Center for African Studies
Shifting propagation: The political economy of bioprospecting in Madagascar
- Author(s): Neimark, Benjamin D.
- et al.
Addressing a worldwide concern, the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio provided the first global regulatory consortium dealing with the plight of genetic resources. However, far from settling concerns, the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) sparked numerous debates coalescing around the proprietary use and control of genetic resources. Some contend it is the subsequent phrasing and adoption of the term genetic resources by the CBD protocols that framed genetic or biochemical material and information in the context of an "exchangeable commodity," thereby conflating the value of genetic materials to that of a commodity to be captured, extracted and manipulated similar to previous forest-based natural resources (e.g., high-value timber, charcoal). Genetic resources are similar in ways to forest-based commodities by the spatial configurations they both share. But researchers theorizing natural resources note that it is the “different properties and commodity characteristics” that shape the processes according to which labor and value are appropriated for the distribution of benefits (Peluso and Watts, 2001:26). My research question focuses on how the material (biophysical and social) characteristics of genetic resources shape the spatial and temporal dimensions of bioprospecting in Madagascar. As my point of departure, I have constructed a three-part resource typology of plants that were once or are currently being extracted from Madagascar for biomedical uses. This resource typology follows the temporal stages leading to commercialization. These different stages of commercialization include: (1) non-articulated (early stage- relies on the biological material), (2) semi-articulated (intermediate stage- semi-synthetic) and, (3) fully articulated (most advanced stage- have isolated the compound for chemical synthesis). For this research, I will employ a Commodity Chain Analysis (CCA) to follow the relations of each of the types of resources included in the typology. With the use of a CCA, I will investigate the chain of relations including the prospecting or exploration, production/collection, transport and exchange of genetic resources. The product of this research will be helpful by those evaluating the relevance of current Access and Benefit Sharing protocols (ABS), and the application of more efficient distributive mechanisms.