New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Chapter 3: The uses of biological resources
In this chapter I will examine the means by which plant genetic resources for food and agriculture have been utilized for human benefit, focusing on biotechnology and its significance for plant diversity, including PGRFA. Biotechnology is the enabling factor in developing new crop varieties in a relatively short space of time and with specific, desired characteristics. It has also provided the means by which physical control of these varieties can be ensured, supported by the necessary legal framework. These factors have, to a large extent, contributed to the current conflict over the acquisition and subsequent propertization of the natural resources that often form the raw material of this technology. I will provide a background to these developments, placing in context the use of biotechnology in regard to PGRFA. I will also consider the past impacts of agricultural biotechnology on developing countries (citing the Green Revolution as an illustration), in order to explain the current concerns regarding possible future impacts in this area, which include the methods by which the raw material for this technology is appropriated and the consequent implications for developing countries. This will provide the context for the debate on PGRFA in international fora. Throughout human history people have exploited and used the earth’s natural resources for survival and sustenance. In the process they have also adapted and modified many naturally occurring species to produce new varieties of plants and livestock, primarily for agriculture.1 Traditionally, this process was conducted by trial and error, over a period of time.
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