Commercialization of Biodiversity: The Regulation Bioprospecting in Ecuador

Anne Heeren (University of Hannover)


The creation of new markets to promote sustainable development is the central premise of today’s environmental policy-making. In Ecuador, bioprospecting became regulated under Access and Benefit-Sharing measures. The idea is that the commercial use of biodiversity will trigger the bio-economy sector, ensure biodiversity conservation and support rural livelihoods. In this article, I take a critical perspective on “selling nature to save it” logic. I understand bioprospecting negotiations not only as a market in which user and provider bargain over the conditions of exchange, but also one in which actors involved negotiate “Nature”. Starting with an overview of the development of bioprospecting regulation in Ecuador, I present several case studies between 1980 and 2003. Despite the fact that bioprospecting developed from an open access regime to a highly regulated market, so far the commercialization of biodiversity has not yielded benefit-sharing on more equal grounds. Diverse concepts of “Nature” prevail among actors: The state declared biodiversity “national patrimony” and promotes the country’s “competitive advantage” in bio-economy. Companies employ biodiversity as a “resource” in research and development and use it as a “marketing tool” to promote the companies’ visions on sustainability. Traditional knowledge is seen as an integral part of community “culture”, as a “property” which needs to be protected and as a “benefit” for community development. Finally, the focus is whether and how an alternative development model based on the concept Buen Vivir may give grounds to overcome exploitative resource acquisition patterns.

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