Plant hunting for new treasures from around the world is an old tradition but new requirements under the international Convention on Biological Diversity’s Nagoya Protocol mean that plant hunters who breed new cultivars from those plants will need to share future profits with the country of origin.
From ancient times, people have travelled the world, bringing back new plant species from which they have often derived great profit. Some created new agricultural opportunities, like potatoes, tobacco, chillies and chocolate. Others fed a wild mania for collecting, like tulips and orchids.
However, the rights of the country of origin to share in the profits from the further breeding and development of its native flora were not even considered let alone subject to international law.
The Nagoya Protocol, which came into effect in October 2014, protects the genetic resources and intellectual property rights of all countries, including both the collection from the wild and propagation of original plant species but also now the development of new cultivars from these species by collectors and breeders.
Most countries have laws governing plant hunting and the removal of plants or seeds from the wild and plant hunters collect and take plants home with them according to those laws. They can then propagate and sell the resulting species plants.
What’s new about the Nagoya Protocol is that new plants bred using that collected material and then sold for profit may require the plant breeder to share that profit with the country of origin.
If the contract under which the plants were originally collected does not cover or allow for plant breeding using the collected material, then the plant hunter may need to negotiate a new contract, including the payment of royalties. The obligation to go back to the original source country when plant breeding produces new cultivars for sale and profit continues on to any to subsequent breeders of that plant material, including home gardeners.
The treaty also covers new pharmaceutical, cosmetic, biotechnology and agricultural uses and traditional knowledge.
The Nagoya Protocol makes sure that countries with many as-yet undiscovered and named species, usually developing nations, will benefit from their natural resources and have money to fund conservation efforts. Developed nations have a centuries-old habit of taking what they like, so it will be interesting to see whether this new protocol makes people realise that native plant species are very valuable assets, and that we don’t don’t have an automatic right to take and exploit other country’s flora.