Managing Mexican Crop Diversity from Rome

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Abstract Summary
In 1983, member states of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted the non-binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources. Although ostensibly motivated by concern over "genetic erosion"—that is, the loss of genetic diversity in crop plants as a result of agricultural industrialization and environmental degradation—the 1983 Undertaking is better understood as the product of a North-South conflict over ownership of and access to seeds. Many scholars have discussed the Undertaking, aptly attending to its place within the histories of ideas about intellectual property in and national sovereignty over so-called genetic resources. Here I return focus to the place of the Undertaking within the longer history of efforts to conserve crop diversity. Placing the often-neglected practical aspects of managing collections at the forefront, I explore the implications of the recourse to international agreement as a measure to conserve genetic diversity in crops on actual conservation practices. While Mexican delegates to the FAO led the protracted battle of the 1980s to set up an "international genebank" headquartered in Rome, Mexican scientists in charge of the country's most significant crop collections labored with limited resources to keep these alive and usable in Mexico. In this realm, the same North-South exchanges deplored by Mexican delegates to the FAO often provided the only means for ensuring the continuity of collections and their availability to Mexican scientists. High-level consultations in Rome therefore necessitated new forms of cross-border negotiation and collaboration among scientists.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Chronological Classification :
20th century, late
Self-Designated Keywords :
Conservation, environmental science, transnationalism, localism
University of Cambridge

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