STEVE BRUSH was trained as an anthropologist and is Professor in the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of California, Davis. At Davis, he also serves as Chair of the Community Studies and Development unit within that department. He was Senior Scientist at the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute in Rome (1994-95), where he designed a global plan for on-farm conservation of crop genetic resources. He was on the faculty of the College of William and Mary (1973-84), and served as Staff Associate and then Director of the Anthropology Program at the National Science Foundation (1980-1983). His research and publications concern agricultural ecology and the conservation of crop genetic resources. Brush has done fieldwork on these topics in Peru (1970-86), Turkey (1990-94), and Mexico (1995-pres.). He has been a consultant to the World Bank, the Office of Technology Assessment, the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and UNESCO. He has also worked on issues of indigenous biological knowledge and intellectual property rights (see "Valuing Local Knowledge: Indigenous People and Intellectual Property of Plants", ed. by S. Brush and D. Stabinsky, 1996).
International concern over threats to indigenous culture and biological diversity has quickly evolved into practical agendas which are endorsed by international development organizations. These practical agendas stress compensation to indigenous people through "bioprospecting" agreements. The bioprospecting agenda rests on an essentialized notion of indigenous people and a naive view of the political and economic complexities of communities, states, and ethnicity. A likely consequence of the bioprospecting agenda is to frustrate both biological conservation and equity for indigenous people who provide genetic resources. Anthropological research is urgently needed to engage the bioprospecting agenda and to address such issues as ownership, distribution, and exchange of knowledge and biological resources. This research may yet yield an equitable solution to conserving and using biological resources. This paper reviews anthropological research in relation to the genetic resources of crops which are maintained by small-scale farmers practicing traditional agriculture. It contrasts bioprospecting to other mechanisms for compensating farmers for access to genetic resources.
Return to Conference Announcement