A University of Canterbury researcher is studying how laws in Aotearoa New Zealand, in particular the current revision of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 1987, could be reformed to more effectively protect kaitiaki relationships with species taonga and mÄtauranga MÄori plants.
University of Canterbury (UC) Law School Professor Dr David Jefferson has been awarded a Vision MÄtauranga Fellowship to examine the reform of New Zealand’s intellectual property (IP) system and understand how it fits in the context of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the promises made by the treaty. He has worked on access and benefit sharing for about a decade, focusing specifically on the protection of indigenous knowledge over the past five years, in Australia, the Andean countries of South America and parts of the world. ‘Asia.
âIt was by chance that I moved to Aotearoa just as this reform proposal was presented to Parliament, while I was studying something very similar in Ecuador,â says Dr Jefferson.
“This research seemed like a natural fit, but the obvious shortcoming is that I needed to learn a lot about iwi politics and Maori concepts and history, so that’s what I really tried to let me know.”
The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 1987 is based on an international model of intellectual property in plants, which was developed by a small number of European countries in the 1960s for the commercial plant breeding sector. It is currently being revised to meet international trade obligations and to align with the findings of the Tribunal of Waitangi in the 2011 Wai 262 claim.
Dr Jefferson says it was a nice piece of legislation, but it was created for a very narrow purpose and no longer meets the needs of Aotearoa New Zealand.
âI am essentially looking at this reform to determine whether it will be just Maori talk and concepts, or whether the proposed reform will actually deliver on the promises at the constitutional level that Aotearoa New Zealand has under the Treaty of Waitangi. . â
He says this research is important to deliver on these promises as these are fundamental principles on which Aotearoa New Zealand is founded and will help find solutions to improve our relationship with ecosystems.
“We need innovative solutions to overcome well-known and difficult problems such as climate change, global warming, loss of species across the spectrum, and huge loss of biodiversity,” says Dr Jefferson.
“Genuine and meaningful partnership recognizing Tikanga MÄori as a source of law is a way to move beyond the series of capitalist, myopic Western European solutions that have been offered in the past.”
The proposed law reform is based on the concept of kaitiakitanga, which means stewardship and guardianship, which he says Western culture tends to view as conserving the environment by separating it from humanity.
“In my readings and conversations, I learn that the concept of tino rangatiratanga is a little more relevant [than kaitiakitanga] when we talk about this reform, because we are really talking about ideas like being in governance and self-determination.
Dr Jefferson says this includes the use of plants, and the law is not about an untouched natural environment, but about a reciprocal relationship between humans and plants.
âHistorically, kaitiaki were things like taniwha or animals or plants, different parts of the environment that protected humans. Now that has been reversed a bit as we look at how we can protect plants or environments,â he says.
âIf we really think about these concepts and incorporate them into law, it will also relate to things like conservation laws and environmental issues,â he says.
Dr. Jefferson says his research leads him to ask other questions, such as what does it mean to be kaitiaki in this space? And what does it mean to have rangatiratanga on aspects of the environment, including plants?
“I talk to a lot of people trying to figure out what it really means to embody this principle of tino rangatiratanga if we’re talking about taonga plant species, and what the concept of taonga means in this space as well,” says Doctor. Jefferson.
“There are tensions because on the one hand it has to conform to global standards but on the other hand it has to be extremely localized and respectful of local politics and relationships.”
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