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. Patented and exported, such resources have led to breakthrough discoveries in medicine, agriculture, even cosmetics. Many of these discoveries wouldn’t have been possible without drawing on traditional knowledge from local indigenous communities, who have often been unaccredited and uncompensated.
At the heart of the debate around biopiracy is the question of ownership and benefit sharing. Why should wealthy, technology-rich countries get the lion’s share of benefits when extracting from less affluent lands?
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.”