Vicissitudes of benefit sharing of crop genetic resources: downstream and upstream

Dev World Bioeth. 2006 Dec;6(3):144-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2006.00167.x.


In this article, we will first give a historic overview of the concept of benefit sharing and its appearance in official agreements, particularly with respect to crop genetic resources. It will become clear that, at present, benefit sharing is primarily considered as an instrument of compensation or exchange, and thus refers to commutative justice. However, we believe that such a narrow interpretation of benefit sharing disregards, and even undermines, much of its (historical) content and potency, especially where crop genetic resources are concerned. We argue that benefit sharing should not be based merely on commutative justice but rather on a broader model that is also grounded in the concept of distributive justice. This has repercussions for the application of benefit sharing, which we try to clarify by distinguishing between downstream and upstream benefit sharing. Upstream benefit sharing is not so much inspired by compensation for actions done, or the distribution downstream of benefits developed, but by the idea of shared decision-making on the research and development of resources fundamental to human welfare. Going upstream in the research process of crop genetic resources, and determining research agendas and improving crops according to the needs of the poor, benefit sharing may well be a tool to contribute to world food security and global justice. We concretize our ideas on upstream benefit sharing by introducing a set of criteria that determine the success of consultations on agricultural research agenda setting.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Crops, Agricultural
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries*
  • Food Supply / ethics
  • Genetic Research*
  • Intellectual Property
  • International Cooperation*
  • Social Justice*
  • United Nations