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"Understanding & Acting" conference

Seeds and plant varieties: what new challenges for global governance?

Lecture by Frédéric Thomas, researcher at the IRD (Vietnam), historian of science and technology, specialist in genetics, plant improvement and intellectual property on life. His research focuses on the study of the scientific, societal and environmental challenges raised by the appropriation of biodiversity in terms of the circulation of genetic resources, farmers' rights, environmental ethics and environmental justice.
He is co-author of several books on the subject including "Seeds: a political history - Plant breeding, agriculture and food in France since the Second World War" published in 2012.

During the history of the 20th century, scientific practices have slowly made genetic resources a public good circulating more or less freely between scientific communities and Nations. Starting in the 1980s, the use of patents to protect biotechnological inventions has considerably disrupted these practices. These resources have increasingly become market goods potentially appropriable by private interests. The result today is international and national legal regimes hesitating between free access to the resource or contractualized market access that also favors private appropriation but accompanied by compensation. This conference will present the confrontation but also the hybridization of these two political philosophies since the 1990s. It will also examine different attempts to make agricultural genetic resources commons (in the sense of Elinor Ostrom's theory of collective actions). The limits of these attempts will make it possible to show the challenges to be met to build the governance of these resources which, before being global public goods (potentially privatizable), are also local common goods.

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