Plant genetic resources and the theory of the commons

For centuries, farmers have managed planting materials based on relatively open collective systems of access, exchange, conservation and use. Mostly, farmers themselves defined the rules that have kept materials flowing. Over time, however, the plant genetic resources systems, rules and actors have changed considerably. One conceptual approach to study issues related to these changes and the challenges they have brought about, is known as theory of the commons. Until very recently, the study of the commons focused largely on natural resources other than plant genetic resources; best known through the work of Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012). Interest in plant genetic resources as (global) commons is gaining more ground, however, as two forthcoming conferences and one forthcoming book indicate.

IASC2013 – the 14th Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons takes place on Mt. Fuji, from 3-7 June 2013. The Conference is on the “Commoners and the Changing Commons: Livelihoods, Environmental Security, and Shared Knowledge” and includes a session on biodiversity and genetic resources as commons.

A Conference on the Design and Dynamics of Institutions for Collective Action will take place at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, 29 November – 1 December 2012,  The conference will be held as a tribute to Prof. Dr. Elinor Ostrom, who passed away on 12 June 2012.

Crop Genetic Resources as a Global Commons: Challenges in International Law and Governance – book to be published shortly.  This book, from the Earthscan-Bioversity “issues in agricultural biodiversity” series, in about the creation, management and use of the global crop commons. It focuses primarily on the legal and administrative construct that provides the basis of the global crop commons, that is, the multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing created by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The book shows how many international organizations and some developing countries are moving quickly with implementation of the Treaty, while other countries are moving slowly and some multinational corporations are expressing misgivings about the system overall. The book is available from Routledge.  A limited number of copies will be available from Bioversity International for libraries in developing countries. Contact bio-policy[at]


2 thoughts on “Plant genetic resources and the theory of the commons

  1. Pingback: Nibbles: Meta-blogging, NUS scholarships, Insects & plant diversity, Commons, Trees and diet, Thyme

  2. Pingback: Fellowship on Practice and Policy on Commons | Genetic Resources Policy

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