What is Biopiracy ?
• From the root words “bio” and
“piracy”, biopiracy literally means “the patenting
• Genetic materials from plants, animals, and
other biological resources that have long been
identified and developed, are being “owned” by
companies and manufacturers through patents.
• In Short, Collection of genetic materials are
• Biopiracy is the illegal appropriation of life
microorganisms, plants and animals (including
humans) and the traditional cultural knowledge
that accompanies it.
• It is illegal because, in violation of international
conventions and corresponding domestic
laws, it does not recognize, respect or
adequately compensate the rightful owners of
the life forms appropriated or the traditional
knowledge related to their propagation, use and
• 3500 years ago, Egyptian rulers began bringing
plants home after military expeditions.
• In the last century, the British Empire instituted
regular plant collections. During the Voyage of
the Beagle, Charles Darwin simply took what
interested him and brought it home.
• The Royal Botanical Gardens took rubber trees
from Brazil, and planted them in Southeast
Asia. They took cinchona seeds from Bolivia, in
violation of national law, and planted them in
• More recently, during the mid-twentieth
century, Richard Schultes was able to befriend
local shamans, who allowed him to collect
thousands of voucher specimens of medicinal
plants, hundreds of which had never previously
been identified taxonomically.
Types of Biopiracy
• Traditional Knowledge Biopiracy
• Genetic Resource Biopiracy
• Kava (Fiji and vanuatu)
• Quinoa (Andes)
• Banaba and other medicinal plants
• Bitter gourd (Thailand)
• Ilang-Ilang (Philippines)
• Neem Tree (India)
• Rosy Periwinkle (Madagascar)
Why is There a Need to
Stop Biopiracy ?
• Because of the patenting of biological
materials, the locals of the affected
countries would have less, if not none at
all, access to those new developments
which is possibly their original idea or
discovery in the first place. Those who are
granted the patents would have exclusive
rights to their “inventions” and can
therefore raise the prices if they choose to.
• By having the license to do whatever they
please, patent owners can also hinder the local
production. This can have a large impact on the
livelihood of those concerned; the ones who are
normally free to use as much of the crops or
produce as they need are banned from
manufacturing such goods. Therefore, if those
goods are a source of income for them, they
would lose much of the profits that they usually
• Patent owners can prohibit farmers from
breeding such plant and animal varieties as
well. In doing so, they have also taken away
privileges that the indigenous people have
rightfully earned themselves.
• As the patent owners benefit from the
information and materials that they do not
actually “own”, the indigenous people who have
long been developing and cultivating these
resources get nothing. They do not have a
choice unless knowledge of the materials has
been proven traditional and the patent has been
Bio prospecting Contracts
To minimize the detrimental effects of biopiracy
and to “legalize” such transactions, there is the
so-called “bio prospection contract.” With this
contract, economic income or royalties would
be provided to the local communities concerned
while the patent owners generate earnings.
However, the fairness of these contracts has
been a subject of debate.
In the United States, patent law is used to
protect “isolated and purified compounds” that
were newly discovered and invented. A patent
is the exclusive rights given to a person so that
others will be prohibited in making, using, or
selling the invention.
One common misunderstanding is that
pharmaceutical companies patent the plants
they collect. While obtaining a patent on
naturally occurring organisms is not
possible, patents may be taken out on specific
chemicals isolated or developed from plants.
Convention on Biological Diversity
In 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD) establishes sovereign national rights
over biological resources and commits member
countries to conserve them, develop them for
sustainability, and share the benefits resulting
from the use. Sustainable use of biological
resources means finding new drugs, crops, and
industrial products, while conserving the
resources for future studies. Sovereign rights
would be tempered by providing access to
genetic resources, in exchange for a share of
the benefits, including access to biotechnology.
• Biopiracy if not stopped, will continue to erode the
biological/genetic resources of the developing
countries as well as denying them fair and equitable
benefits derived from their losses.
• There is need to strengthen the policy, institutional
and legal frameworks in the developing countries
particularly those in Southern Africa which to date
have no national legislation on ABS.
• ABS legal regime should be flexible and tailored made
to a particular country’s needs.
• Use of the Capacity Building Training Module on Policy
and Law for Biological/Genetic Resources