Negotiating Biodiversity: Political, Economic and Social Mobilization

This dissertation extends the field of analysis of our previous study on the subject of biopiracy – the unregulated commercial appropriation and exploitation of genetic resources stemming from biodiversity or traditional knowledge (TK). Biopiracy emerged on the international public agenda after the elaboration of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992. It became a political issue within North/South relations, marked by the perception of a confrontation between the industrial interests of developed countries and those of developing countries with regard to the defense of their natural resources and of indigenous knowledge. This issue is rooted in the norms established by the CBD, which meant to incite the economic valuation of biodiversity in order to fight its destruction through “access and benefit sharing” (ABS) agreements. In this way, the CBD established rules to ensure the equitable exchange of genetic resources as well as the monetary and non-monetary benefits arising from their industrial use between firms and research institutes in the North and their partners in the South. 

This dissertation examines the current configurations of these economic and scientific exchanges surrounding biodiversity. We will therefore study the conditions that underlie the implementation of ABS agreements, but also the dynamics surrounding the production of research using genetic resources. Such an approach allows us to consider the political and economic strategies of a diverse array of public and private actors (companies, researchers, elected officials, etc.), which leads us to analyze in which way these actors shape the policies and commercial usage of genetic resources and TK. We will thus also examine lobbying methods used by firms of the pertinent sectors (pharmaceutical, agri-food, etc.) in political processes that structure industrial innovation using these resources. Finally, we will study controversies and types of mobilization regarding new scientific applications, especially by analyzing power dynamics between industrial actors and social movements engaged in the defense of the rights of local communities. Our field research will concentrate primarily on a number of actors in the United States, Europe and Brazil. We will use qualitative methods, namely semi-structured interviews and the collection of primary sources. Initial collection of field data was done in the United States, which allowed us to carry out interviews with representatives from scientific and industrial organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the agricultural firm Pioneer.