Whose wealth?

Published: Thursday 15 May 1997

-- The Earth's genetic resources of plants and animals exist mainly in the developing South. The Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into force in December 1993, stipulated that if any external party wishes to access these resources it can do so only with the prior consent of the country where they are found. But three-quarters of the botanical gardens, which are mega storehouses, holding samples of as much as half of all vascular plant species in the world, are located in the North. In their quest to discover new sources of plant derived drugs, pharmaceutical giants are now approaching botanical gardens to buy samples of tropical plant diversity. They are finding it easier and more convenient to enter into corporate deals with the gardens than negotiating access with the Southern nations. But in the commercial sale of tropical plants held in Northern botanical gardens, the rights of the countries of their origin arc being ruthlessly sidelined.

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