chapter  6
24 Pages

TRIPS and the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources –

ByRobert J L Lettington

Agriculture was almost without doubt the world’s first example of globalization. The principles of cultivation and domestication spread from no more than eight or ten centres of origin and the world’s major crops and livestock from a similar number of centres of origin. This process began some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago and still continues today through the mechanisms of crop and livestock improvement. Private and community initiatives probably constitute the bulk of activity in this field with up to 80 per cent of the population of the developing world engaged in farming and the majority of these farmers employing some form of conservation and improvement techniques regarding their crops and livestock. The products of these initiatives are distributed informally at the local level, and until recently have also travelled globally by similar means, with exchange between scientists and institutions also being informal more often than not. However, in the last 30 to 40 years public research has become the main vehicle for the transmission of agricultural developments around the world. In the last 10 to 20 years the private sector has undergone dramatic concentration and at the same time begun to eclipse the public sector. Unlike the public sector, the private sector is driven by a proximate profit motive.2

Producing a single product with the widest possible application, and ideally limiting the source of that product to a single company generally captures maximum profits for that single company. However, homogenization in agriculture undermines the diversity that ensures its continued vitality, and