The morning after Leipzig
Keywords:  Germplasm conservation; Access to genetic resources; Intellectual property rights.
Correct citation: nn. (1996), "Editorial: The morning after Leipzig." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 28, p. 2-3.

In Leipzig, during the Fourth International Technical Conference for Plant Genetic Resources, 148 states and 54 organizations fought over the final Declaration. Most of the wording of the Leipzig Declaration is, to put it mildly, careful.

Many obvious matters were acknowledged, such as the material and non-material value of plant genetic resources, the rapid degeneration of these in situ or ex situ conserved resources, and the inadequate national capacities for conservation. These acknowledgements, however, are the absolute minimum that can be expected!

The inattentive reader of the Declaration might not recognize the snakes in the grass. Take, for instance, a closer look at the concept of the recognition of sovereign rights of states. The Declarationís wording seems to recognize sovereign rights of the states on whose territory the germplasm is stored, irrespective of its origin. Although it is acknowledged that most developing countries lack adequate long-term storage facilities, many of these countries find it unacceptable to use storage capacity in existing genebanks, mostly located in industrialized countries, if this implies that the sovereign rights of the country of origin over its genetic resources would no longer be recognized. Additionally, the transfer of technology that developing countries expect in return for their contribution to ex situ collections will only take place under conditions set by industrialized countries. That the outcome of the Leipzig Conference is not what some of the developing countries expected becomes clear in the contributions of Nemoga-Soto and Solleiro in this Monitor issue.

The attentive reader might also observe that there is no mention of farmersí rights in the Leipzig Declaration. This is largely due to the sensitivity of the subject and to the problems of definition. Some countries did not want to classify it as a right at all, while others did not see Leipzig as the right occasion to discuss the issue. In short: confusion everywhere. In this Monitor issue, Butler and Pistorius try to find a way out of this farmersí rights labyrinth.

The success for developing countries will, however, not so much depend on a favourable compromise on the wording of the Leipzig Declaration. More important will be the willingness of all FAO member countries to translate the agreed Global Plan of Action, which formulates guidelines for future execution of the principles of the Leipzig Declaration, into practical strategies. Additionally they will have the difficult task of integrating these strategies with the plans developed by the Conference of Parties under the Biodiversity Convention.
Another problem results from the time lag between different international agreements. Originally, national sovereignty over genetic resources and farmersí rights appeared on the international agenda as a reaction to the strengthening of the protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in agriculture. On IPRs, international agreement was reached under aegis of GATT/WTO already in 1994. Therefore, the delay in international agreement on national sovereignty and farmersí rights is likely to result in a fast growing time lag between the settlement of the rights of the original providers of genetic material and the agreements on property rights of the seed industry.

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