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Genetic Resources Action International

   GRAIN is one of the most active international groups working to support the rights of local innovators, plant breeders and farmers. It leads in providing information and stimulating awareness of the plight of local farmers and has tirelessly worked to support the conservation of land races and traditional varieties of crop plants threatened by globalization.   - DAP

Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) is an international non-profit NGO, working to promote the sustainable conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people’s control over genetic resources and local knowledge. GRAIN serves as an informal facilitating mechanism linking groups and individuals from around the world.

   Its activities include monitoring the latest developments in biotechnology, the seed industry and intellectual property rights legislation, and examining the implications of these issues for developing countries.  GRAIN also works to promote and strengthen grassroots conservation projects, particularly in the Third World. Through campaigning and lobbying of international bodies, GRAIN seeks to ensure that global legal arrangements on biodiversity and intellectual property schemes will promote sustainable development. It is concerned that current intellectual property schemes harm such development and it promotes alternatives that ensure the rights of local and indigenous communities. Seedling is its quarterly newsletter, which provides a forum for the exchange of news and analysis. GRAIN also edits Biodiversidad, a newsletter in Spanish for Latin America. Other publications include a range of books and occasional reports on new developments.     

    ‘One of the problems highlighted by indigenous peoples is the risk of uniform legal solutions being imposed on what are very diverse local social and political realities. The needs of peasant communities struggling to retain control of their seedstock may differ in important ways from indigenous communities trying to prevent the commercialisation of sacred herblore, and will differ again from other indigenous communities trying to assert some kind of copyright over traditional designs produced for the tourist market. Uniform national legislation and, worse still, intergovernmentally imposed international laws (for example under GATT) may thus both pose serious problems to indigenous communities.’ 

From: Colchester, M. 1994. Towards indigenous intellectual property rights. Seedling 11(4):2-6.


  • Henk Hobbelink, GRAIN Secretariat, Girona 25, pral. E-08010 Barcelona, Spain;  Tel. +34.3.3011381, Fax +34.3.3011627, e-mail grain@gn.apc.org


Working Group on Traditional Resource

    WGTRR, led by Darrell Posey, aims to provide practical help to indigenous peoples to negotiate their own course between imposed visions of progress and  noble savagery, as formulated by dominant cultures.   - THE . 

    The Working Group on Traditional Intellectual, Cultural and Scientific Resource Rights (or more simply the Working Group on Traditional Resource Rights) came into being as the result of a growing awareness of the need to formalize a global coalition of people working for the common interests of protecting the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and those living in traditional and local communities. It was initiated in 1990 by the Global Coalition for Biological and Cultural Diversity, and since then it has held several seminars on IPR for indigenous peoples. A database and mailing list of over 1000 individuals and organizations working for the recognition and protection of traditional resource rights has been set up, and its growing library is currently being cataloged. Its members have worked on two publications. 

    Beyond Intellectual Property Rights: Protection, Compensation and Community Empowerment, published by WWF International and IDRC in 1995, is a reference book for indigenous, traditional and local communities, or those working with them. The first part of the handbook is framed around a series of questions that any community might ask when a visitor arrives, such as who the visitor might be, their purpose in coming, the benefits of the visit to the community, and what rights and control the community might have over the visitor’s activities. The second part of the book offers practical advice on ways in which a community can proceed to protect its property and rights. The book concludes with an appendix containing the text of relevant international declarations and statements. Copies may be ordered from World Wide Fund for Nature International, Avenue du Mont-Blanc, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland; or International Development Research Centre Books, PO Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario K1G 3H9, Canada. 

    Indigenous Peoples, Traditional Technologies and Equitable Sharing: International Instruments for the Protection of Community Intellectual Property and Traditional Resource Rights, a paper written in 1995 for the IUCN, looks at the potential of IPR and related tools for equitable sharing of benefits as provided for in the working of the Convention on Biological Diversity. A copy may be ordered from IUCN, rue Mauverney 28, CH-1196, Gland, Switzerland. 

    ‘The term Traditional Resource Rights (TRR) has emerged to define the many “bundles of rights” that can be utilized for protection, compensation and conservation. The change reflects an attempt to build upon the concept of IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] protection and compensation, while recognizing that traditional resources - both tangible and intangible - are also covered under a significant number of other international agreements.  

    The term “property” was dropped, since property for indigenous peoples frequently has intangible, spiritual manifestations, and, although worthy of protection, can belong to no human being. Privatization or commoditization of these are not only foreign, but incomprehensible or even unthinkable. 

    Nonetheless, indigenous and traditional communities are increasingly involved in market economies and, like it or not, are seeing an ever-growing number of their resources traded in those markets.’ 

Source: From: Posey, D.A., G. Dutfield and K. Plenderleith. 1995. Collaborative research and intellectual property rights. Biodiversity Conservation 4: 892-902


Kristina Plenderleith,  Working Group on Traditional Resource Rights,  Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society, Mansfield College, University of Oxford, Oxford,  OX1 3TF, UK; Tel./Fax +44.1865.284665,  e-mail wgtrr.ocees@mansfield.oxford.ac.uk


The Crucible Group

    Before getting buried in the quickly growing literature on intellectual property rights, take the time to go through the Crucible Group’s People, Plants, and Patents. In an easy-to-read style, it gives a succinct description of current policies on protecting plant genetic resources, and provides some well-considered recommendations.   - GJM

    The Crucible Group was formed to examine the impact of intellectual property rights (IPR) on farmers, rural society and biodiversity. The group consists of 28 participants from the developed and developing world, including agricultural research scientists, science managers, intellectual property specialists, trade diplomats and agricultural policy analysts. It is managed by a committee comprising IDRC (International Development Research Centre), RAFI (Rural Advancement Foundation International), SAREC (Swedish Agency for Research and Cooperation with Developing Countries), DGIS (Directorate General for International Cooperation, The Netherlands), SDC (Swiss Development Corporation) and IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute). 

    The results of the group’s study into IPR legislation were published as People, Plants, and Patents: The Impact of Intellectual Property on Trade, Plant Biodiversity, and Rural Society. This book gives an overview of the major issues and of the range of policy alternatives, along with consensus recommendations. Follow-up discussions on the issues identified in the report have been held at international meetings. The group continues to monitor trends in intellectual property, while offering advice to governments and organizations on policy issues. A new initiative focusing on alternative legislation on IPR is underway within the Crucible project, coordinated by RAFI. Important elements of this are the production of a newsletter, and the preparation of discussion papers on issues related to people, plants and patents. The newsletter, first issued in October 1995, reports on developments in the field of intellectual property rights. 


  • Geoffrey Hawtin, Chairman,  The Crucible Group, IPGRI, Via delle Sette Chiese 142 , 00145 Rome, Italy; Tel. +39.6.5189214, Fax +39.6.5750309,  e-mail g.hawtin@cgnet.com

A crucible is a boiling pot used to distill diverse elements. Thus, the title was thought appropriate for an informal group of diverse individuals who could be charged with the task of distilling viewpoints and recommendations on these issues.


    ‘Although the Crucible Group fully recognizes that the protection of species and ecosystems is a powerful moral obligation, we also know that any sound conservation strategy must correspond with the interests of the people who depend upon diversity most immediately.  

    Conservation programs that meet the needs of these people have a good chance of working, and we ignore this fact at our peril. Artificial barriers between conservation and sustainable utilization must be broken down. Rural communities use diversity because they need to. To them, diversity means choices and opportunities. Acknowledged and empowered, rural communities are arguably the most effective, efficient and economic conservers of biological diversity.’ 

From: The Crucible Group. 1994. People, Plants, and Patents: The Impact of Intellectual Property on Trade, Plant Biodiversity, and Rural Society. International Development Research Centre, Ottawa.  


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