Limitations and Conclusions

The results presented here should be interpreted with caution. First, no effort has been made to weight the varietal releases by area planted or other measures of importance. Not all of the 1709 varieties are cultivated, and certainly they are not all of comparable importance. Second, there are undoubtedly errors in the data corresponding to the national attribution of certain landrace materials. Third, there are problems with the representation of different countries in the data. Some countries, such as India, are extensively represented with released varieties. Others, such as Taiwan, may be relatively under-represented. This means that Taiwan is likely to appear as a source of landraces relatively more often than as a user of landraces. Fourth, there is no effort here to weigh the genetic contributions of different ancestors; all landrace progenitors are viewed as having equal weight. But some ancestors may have large genetic contributions to a modern variety, while others have negligible genetic contributions; the fact that a landrace appears in the genealogy of a modern variety does not imply that its genes have in fact been passed down.

All these problems - and others - make it unwise to interpret the numbers of Table 17.2 as direct indications of who would gain and who would lose under farmers' rights compensation schemes. The figures presented here do, however, suggest that there are important empirical questions relating to gainers and losers under farmers' rights. Advocates of farmers' rights should not blithely assume that all compensation for genetic resources will flow from the North to the South. The South-South flows (and South-North flows) may be substantial.

More surprising, the results here suggest that the directions of compensatory payments may have little to do with biological centres of origin/diversity. Although India and Burma are countries that would generally be considered centres of origin and domestication for rice, they both emerge as net borrowers of landraces in the data considered here. The US, a relative newcomer to rice cultivation, emerges as a net lender. The implication is that richness in genetic resources, in itself, may not guarantee that the South will gain from the Convention on Biological Diversity and associated compensation schemes.

Much research will be required to clarify the empirical issues raised here. For rice and other crops, the international genetic flows may be fairly easy to document at a crude level of detail. But for a workable system of international compensation, the data and analytic techniques will require considerable refinement. At present, there are no central data sources on varieties of rice planted in different countries or on their ancestry. The same is true for wheat. For maize, the private sector presence may make data doubly difficult to acquire: private firms may be unwilling to provide information about the ancestry of their varieties, both to protect trade secrets and to avoid being forced to pay compensation for the genetic resources. Nevertheless, this study suggests that it is both feasible and useful to ask empirical questions about the international flows of genetic resources.

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