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    Greek Gene Bank’s Struggle Indicative Of Changing Times

    Published on 17 April 2013 @ 8:19 am

    By for Intellectual Property Watch

    Gene banks holding plant genetic material worldwide play a crucial role for future agricultural practices and research and development in the field, especially as people rediscover the importance of their dependence on the land due to the financial situation. The present financial crisis may generate opportunities and losses. This can be illustrated by the Gene Bank of Greece, an institution traditionally rich in genetic material and of global interest.

    The Greek Gene Bank (“GGB”) was established in 1981 in Thessaloniki with the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It holds in its stewardship a tremendous amount of plant genetic resources in the form of seeds. Its purpose is two-fold. It conducts research for the improvement of existing plant varieties and the development of new, more resistant ones. It also is a conservation place for “landraces” (traditional plant varieties which have been selected and developed by farmers – and not by plant breeders or biotechnology companies – throughout the years and resulted in highly resistant autochthonous plants).

    The total number of varieties preserved currently in the GGB amounts to 14,000 so-called “accessions” (samples of planting material stored in ex situ collections). Among others, it holds 3 per cent of the wild wheat genetic material conserved in gene banks worldwide, making it a place of special interest for researchers.

    With the joint Ministerial Decree 188763/2011 (FEK B’ – 2284, available here in Greek) and taking into account the need to cut public spending as part of Greece’s obligations under the Financial Support Framework and its efforts of fiscal consolidation, the Ministers of Finance and Rural Development effectuated in October 2011 the merger of four state-owned agricultural institutes. These included: the National Institute of Agricultural Research, to which the GGB belonged; the Organisation of Training in Agricultural Vocation; the Certification and Supervision of Agricultural Products Agency; and the Organization of Milk and Meat.

    The new institution was baptised “Greek Agricultural Organisation – Demetra” (alluding to the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility). The merger had as a result the discharge of personnel and the minimisation of the budgets of the institutes in question.

    In December 2012, the Athens University of Economics and Business conducted and published a study on the GGB coordinated by Economic Theory and Politics Professor Anastasios Ksepapadeas (available here). In it, the research team undertook an analysis of the GGB function and role in the Greek economy and evaluated its benefits in terms of strengthening food security and enhancing agricultural productivity in uncertain future circumstances, such as climate change – to which the Mediterranean region is particularly vulnerable according to the study – or crop diseases.

    The evaluation of the GGB was undertaken in both economic and non-economic terms (or, as the study terms them, “use and non-use values”). For the former, the study ascribed market data to the insurance and productivity values of the GGB. The insurance value of a gene bank consists of ensuring food security and limiting the negative effects of a plant disease outbreak by maintaining plant diversity.

    A gene bank also has productivity value, according to the study, in that its crop diversity enables plant breeders to create improved varieties which yield greater food production in tune with growing global needs, and which are more resistant in drought and lack of nutritious soil – so as to “decrease pressure on the environment,” according to the study.

    The non-economic value of a gene bank, i.e., the conservation of genetic material for the future, is approximated in that it enhances international research efforts on the development of world agriculture and retains the information of the biodiversity patrimony for the future. As stated in a study [pdf] by Smale and Hanson conducted in 2010 for the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research: “The information value relating to the collection of genetic resources of a gene bank has public good characteristics.”

    The Economic University of Athens study concluded that a cost-benefit comparison based on the study results: “confirms that the benefits of the GGB, even with the conservative estimation adopted within the current framework, significantly exceeds the costs of its operation. Thus in terms of insurance values generated by the GGB, the flow of annual equivalent values were estimated to represent a minimum of 2.95 million euros whereas operating costs of the GGB currently correspond to less than 3 per cent of this amount on an annual basis. Hence, the present study suggests that maintaining and further developing the GGB is an economically justified strategy.”

    Challenges for Greek Gene Bank

    Greek news sites reported on the results of the GGB’s loss of administrative independence and the budgetary cuts: it is severely understaffed (there is now only one person effectively managing it), the sustainability of the seeds is threatened by the lack of appropriate housing, and overall, the highly specific conditions under which the genetic material is to be stored are no longer fulfilled. See article here.

    Seed conservation does not consist of merely storing the seeds and keeping them under appropriate conditions: seeds need to be actively preserved, i.e., sowed and reaped at least every 20 years in order to maintain their genetic material alive. The study concluded that there is no long-term plan for the sustainable existence of the GGB.

    On the other hand, seed exchange networks organised by citizens have sprung up literally in every corner of Greece, assuming an active role in the preservation and enjoyment of traditional seeds. They meet regularly and exchange seeds, information and cultivation practices. They maintain that conservation and proliferation of traditional Greek agricultural products is up to everyone and through their action they raise awareness on the intellectual property protection of seeds and plant genetic resources. Seed networks can be found in websites (in Greek) here, here, here and here.

    This is consistent with the recent trend of rural exodus of Greek people towards the countryside as a consequence of the financial situation and a corresponding renewed interest in agricultural practices. There has been no official study or statistics on this phenomenon, but it has been well reported, see “Journey across crisis-hit Greece,” For Greeks, crisis reverses a generation of progress,”When economies fail: Inside Greece’s Great Urban Exodus,” and Greek crisis forces thousands of Athenians into rural migration.”

     
    Ms. Paraskevi Kollia (Greece), is attending the LL.M. in Intellectual Property and Competition Law at the Munich Intellectual Property Law Center. She is mainly interested in patents, farmers’ rights, biotechnology, as well as traditional and modern biopiracy issues.

    Paraskevi Kollia may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

     

    Comments

    1. This week in review … IP Watch article focuses on Greek genebank, emergence of seed exchange networks | Traditional Knowledge Bulletin says:

      [...] Greek Gene Bank’s Struggle Indicative of Changing Times IP Watch, 17 April 2013 [...]

    2. Genebank standards no longer draft says:

      [...] two years in the making. Which we hope will be of more than merely theoretical interest to the Greek [...]

    3. IP News April 2013 : IP Univers says:

      [...] http://www.ip-watch.org/2013/04/17/greek-gene-banks-struggle-indicative-of-changing-times/ [...]


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    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

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