Biopiracy in Córdoba: the battle for the weeds

Biopiracy in Córdoba: the battle for the weeds

"The people of Cordoba, we do not know the value of the species that make up our agricultural and wild biodiversity: If we want to know what natural resources we have, the research must start from our needs to manage this knowledge strategically", says Stella Maris Luque.

Stella Maris Luque, researcher and professor at the National University of Córdoba, states that “German, Canadian and North American institutions, laboratories and companies carry out surveys of native flora and fauna and, on a sustained basis, financially tempt Cordovan researchers for their biopiracy work . It is a habitual practice ”, affirms.

Thus, cases are beginning to be documented in which large multinational consortiums extract - without attending to any legal criteria or international agreement - samples of soils, plants, fungi, water and insects that later, they process in their laboratories, and serve to produce new enzymes, proteins , materials and substances.

Battle for the weeds

Pennyroyal, wormwood, carob, thyme, aloe and other species are used to relieve pain and calm diseases. The conventional view of seeing only soils and wood in forests has changed; our mountains are true natural laboratories, living pharmacies and unclassified libraries.

Barks, roots, stems, flowers, leaves, fruits and seeds are used in infusions, vapors and syrups. Gums, gelatins, lipids, juices, stimulants, tannins, oils, resins, balsams, enzymes and vitamins are extracted from them, as well as tinctures, foods and medicinal wines.

Perhaps our peasants and mountain people are sitting on a golden bench, without knowing it. It is that genetic resources are not seen, but they are there and it is estimated that 80% of the rural population makes use of medicinal plants and resources of traditional medicine (see here).

"But the lack of studies to identify and register all the species in our provincial territory, make it become an open chest for biopiracy, because we do not even know that some researchers and institutions are dispatching to their laboratories abroad"

"Although there is a criterion that nature cannot be patented, in the United States there is a tendency to register everything and, if necessary, they appeal to smuggling wild species," say experts on the subject.

It is that now even the genes are registered. The statistics are staggering: an estimated 25% of the medicines sold in the United States come from compounds extracted from 40 plants and that, so far, only 1% of the 250,000 known species of flora in the world have been studied .

If it's Bayer ...

Dr. Cristina del Campo, former head of the legal department of the Córdoba Ambiente Agency, comments that in November 1999, Customs detected an illegal shipment of cacti protected by Bayer pharmaceutical industry wrappers at the airport in our city. The shipment was destined for Italy and was sent by a researcher from the Faculty of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of the National University of Córdoba.

The ex-civil servant, testifies that the province had to invest a lot of money to reimplant the specimens that they tried to illegally remove from the country, after which, she adds that “Many agreements and research agreements between Institutions of our province and international organizations generate an open field for the looting of our natural resources ”. The lawyer says: "Researchers, I think, are not aware of this danger when they collaborate on these projects."

While this was happening in our province, the kidnapping of a Peruvian plant by the Japanese government, of great use and little known, caused a scandal in the media in that country. Yacón, a plant native to the Andes and a relative of the sunflower, has a sweet taste but is not fattening, so this vegetable could supplant crops such as sugar cane.

Seeing this huge potential market, the Japanese researched and patented derivatives of that plant for more than a decade. At the beginning of this year, when the Yacón scandal was troubling, FAO was working to appeal, legally, the patenting of a variety of a Mexican cereal by a US seed company.

Captain Hook

The problem is global. Such looting of the natural and genetic heritage in underdeveloped countries led Malaysia, cornered by biopiracy, to establish the awarding of the "Captain Hook" awards, which publicly denounced the main responsible for this spurious trade (see here). Who is monopolizing their genes or patenting their plants? They ask.

They no longer need to extract tons of plants. Now a whole plant can be regenerated from a small leaf. A tiny leaf is enough to know all its composition and rebuild the complete vegetable. Therefore, the urgency to protect our biological rights. "We need to invest in germplasm banks and make inventories of what we have," argue the specialists, because entire ecosystems are under the voracity of foreign merchants who find unsuspecting accomplices in our Universities and Science Centers.

"They do not bring glass mirrors, but subsidies for our afflicted researchers, and with it, they manipulate their work and knowledge"

The biologist Stella Maris Luque, recalls that in a Biodiversity Meeting held in Córdoba, the Royal Botanical Garden of Kew, presented a proposal to a group of teachers and researchers from the University, offering them technical training, means of mobility, and financial resources.

“It is very tempting because we have scarce resources,” he acknowledges and then explains that: “We are doing the defense of our biodiversity, water, and energy resources with very low subsidies and, through these external financing, we can buy a car. for our investigations in the field or some computer for the Faculty ”. However, he warns that "We must be vigilant and put a stop to this because, covertly, they meddle in the management of our resources." In return, says the researcher, “We have to give a list of species and let them intervene in the management of the varieties and the germplasm that they take from the natural systems of Córdoba. It is to come and put your hand in our natural heritage, that's why we said no, despite our shortcomings, ”says the biologist.

The English botanical institute, which made the proposal, receives more than 2,500 packets of seeds from all over the world a year. A naturalist claims that the Royal Botanical Garden unceremoniously plunders the entire planet.

Are the little plants foreign?

Cordobeses do not know the value of the species that make up our agricultural and wild biodiversity: “If we want to know what natural resources we have, the research must start from our needs to manage this knowledge strategically, not as always, we open the doors so that take everything away ”, assures the university professor.

This bio-piracy methodology also includes the appropriation of traditional knowledge, related to plants and seeds, by agro-industrial, pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. “They will take the information and the management of our germplasm. Today, we find that in Salta, Jujuy, Santiago del Estero, Catamarca and La Rioja, by different means, these people make their proposal concrete: they finance the formation of Biodiversity Centers, with which they access the native components of flora and fauna. fauna. I am afraid of leaving our natural resources in the hands of foreigners ”, Luque concludes.

By Daniel Díaz Romero for Environmental Press Room.

Video: Genetically Modified Tomatoes (July 2021).