‘That plant is my ancestor’: dilemmas for intellectual property in developing countries, food security and Pacific Island countries
The global significance of intellectual property laws is familiar to most of those interested in this area of law. What might be less familiar is the impact of intellectual property on the issue of food security in developing countries. This paper considers the consequences of factors such as TRIPS-plus compliance imposed on recent entrants to the World Trade Organization and the role and impact of patents and sui generis means of protecting plant breeders' rights on food security in developing countries. In particular the paper focuses on examples drawn from the Pacific where island countries are not only considering WTO membership or have recently signed up to this and incurred consequent IP obligations, but where food security is increasingly under pressure due to climate change, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, shifts in agricultural practice and knowledge transfer, changing socio-economic patterns and the consequences of the global economic crisis. This is also a region where Western models of IP, although prevalent as introduced and imposed concepts, being a legacy of a colonial past, fit uneasily with forms and practices of indigenous traditional knowledge, and where local initiatives may be better suited to ensuring sustainability of food crops than the present thrust of neo-colonial IP laws.