TV UFAM’s February 3 debate was scheduled to discuss a familiar concept: biodiversity as guarantor of sustainable development in Brazil. But with contagious fervor for the Amazon he loves, guest debater Luiz F.M.R. Arruda challenged his nation to engage in trade of intellectual capital with other global powers—not only to elevate human quality of life within its borders, but to fortify and ensure Brazil’s status as a legitimate global power in the nuclear age.
Professor Luiz Frederico Mendes dos Reis Arruda has taught at UFAM for nearly forty (40) years. He continues to perform research at the University’s Institute of Biological Sciences, and is the current Provost of the Dean’s Office of Extension and Interiorization. Illustrious acronyms—FUNAI, IBAMA—may crowd his curriculum vitae, but on campus, Professor Arruda is affectionately known for his gentle affability and encyclopedic knowledge. It is this same affability that enables Arruda to deliver the clear-eyed criticisms for which he is respected.
Throughout the evening’s program, Prof. Arruda repeatedly called the nation to invest more heavily and more prudently in biodiversity research. “Our greatest strengths and weaknesses are bound to our biodiversity,” he argued, identifying this duality as the key determinant of Brazil’s status in global economics. “Brazil has an abundance of excellent research institutions; why, then, have we still accomplished so little in concrete terms of transformation?”
So Much Biodiversity, So Little Transformation
Numerous scholars echo this question. Brazil is home to one of the planet’s greatest storehouses of traditional knowledge -TK (1). TK has been and continues to be a catalyst for “new product development, especially in sectors of specialty foods and beverages, horticulture, pharmaceuticals, personal care, and cosmetics” (Cottier & Panizzon, 2004).
Yet in many of these same sectors, Brazil lags behind its global counterparts. For instance, Malerba and Mani cite the anemic growth of Brazil’s molecular research sector as its principal weakness in the pharmaceutical industry (2009). The irony of this is not lost on Arruda, who encourages Brazil to undertake deeper, more “courageous self-reflection” of its vulnerabilities:
“Certainly, knowledge will boost Brazil onto the global stage. Certainly, it will aid us in our quest to be self-sufficient and to avoid dependence on foreign resources. But we must be prepared: this many not be enough.
Linking biodiversity research and military defense interests became a major theme of the night, with emcee Prof. Ademir Ramos abandoning the program’s planned second segment in favor of pursuing this idea.
Arruda urged Brazil toward a “denser interchange of knowledge” with the global community.
“We must engage in trade of intellectual capital with other global powers. …Closer scrutiny of the development of other global powers will enable us to realize the exigencies of entering into scientific cooperation with them.” Chief among these exigencies is, per Arruda, the stabilization of international biotechnology accords.
This stabilization is more or less determined by the effectiveness of enforcement mechanisms. These mechanisms are, in turn, heavily dependent on what economic game theory terms as “coalition membership identity.”
Game Theory: Friends and Free-Riders
In environmental economics, game theory is an important tool in illustrating and predicting the efficacy of international environmental agreements, or IEAs. Game theory explores “strategic considerations of the actor causing transboundary externalities” (Finus, 2008). In the case of IEAs, it evaluates motives of entities interacting with non-exclusive public goods, such as cleaner air. It therefore defines coalition membership identity as a function of the strengths and weaknesses of members’ various sectors: similarities fortify affinities and alliances, whereas differences imply interchange and trade.
This makes game theory ideal for analyzing the Brazilian case. The composition of the nation’s intellectual capital will, according to game theory, determine the nature and identity of its alliances. Therefore, transfers of capital—including intangible capital, such as intellectual property—play significant roles in homogenizing coalitions and ensuring stability(2).
Non-cooperative game theory is particularly suited for analyzing IEAs because it presumes the absence of a third party to enforce contracts. In international environmental legislation, lack of a supranational enforcement institution breeds “free-riders”—entities who do not join an IEA but reap its benefits nonetheless, as well as entities who join an IEA but fail to meet its obligations. In other words, without a central enforcement mechanism, individual rationality (free-riding) tends to trump global logic - cooperation (3).
Sound familiar? These same issues apply to Brazilian policy questions over biopiracy. How much intellectual capital can and should be traded without acceding market advantage? How can quality of life be raised without exploiting TK and the indigenous peoples who cultivate it? And how will Brazil, so intent on using its biodiversity to ensure its self-sustainability, ensure the sustainability of that very biodiversity?
Killing the Golden Goose
The Convention on Biological Diversity’s newly released Report of the Workshop reiterates this concern, calling the global community to “halt the loss of biodiversity and improve the status of biodiversity so as to sustainably increase the benefits of ecosystem services” (UNEP CBD, 2010). This raises questions as to the wisdom of recent governmental approval to proceed with the controversial Belo-Monte dam. Part of Brazil’s Accelerated Growth Programme, the dam is only one of many roads and dams planned for construction in the Amazon region.
Developments such as these underline Arruda’s initial question: is Brazil’s bias toward lucrative, short-term energy pursuits inappropriate in the modern nuclear age? Heavier investment in biodiversity research, with an eye toward intellectual capital trade, may be a wiser path for Brazil in its ascension as a global power. Game theory findings predict success of military accords and IEAs based on coalition membership identity, which in turn is highly dependent on intellectual capital. And biopiracy policy issues mirror game theory’s attempt to compare incentives for group cooperation to those for individual rationality.
When asked for his final thoughts, Prof. Arruda paused momentarily. Then, with trademark Arrudian tenderness, he replied, “We dream of an Amazon intact—its River, its forests, its ecosystems intact.” If Brazil continues to timber, dam, pillage, and plunder herself, and if she fails to commence intellectual trade in earnest, the vibrancy of Amazonian biodiversity may fade into just that: a dream.
Photo: 2002: Dr. Frederica Arruda, together with indigenous tribesman in laboratory
(*) Is a guest contributing editor. She is an international liason for UFAM, specializing in indigenous rights advocacy. For factual corrections or copyright inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the pertinent blog entry title in the subject line.