first occasion, under international law, when it was recognised that biological diversity is a common global heritage and its conservation is a common concern of humankind. The convention is based on the understanding that the biological resources of the planet are finite and are being depleted very rapidly. This is a cause for real concern because every species of plants or animals that gets extinct, erases millions of years of evolutionary history. The very large variety of plants and animals that we see around us sustain the entire ecology of the planet. As more and more species die out, the ecological system of the globe becomes more and more fragile, till a situation is reached where the entire eco-system is destroyed. In spite of the enormous scientific and technological progress that we have made, we still do not have means to replenish biological diversity through artificial means. When a species is lost, it stays lost!

THE CONTRADICTION BETWEEN MAN &NATURE

Human beings, like other plants and animals, are able to satisfy their needs through the utilisation of the resources available. But unlike other living organisms on this planet, human beings are also the first species that not only draws resources from nature but also has the ability to irreversibly change nature in a manner that it desires. There is thus a contradiction between human beings and nature, which has existed since the dawn of human civilization. This contradiction had limited consequences in the early days of human civilization, as nature was so bountiful that it was able to absorb the effect of human intervention, and continue to replenish its biological diversity. However, with growth and development, especially under Capitalism, the ability of nature to continue to maintain its large biodiversity is under sustained threat.

While human intervention shapes nature in a certain way, human beings are still inextricably dependant on nature for its needs. Thus if the contradiction between human beings and nature reaches a tipping point, it would not only lead to an irreversible depletion of diversity, but would then also threaten the very existence of human civilization. The CBD is a recognition that we are fast reaching that tipping point! Not just that – it is only recently that we have woken up to the possibility that a catastrophe awaits us. The term biodiversity itself is a very recent coinage, dating back to the 1980s.

We still have limited data to be able to say how much has been irreversibly lost. We should remember that mass extinction of species have happened several times in the past. Under normal conditions, species do become extinct as a result of evolutionary processes – this is called the ‘background rate’ of extinction. When the rate of extinction of species is double that of this rate, it is assumed that ‘mass extinction’ is underway. It is believed that there have been at least five occasions in the last 600 million years when mass extinction has taken place. All these have been in situations when naturally occurring cataclysmic climate events have led to a drastic change in the earth’s environment. For example it is hypothesised that the mass extinction of dinosaurs – that ruled earth for millions of years (in contrast human beings have been on earth for less than 1,00,000 years) – took place due to one such cataclysmic change, perhaps brought about by earth’s collision with a large asteroid.

What is frightening is that we may be headed for another mass extinction – this time brought on by the consequences of unsustainable exploitation of nature by human beings. Some estimates predict that we could soon see a situation where hundreds of species become extinct ever day – millions of times higher than the background rate. It is even being predicted that more species may become extinct in our lifetime than were lost in the mass extinction that caused the dinosaurs to disappear about 65 million years ago.

The projected acceleration in the loss of biodiversity is, of course, linked to the rapid change in global temperatures and the consequent changes in climate. Biodiversity loss and climate change are very closely linked. For example, the loss of tropical rainforests indicate a loss of tens of thousands of species, and also mean less ‘sinks’ that can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lower global temperatures. On the other hand, rapid warming of the planet makes the environment unsuitable for the survival of a large number of species, leading to their extinction.

SUSTAINABLE EXPLOITATION OF NATURE

The CBD is also premised on an understanding that human beings will need to continue drawing on the planet’s biological resources. It thus argues for sustainable methods of doing so – where human needs are balanced with the need to sustain biodiversity. While such a balance would seem perfectly reasonable, in practical terms it is not easy to implement. Sustainable exploitation of the planet’s biological diversity is impacted upon by the division between rich and poor countries in the globe. The rich countries are those who consume more, but it is the poor countries that are home to a bulk of the world’s biological diversity. Just as we have in the climate change debate, the terrain of biodiversity conservation is a struggle between the rich and the poor countries. The rich do not want to reduce their consumption, but wish to put the burden of conservation on to the poor countries. The poor countries, on the other hand, demand that they be compensated for the cost of such conservation through financial support and through access to technologies that are controlled by the rich countries.

EQUITABLE BENEFIT SHARING AND NAGOYA PROTOCOL

The reflection of the rich versus poor divide in international relations is most clearly seen in the third remit of the CBD – equitable benefit sharing. As we have discussed earlier, a bulk of the world’s biological resources are located in the poor countries. Rich countries and their multinational corporations need access to these resources for their expansion and for generation of profits. Biological resources continue to be the key raw materials necessary for new medicines, for better agricultural products, and for a variety of engineering applications. This form of global inequity produces the phenomenon of ‘bio-piracy’ where corporations from rich countries prospect for biological resources from poor countries (called bio-prospecting), which they then exploit to make new products. Many of these products are sold at profits of billions of dollars, little or none of which is shared with countries from which these resources are taken from. Bio-piracy extends not just to the actual biological resources in the form of plants and animals, but also to knowledge that local peoples and communities hold. This is knowledge that people have nurtured and developed over thousands of years, but which may be stolen by transnational corporations instantly for their benefit and profits. This is why the CBD incorporates the notion of ‘benefit sharing’ meaning that benefits accruing from the utilisation of biological resources in one country (or by a community in a country) should be shared with that country or community.

Benefit sharing requirements need to cover not just plants and animals, but micro-organisms (bacteria and viruses) as well. In 2006, Indonesia caused a stir in international health circles when it refused access to its stock of the Avian Influenza virus. Indonesia’s logic was simple – it wanted firm commitments that vaccine manufacturers would share their profits on the vaccines they develop from biological material (in this case the Avian flu virus). The Indonesian case led to a prolonged impasse and subsequently the hammering out of a virus sharing agreement that is still being fine tuned under the aegis of the World health Organisation (WHO).

Benefit sharing mechanisms become even more difficult to structure when it involves the use of knowledge held by local communities – traditional knowledge – for the development of products such as new medicines, and new plant varieties. For long, corporations have stolen such knowledge to develop their products and to generate huge products for themselves, while not sharing any of this with those who developed and kept this knowledge alive.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation to the Convention on Biological Diversityaims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilisation of biological resources in a fair and equitable way, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding, thereby contributing to the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components. It was adopted in October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan. The Nagoya Protocol, however, has not come into force as it requires at least 50 countries to ratify it. Till date only a handful of countries have ratified the Nagoya Protocol.

THE CARTAGENA PROTOCOL

Another area of contention within the remit of the convention is the issue of genetically modified organisms. Today, a very large portion of knowledge and intellectual property rights related to technologies that are based on modifying living organisms in the laboratory (and thereby producing new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with possible benefits – viz. pest resistant plant varieties) is held by private corporations. There is also a debate within and outside the scientific community regarding precautions that need to be put in place when such GMOs are allowed in agriculture and other industries. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted in January 2000 and entered into force on September 11, 2003.

GLOBAL MEET OF BIODIVERSITY CONVENTION IN HYDERABAD

We have outlined some of the major elements of the discussions in the Convention of Biodiversity. The convention’s governing body is the Conference of the Parties (COP), consisting of all governments (and regional economic integration organisations) that have ratified the treaty. It reviews progress under the convention, identifies new priorities, and sets work plans for members. Hyderabad is hosting the COP-MOP6 (sixth round of discussions on the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety) and COP-11 (11th round of discussions by the Conference of Parties) from October 1-5, 2012 and from October 8-19, 2012.

Coalition condemns Biotech industry attempts to hijack and dilute the CBD MOP6 discussions

PRESS RELEASE

Oct 6, 2012


Coalition
 condemns Biotech industry attempts to hijack and dilute the CBD MOP6 discussions 

MOP exposes real safety concerns of GM crops;

Coalition demands that India should not allow any open-air field trials or release of GM crops. 

A comprehensive Biosafety Law be enacted with strict liability and redress provisions.

                The CBD MOP6, has for once, exposed the Global Biotech industry’s  attempts to sabotage the Supplementary Protocol by attempting to discourage and dissuade parties from ratifying it  and  instead  lobbying nations to adopt the industry sponsored voluntary  compensation mechanism under the Compact.  This follows years of attempts by the Global (and Indian) industry led by Monsanto to assert the supposed safety of genetically modified (GM) crops. The Coalition also deplores the attempts of many members of the agricultural research establishment, both national and international, for toeing the industry line and trying hard to dismiss the real concerns raised by civil society and independent scientists across the world.  The CBD-MOP6 discussions and the various side events exposed these lies in the full glare of public attention. The dangers of GM crops to health, environment and biodiversity occupied centre-stage – as policy-makers, scientists and activists from 193 countries spent 5 days discussing how to ensure bio-safety while dealing with this highly risky technology. The false propaganda of the industry regarding Bt cotton was also exposed in front of the international media during an industry-sponsored field trip. The Bt cotton farmers spoke about bollworm attack and other pest attacks, increased use of pesticides and low yields.

 

The Coalition urges the Government of India to take decisions on this technology, assigning the highest priority to biosafety and to applying the Precautionary Principle, instead of being led by false propaganda from the industry. It reminds the government of the Bt Brinjal moratorium and the events that led to it, the continuing disaster afflicting farmers’ lives by Bt Cotton, and the violations of biosafety happening across the country during various field trials of GM crops. The Indian government has announced that it will ratify the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress, and urged all countries to do the same. So far, 51 countries have signed this protocol, and the ratifications have just begun. This stand from the Indian government should be welcomed. However ratifying is only the first step – the crux is in implementation.

 

“The CBD MOP6 may have concluded, but the real work now has to begin at home.” said Shalini Bhutani, a lawyer working on law and policy issues around agriculture. “Decisions taken at the global level need to be followed through at the national level. This is particularly true with respect to designing a liability and redress (L+R) law for LMOs. The Supplementary Protocol on L+R requires countries to provide for L+R with respect to LMOs in their domestic laws.”  She warned against letting the TNC-designed ‘Compact’ from pre-empting any legislative measures by countries on this critical subject.

 

“We are disappointed with the reluctance of the government to adopt a Biosafety Protection Law. Besides spending hundreds of crores in organizing the CBD COP & MOP, India is taking over the presiding role in the Convention on Biological Diversity for the next two years. It must therefore show real commitment to biodiversity conservation. It should fulfill its minimum responsibility to enact a National Biosafety Act which ensures practical implementation of all the commitments under the various Protocols that it is ratifying.  It should immediately ban all field trials of GM crops, as strongly recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener,  Coalition for GM Free India.

 

Amongst the 18 decisions adopted at the MOP6, the decision to establish an ad-hoc technical expert group (AHTEG) on socio-economic considerations is of particular interest to India. “We welcome the fact that socio-economic considerations have been given recognition by forming a Technical Group of 40 representatives to thoroughly examine the socio-economic implications of GM crops.” added Kiran Kumar Vissa, Convener, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).  “As we have always argued, GM  crops should be looked at not only through the lens  of technology  but  its  socio-economic consequences should be seriously examined  – including issues of impact on small farmers, their control and access to seed, impact on the costs and risks of cultivation, corporate control of seed sector, implications of proprietary rights over life forms, etc.” he said. This process should be truly participatory with proper representation of farmers’ organizations and civil society groups. Countries like the US have stayed resistant to this as they approach LMOs merely as a trade issue. “In a country like India the lives and livelihoods of several thousand people, especially tribal and  local  communities and small-marginal farmers, have to be considered when taking decisions about any application of potentially hazardous technologies. Infact, the safer alternatives that have now been clearly demonstrated through organic farming, non-pesticidal management etc, have to be considered before opting for this unnecessary risk of GM crops” said Dr Ramanjaneyelu, Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

 

Another substantive issue which arose from the Programme of Work of the COP-MOP and previous decisions is regarding developing guidance for parties on risk assessment. India’s claim to have established a mechanism for conducting risk assessments prior to taking decisions regarding LMOs is unacceptable, as the real experience on the ground and submissions in the ongoing PIL in the Supreme Court have pointed to the egregious gaps in the regulatory regime in India, which will need to be addressed.
It is deplorable that some European nations also showed great resistance to the requirement of “Identification” where any package containing Living Modified Organism(LMO) will be clearly identified for handling and transport. This shows the hypocrisy and manipulation by these governments backed by the biotech industry; having acknowledged the risks of Living Modified Organisms and evolving an entire Protocol for biosafety, identification and labeling of LMOs should be the very first step.

 

The MOP6 also saw the continuing influence of big biotech industry lobby spending millions of dollars to be present in the Convention simply to weaken the protocols, the continuing influence from strong non-parties like the US and the resistance from some European countries in strengthening the implementation of the protocol, the delay in most countries in ratifying the protocols, the lack of sufficient budget for capacity-building and ensuring the implementation of the protocols in the member countries after ratification. The Coalition calls for all countries to ratify the Supplementary Protocol and, implement strict biosafey laws.  The Coalition also raised serious concerns about the apathy among global leader nations to contribute towards ensuring adequate financial resources for the implementation of the world’s biosafety protocols and decisions related to them.

 

What Indian national and state governments should do

 

We demand that the Indian national and state governments should treat the CBD conference and the MOP6 as the beginning of a new phase where Bio-safety will be given highest priority while dealing with GM crops.

 

Specific demands:

(1)    Indian government should enact a comprehensive National Biosafety Protection Law to address the risks posed by Genetic Engineering technology. Any future consideration of release of GM crops should be only after such a biosafety regime based on precautionary principles, complete consideration of socio-economic realities and strict liability and redress is implemented. TheBiotechnology Regulatory Authority of India(BRAI) bill should be discarded completely, as it violates the key commitments being made by India under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and its Supplementary Protocol.

(2)    All open-air field trials of GM crops constitute an “environmental release”, and should be stopped forthwith, as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture.

(3)    No GM research and development should be allowed on crops in their centre of diversity, especially for important food crops. This applies to rice, brinjal, jowar, red gram, brinjal and so on. Indian diploid (desi) cotton varieties should be protected from GM, and non-GM development should be taken up.

(4)    Comprehensive process to assess the socio-economic implications of GM crops should be initiated in India, in light of the formation of the Technical Expert Group in MOP6.

(5)    The Department of Biotechnology and its association with Biotechnology Consortium India Limited (BCIL) should immediately stop funding and facilitating the development of this risky technology of GM crops and focus more on capacity-building about the risks of the technology.

 

Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener, Coalition for GM Free India: 09995358205, mail.thanal@gmail.com

Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture: 09000699702, ramoo.csa@gmail.com

Kirankumar Vissa, co-convenor, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA):   09701705743, kiranvissa@gmail.com

CBD: MOP6 Negotiations and Actions

  • No shortcuts to biosafety, says India
    Science-based mechanism needed to assess impact of biotechnology, says Jayanthi at inaugural session of Convention on Biological Diversity
    01 Oct 2012 | 6:00PM

Genetic wealth belongs to people

The Government of India has been vocal at the CBD fora asking for a legally binding international regime on access and benefit-sharing. The doublespeak is that in its national law – the BD Act, it merely asks for consultation with ‘benefit claimers’. The BD Act does not ask for the full prior informed consent (PIC) of India’s people.

India is host to mega biological diversity. The Government of India (GoI) is to host a mega gathering of the international convention on this subject – the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in Hyderabad in October this year. It is at the CBD table that the world community attempts agreements on conservation.

While the CBD affirms that conservation of biological diversity is a ‘common concern of humankind’, it makes clear that biological resources are not global common goods! On the contrary it lays down that States have sovereign rights over their biological resources. Thereby sovereign states are meant to have original authority on biological resources in their territorial jurisdiction. Being in a state of sovereignty implies that the state administers its own governance. At the local level it translates into not being dependent upon, or subject to, either another power or external forces.

This sovereignty principle was required to check the use of local resources sans any acknowledgement of the host country’s people, or without either taking their permission or sharing benefits with the biodiversity-keepers and knowledge-holders – the indigenous and local communities. That is why the member countries of the CBD also negotiated rules under the Convention for access and benefit-sharing (ABS), which spell out the terms and conditions to legalise the ‘give-and-take’.
The Convention on Biological Diversity was meant to settle any confusion about whom this living genetic matter belongs to. To the people. Yet national laws and policies in many countries, including India, fail to address this very real question.

The sovereignty principle of CBD in no way means that governments or any state agencies can unilaterally take decisions about how local resources and related know-how of them ought to be used. Thus national gene banks, agricultural universities and any biodiversity functionaries have to hold and treat the genetic material in trust on behalf of the people. The Convention was meant to settle any confusion about whom this living genetic matter belongs to. To the people. Yet national laws and policies in many countries, including India, fail to address this very real question.

The Indian Parliament passed a law in 2002 – the Biological Diversity (BD) Act, to give effect to the CBD in domestic space. But it does not make any declaration whatsoever on the legal status of people’s resources or their everyday know-how related to the biological world. It ought to have unambiguously spelled out very clearly that the biological resources and related people’s knowledge are all a collective heritage. The CBD principle does not in any way give the Parliament or the Executive the power to define the legal status of these resources. Thus lawmakers, government bureaucrats or for that matter even formal scientists are not to define people’s relations with biological resources and knowledge, but they have to give due recognition to the pre-existing traditional relations of people’s with their local biological world.

The express silence in legal texts and policy statements is giving the public sector too much freeway to do as they please with this treasure. This is misuse of national sovereign power and abuse of representative democracy. Matters are made worse instead by clearly defined legal rules of intellectual property (IP). What IP laws, such as those for patents or plant variety protection (PVP), do is to clearly define the rights of the IP-holder. Therein again is ambiguity about legal freedoms for the original knowledge-holders. The number of PVP applications before the current PVP Authority in India shows maximum number being filed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and agricultural universities under it. (See story: “Protecting Oryza in Odisha” http://www.mylaw.net/Article/Protecting_Oryza_in_Odisha/ ) The PVP-protected varieties become public sector property for the term of the IP. This has also given ICAR the arrogance to treat national collections as their private property. (See story: “India Institute seeks expertise in global seed business” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303360504577411540343437830.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#articleTabs%3Darticle )

The NARES in India races along to fill out such IP claims. The farmers who were the first to invent local varieties, rather than the first to file before the Authority are falling behind. Based on this politics, even the time period within which local small traditional growers can file for such IP protection under the category of ‘farmers’ varieties’ has been restricted for five years (2009-2013). This puts an expiry date on farmers’ creativity! All this also comes in the way of realising people’s sovereignty over their living resources.

India is a key country in the CBD. Not only as host, but also a country that has the capacity to give global leadership on these contentious issues on the strength of the bio-cultural ethos of its people. The GoI has also been a strong voice at the CBD fora asking for a legally binding international regime on access and benefit-sharing. The doublespeak is that in its national law – the BD Act, it merely asks for consultation with ‘benefit claimers’. The BD Act does not ask for the full prior informed consent (PIC) of India’s people. The experience in the last eight years of the Act, since the Rules (2004) were notified is that the procedures for even just consultation are rarely followed. The oft mentioned case in this context of an Indian agricultural university passing on genetic material to a US MNC for the development of genetically engineered brinjal, without any due procedure or consultation, elaborates the point. In this way at home the regulatory regime is not fully complying with the CBD that the GoI so loudly defends outside.
Philippines is already a country remembered as the first amongst biodiversity-rich ‘developing’ countries to issue a bioprospecting and benefit-sharing regulation – the Executive Order 247. That order issued in May 1995 expressly mentioned that “wildlife, flora and fauna, among others, are owned by the State”.

Last year in Asia the Republic of Philippines made a first. On 25th May 2011, by a Proclamation No.78, the President of the Philippines declared the years 2011 to 2020 as the National Decade on Biodiversity in the Philippines. President Benigno S. Aquino III saw the opportunity to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity and promote actions at the national, provincial, and local levels to conserve and sustainably manage the nation’s rich natural heritage. By the Proclamation “(a)ll branches and agencies of the Government, including, but not limited to, commissions, national government agencies, local government units, state universities and colleges, government-owned and-controlled corporations, in cooperation with the private sectors of society, community organisations, and non-government organisations, are hereby enjoined to initiate activities to promote the Biodiversity Decade”. Philippines is already a country remembered as the first amongst biodiversity-rich ‘developing’ countries to issue a bioprospecting and benefit-sharing regulation – the Executive Order 247. That order issued in May 1995 expressly mentioned that “wildlife, flora and fauna, among others, are owned by the State”.

The term ‘state’ implies the whole body of people who are united under one government, whatever be the form of their government. In other words biological diversity is a collective national heritage. It follows that neither can the government begin to stake its claims on it (just as the NARES in India is doing by seeking plant variety registration over crop varieties developed by public sector breeders), nor can laws of private property and commercial interest (such as patent legislation that permit corporations to in effect own genes and living material).

In another South Asian country – Bangladesh, the draft Biodiversity and Community Knowledge Protection Act, in Article 6 articulates the CBD principle of sovereign rights over biological resources to mean belonging in perpetuity to the people of Bangladesh and held for past, present and future members of the country. That is why perhaps the Act stays as a draft! The ASEAN Framework Agreement was designed to require not only the active involvement of local communities but also insisted respect for their customary laws, practices and protocols. In Costa Rica, while the domestic law describes the content of the PIC. It also requires full discussions with the local indigenous communities prior to any access. When in Brazil there was a proposal for a constitutional amendment to make all genetic resources part of the national and cultural heritage, peoples raised their voice to have that clearly subject to their claims. For governments often hide behind rhetoric of national heritage to do as they please in supposed ‘public interest’. For people the state of being sovereign has to be constantly negotiated, struggled for and practised everyday.

The President is the Head of State of the Republic of India. Executive power of the Union is vested in the President. It implies that the President’s office has all the powers of the Central Government. Therefore, if and when the GoI is not clearing the air on these vital matters, the Head of the State ought to step in. While one part of GoI takes centre-stage on biodiversity and organises celebrations on World Biodiversity Day (22nd May), outside the hall its other functionaries can not be allowed to hold an exhibition-cum-sale of those very resources. The curtain has to fall on this. It is therefore only fitting that a clearly worded declaration of Indian people’s sovereignty over their biological resources, come from that high office. That would be a fitting finale by Her Excellency the President of India to these debates. The nation, rather the nation’s people, needs closure to this high drama by due recognition of people’s biodiversity sovereignty.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Shalini Bhutani  |  emailsbhutani@gmail.com

Shalini is a lawyer and works on issues of trade, agriculture and biodiversity.

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