Biological Transfer Agreements and environmental governance: implications for biotechnological research
Global and European Studies Institute University of Leipzig Leipzig, Germany
The rise of a transnational knowledge society will reconfigure questions of environmental governance in the 21st century. One key aspect of this is profit oriented pharmaceutical research that addresses consumerist demands in the developed world, but draws upon the knowledge of forest/desert based indigenous people, as for example, the use of South African San tribe's knowledge of the hunger suppressing properties of the Hoodia plant by Pfizer to create appetite suppressing drugs. Current environmental governance policy for indigenous people is based on a compensatory model such as benefit sharing agreements However, there is little empirical evidence on how benefit sharing agreements actually work out. This is what my paper will address through a case study of a benefit sharing agreement between industry, research institutions and tribal communities on the "arogyapacha" (Trichopus zeylanicus spp. travancoricus. (Trichopodaceae) a drug based on the traditional knowledge of the Kani tribe of Kerala, a southern Indian state. The paper will demonstrate how bitter disputes around this agreement - hailed as a model benefit sharing accord - raise broader questions of sustainability, the protection of bio diversity and environmental democracy.
The central issue is the gap between the Western concept of intellectual property where knowledge is a patentable commodity and the indigenous paradigm where knowledge cannot be easily propertised. These differing conceptions of the propertisation of knowledge, rooted in cultural rather than legal frameworks, pose a global environmental governance problem that has implications for European bio technological research. Based on empirical evidence from the "arogyapacha" case, this paper will demonstrate how the interaction of a transnational global knowledge society with indigenous people raises questions of sovereignty, environmental justice, and the ownership of knowledge. It will show how the structure, scope, and boundaries of existing legal and policy frameworks on environmental governance are being constantly challenged. It also shows how the legal, and mostly Western, regime of intellectual property reconfigures the very notion of community, citizenship and identity for forest based indigenous people and how this has deep implications for the preservation of biodiversity and the participation of indigenous people in a transnational knowledge society.