The universal standardization of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) over Plant Genetic Resources (PGR). ~ Carrie Stiles

Adult Portraits

Currently, 75% of the world’s poorest 1.2 billion people inhabit rural areas and rely on small-scale farming for their livelihoods (Andersen, 2006, p. 4).

There are at least 300 million indigenous peoples living in over 70 countries, the majority of whom live in poverty ( International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Indigenous peoples in poor countries are heavily dependent on seeds increasingly controlled by developing countries through the universal standardization of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) over Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) (Fowler et al., 2001).

IPR regimes are a common topic of debate, in a large body of literature, spanning several fields including: ecology,

  • environmental science
  • political science
  • international studies
  • ethnobotany
  • anthropology

IPR regimes operate through a vast network consisting of various treaties, rules, institutions, interests and relationships. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and developed countries are the main advocates of IPR regimes.


The United States (US) has been a key proponent and leader in promoting intellectual property protection  in agriculture (Shiva, 2005).

Primarily, IPRs over PGR restrict indigenous farmers access to seeds and criminalize the traditional practice of seed saving. IPR regimes promote the commercialization of PGR for food and agriculture. IPR regimes seek to govern over PGR by promoting the rights of the biotechnology industry and transgenic seed corporations to expand private sector IPRs.

The agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is at the center of debates pertaining to the negative impacts of the universal standardization of life form patenting.

TRIPs require member states in the WTO to conform their IPR legislation, regulations and procedures to universalize life form patenting of PGR or be subjected to sanctions (Godbole-Chaudhuri, Srikantaiah & Van Fleet, 2008). Patents on PGR have proliferated exponentially since the establishment of the TRIPS regime.

Life patents over PGR have had different socio-cultural, ecological and economic impacts including: criminalization of the traditionally pivotal practice of seed, the restriction of farmer’s access to seed, the emergence of the phenomenon known as biopiracy and the increased erosion of biodiversity and IK.


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