Biopiracy: The fight for fairness in the scientific exploitation of natural resources

© Pablo Cozzaglio, AFP

Countries from the Global South are demanding that wealthy nations share the benefits of the biological resources extracted from their lands that are then used for medical, agricultural or industrial purposes. Known as “biopiracy”, the issue is a major roadblock at the UN’s COP15 talks on biodiversity.

In 2016, Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva spoke at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, explaining the problematic practice of seed patenting in layman’s terms.

“A patent is a right of an inventor to exclude anyone else from making, using, selling, distributing what is invented. The problem is that, when it comes to seed, seed is not an invention,” she said, going on to explain that seeds had been exchanged long before the arrival of patents.

“But then you come to me and you take the seed. And then you patent it and say, ‘I created it and now you pay me royalties.’ That’s biopiracy.”

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Natural resources like seeds, plants, animals and even chemical compounds found in bioresource-rich countries have long been extracted by wealthy nations during periods of colonisation, when empires would steal from the territories they occupied.

COP15 ends on the 19 of December, when negotiators will have to come to a common agreement.

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