The nitty gritty of ABS explained

There’s an update on the nitrogen-fixing maize goop story that we blogged about a few months back. It’s from YaleEnvironment360, so you know it’s going to be good.

A Mars subsidiary called BioN2 had signed an agreement with a village to share financial benefits from the maize’s commercialization. That village turned out to be Totontepec, a Mixe indigenous community in the mountains of eastern Oaxaca… The UC Davis/Mars researchers received a certificate of compliance with the Nagoya Protocol, an international agreement aimed at compensating indigenous communities for their biological resources and traditional knowledge.

Sounds good, right? But questions remain.

Still, the situation surrounding Totontepec’s maize raises complex questions about how indigenous communities equitably benefit when research scientists and multinational corporations commercialize local crops and plants. Should Totontepec’s maize turn out to be a miracle, self-fertilizing crop whose genetic traits can be replicated worldwide, will the community’s Mixe people receive a significant long-term share of profits, which could potentially number in the millions of dollars? How does Nagoya ensure that the rights and interests of small indigenous communities are safeguarded when their leaders negotiate complex deals with international lawyers and executives? And, not least, when a valuable plant is found throughout a region, is it fair for a single village such as Totontepec to reap financial benefits from its maize while neighboring communities with identical or similar maize receive nothing?

These questions, and others, are discussed in the article, which is really a model of its kind, courtesy of Martha Pskowski.

2 Replies to “The nitty gritty of ABS explained”

  1. The Nagoya Protocol is supposed to support the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity which include the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity (in addition to the fair and equitable sharing of benefits…). The article rightly notes many challenges, that olotón is grown in more communities (and countries) than the one that has the agreement, the lack of transparency in the contractual arrangement (when the NP is designed to promote transparency), possible restrictions on access and exchange from future IP rights. But what about the possible impacts of this agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity? This does not receive any mention. If ABS is meant to be a means to incentivize the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity — where is this safeguarded in such arrangements? Widespread commercialization potentially leads to increased uniformity — if so, even if ABS were to generate substantial benefits, it is antithetical to the other objectives of the treaty. So where are the safeguards for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity?

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