Competition: Latin America & Caribbean
Since first joining the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) almost twenty years ago, Jorge Larson Guerra has been studying the idea of food plants as a cultural and individual heritage and the legal implications of that, specifically, the concept of applying the legal standards of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in this arena.
Almost twenty years ago, just one week after earning a B.Sc. degree in biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Jorge Larson Guerra joined the then newly formed CONABIO. The commission focused on the expansion and diffusion of knowledge about biodiversity, plant conservation, and sustainability of biological resources. To this mix, Mr. Larson brought his own growing interest in food plants as cultural heritage, individual ownership of established and new varieties, and the intellectual property rights that might apply. For much of this work, maize was used to form inventories, databases, and biosafety and sustainability models that could then be applied to other bioresources.
As part of this effort, he served as a member of the Mexican delegation to the first and second Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (1994, 1995), as an observer at the 1995 forum at the International Corn and Wheat Center (CIMMyT) in Texcoco on Gene Flow among Maize Landraces, Improved Maize Varieties, and Teosinte, and the technical coordinator of the Mexican delegation to the 1998-99 biosafety protocol conference. For the latter, he edited the conference report that was delivered to the President of Mexico and led directly to the establishment of a ministerial-level biosafety commission.
Supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation, in 2001 Mr. Larson established at CONABIO the Collective Biological Resources (CBR) Program. This program aimed to finance basic research into the relationship of public policy, the cultivation of bioresources, and their derivatives; to support small farmers and indigenous groups in collectivizing production and development of these resources; and developing public policies that support these efforts. His efforts secured for the program substantial support from both the government and the Ford Foundation. Mr. Larson considers his development and coordination of this program from 2002 to 2006 one of his most important achievements.
In addition to his activities as researcher, lecturer, conference delegate, and director of programs at CONABIO, Mr. Larson has always made time to teach as well. For the past ten years, he has offered an annual eight-hour course at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) on conservation, biodiversity and sustainability, and intellectual property and ecological law.
During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, Mr. Larson continued his researches into these topics in relation to maize in preparation for journal articles and a book on the subject.