Choose a news category:

What is Biodiversity?

Posted on: Saturday, December 8, 2007

Keywords: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Latin America and Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Climate Change

Biodiversity (short for biological diversity) refers to the variety and patterns of life on Earth, encompassing everything from small genetic differences within and between species to the range of ecosystems—including forests, wetlands, deserts, mountains, lakes, oceans, and agricultural landscapes—that form our planet.

This combination of organisms and the relationships between them sustain life on Earth. However, biodiversity is being severely eroded by human-induced climate change. In fact, most scientists agree that the rate of species loss is greater today than at any time in human history, with as many as 140,000 species disappearing each year.(1)

Biodiversity is critical for human survival, providing us with:

  • Food
  • Medicine
  • Climate stability
  • Purification of water and air
  • Protection and recovery from floods and other potential disasters
  • Soil formation and protection
  • Nutrient storage and recycling
  • Wood products, building material, and many industrial products
  • Pest and disease control
  • Breeding stocks for farmers and herders
  • Cultural values
  • Scientific discovery
  • Recreation
  • Maintenance of the ecosystems that support life on Earth

Why is Biodiversity a women's issue?

Around the world, local movements to defend biodiversity are being led by women, who have historically preserved and bred seeds, which are the basis of all agriculture. Women's specialized knowledge about genetic resources for food and planting makes them indispensable in preserving biodiversity. In 2005, the UN formally recognized Indigenous women’s role in preserving and transmitting traditional knowledge, promoting biodiversity, and sustainably managing natural resources. Increasingly, advocates for biodiversity agree that economic and environmental justice cannot be achieved without the empowerment of women.

How do Global Trade Rules Impact Biodiversity?

Under current trade rules, biodiversity is seen merely as the raw material for industrial production and profit-making. Since the World Trade Organization (WTO) was formed in 1995, control over biodiversity has been taken away from communities and national governments and claimed by corporations. Through this process, communities have lost access to the ecosystems and knowledge bases that are the source of their seeds, food, and medicine. Governments have lost the right to control patent laws, and citizens have lost the right to influence those laws in ways that could benefit their communities and countries.

The WTO's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS), allows corporations to patent pretty much anything, including micro-organisms, seeds, plants, medicines, and traditional knowledge. By "owning" sources of life, such as seeds, giant biotechnology corporations like Monsanto exert a dangerous degree of control over the world's food supply. As Monsanto President Robert Fraley boasted, "What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain."(2)

Under TRIPS, large foreign corporations that have no accountability to local communities have taken patent control over local production and distribution of seeds, plants, and other life forms. The very farmers who have cultivated seed varieties over millennia must now pay to use natural and agricultural resources that were—until quite recently—held in common by communities and often managed and maintained by women farmers.

Around the world, Indigenous Peoples have taken the lead in denouncing and resisting intellectual property rights as conceived by the WTO. They reject the claim that individuals "invent" knowledge and that knowledge exists merely to be bought and sold. Instead, Indigenous worldviews suggest that knowledge is created communally, over time through processes that are always embedded in culture and place. Based on this understanding, Indigenous Peoples demand that their communities and their collective knowledge be exempt from WTO regulations.

MADRE is one of the non-governmental organizations monitoring governments' commitments to protecting biodiversity through the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). MADRE is helping to shape the debate and to ensure that the rights and perspectives of local women and Indigenous Peoples are recognized in the policies crafted at the CSD.

(1) S.L. Pimm, G.J. Russell, J.L. Gittleman and T.M. Brooks, The Future of Biodiversity, Science 269: 347-350 (1995).
(2) Tokar, Brian, ed. Gene Traders: Biotechnology, World Trade, and the Globalization of Hunger. Toward Freedom, 2004, p. 42.

« Back to "Press Room" Next Article »

Article Tools
Increase Font Decrease Font Reset Font Print Page Email Page


"Press Room" Home November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001


Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444

To sign up to receive MADRE media alerts, click here.

Bring MADRE to You

MADRE & Our Partners Make News