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The idea of nationalising biodiversity, agreed in principle under the Convention on Biological Diversity, is fundamentally flawed and overemphasises the potential commercial benefits, say K. D. Prathapan and Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan.

The agreement, known as 'access and benefit-sharing' (ABS), was discussed at last October's Conference of the Parties (COP 10) in Nagoya, Japan. But it remains a pipedream and will fail to halt extinctions by 2050, they argue.

There are hardly any cases where ABS has been a sustainable source of income for rural communities, according to Prathapan and Rajan. India is one of the richest countries in biodiversity and traditional knowledge, yet its gains from benefit-sharing agreements have been minimal. Costa Rica and African countries have had a similar experience.

ABS marks a shift in focus from biodiversity's ecological and scientific value to its commercial value, the authors say, and gives nation states sovereign rights over biological resources traditionally regarded as a common heritage. Although nationalisation intends to counter corporate patenting, it overlooks nations' interdependence on genetic resources.

Countries of the South, which stand to lose more from biodiversity loss, should realise that the commercial benefits derived from sharing biodiversity are the wrong shortcut to development and will not become a sustainable source of income for rural communities, they say.

Instead, changing intellectual property rights to favour the South, and North-South research collaborations, is a strategy worth developing.

India, due to host the next COP in 2012, has a responsibility to take a lead role to address this issue, the authors conclude.

Link to full article in Current Science [105kB]