Status and potential of commercial bioprospecting activities in Latin America and the Caribbean
Commercial bioprospecting activities in Latin America and the Caribbean assume various different forms and approaches in accordance with the target markets, the country context and business models involved. While prospecting for medicinally or industrially valuable substances derived from natural resources is not necessarily a new phenomenon, the systematic search for biologically active compounds in nature has gained a new significance as a component of biodiversity conservation strategies. Furthermore, the increasing availability of new scientific and technological tools have enabled new levels of precision and effectiveness in the identification, collection, processing and utilization of novel substances for applications in medical, agricultural or industrial applications. Accordingly, the companies examined in this study include a range of sizes, commercial strategies and organizational structures which reflect their respective positions in the productive value chain each of the associated industry sectors. The structure of this study report provides for an introductory overview of biodiversity prospecting in terms of the principles and practices which have defined it both historically and currently. Discussion is offered regarding the stakeholders and the issues involved in the formulation of national policy, particularly with regard to the implementation of provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity in various countries around the world.These include issues of access and benefit sharing, recognition of indigenous knowledge, prior informed consent, intellectual property protection and others. The outlook for bioprospecting in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC); is discussed, highlighting some of the lessons learned from experiences in Costa Rica, Brazil and Mexico. Examples of legislative and regulatory initiatives in these countries are described, including proposed provisions that are still under consideration in Chile. Discussion of the prevailing policy framework in LAC countries serves as a backdrop to profile the firms selected to illustrate the types of commercial bioprospecting activities in the region. Six firms were selected in accordance with specific criteria listed in the study report for this purpose. Finally, general observations are presented along with considerations for future national and regional policy formulation in commercial bioprospecting in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although there is evidence that opportunities are continuing to open up in certain countries for expanded activities in commercial bioprospecting, it is also perceived that many obstacles remain. In the case of those firms dedicated to bioprospecting for biochemical compounds and biologically active molecules, access to long-term capital and the need for a steady corporate client base seem to be foremost priorities. In the more traditional operations of phyto-pharmaceuticals firms, some of the key challenges are in the need for quality control, purity standards and reliability of materials supply. In both cases, the legislative and regulatory frameworks are still being sorted out and will require continuing input from all relevant stakeholders.