ICAR moves to curb theft of Indian germplasm

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Feb 3 | Updated: Feb 5 2008, 01:27am hrs
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is set to mobilise forces, to prevent the further theft of Indian germplasm. It noted cases of such thefts; called biopiracy, like varieties of Indian chickpeas grown in Australia or some form of Indian wheat landrace; Nap Hal, which was accorded patent rights.

The ICAR in an official document has noted, There are many examples of elite Indian germplasm without any national identity number being sent out to other countries, where it was released and commercialised without any benefit to the country. Some chickpeas varieties released in Australia are of Indian origin. Nap Hal wheat transferred to the US many years ago was exploited for developing other varieties, for which applications for patent rights were filed. India had to file an opposition to the grant of the patent.

In this context, ICAR suggested, the use of national identity from a centralised database at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) for each germplasm accession should be mandatory, and it should be used in all publications and future correspondence to avoid naming the same accession with different identities. This creates prior art as required by international law and helps to stake claim of national sovereignty and benefit sharing.

It has been noted that some state agriculture universities (SAUs) were signing MoUs for sharing Indian genetic resources with foreign agencies, without prior consent of the National Biodiversity Authority and the department of agricultural research and education (DARE) at the Centre. The ICAR has issued circulars to all SAUs to seek prior consent from NBA or DARE before signing any such MoUs. It has also sounded a note of caution to scientists and breeders of SAUs not to undertake germplasm exploration without the consent of NBPGR. ICAR has initiated germplasm registration mechanisms since 1996 for all germplasms identified and developed, and set up a committee of experts for the purpose. So far 553 germplasm lines have been registered by this committee at NBPGR. Similar registration process has been initiated for animal, fish and microbial genetic resources.