As a part of globalisation rules are created to surrender the rights of ownership of one’s natural resources to agencies overtly or covertly controlled by the multinationals. Developed nations are manipulating and ransacking the traditional knowledge and natural resources to establish their soverignty over the undeveloped/under developed countries through International Commerce, World Bank, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) etc. These forces are clever to sell the old wine in new bottle in the name of sustainable development. Organisations conducting research all over the world on natural resources and biotechnology are formulating strategies to plunder local knowledge of the tribes and aborigins.As the natives keep their knowledge through oral tradition it becomes convenient for the agencies to exploit them.
As modern science in its many attempts has failed to face the new problems, there is a tendency to probe into the rural technologies practised by the local people for generations. It is relevant in this context to note that the universities and reseach organisations are built on the debris of the local knowledge. As some modern scientific institutions have distorted some data the world has moved from the grip of ‘rational’ physical science to the logic of biology. The aborigines protected the bioiscapes and waterscapes by applying their diachronic traditional knowledge which are now sought after by the research organisations which hitherto ignored it. The monopoly of these organisations is now totally erased and their relevance is lost as their “scientific” way of cultivation made the paddy fields barren and the forests thin. By the time the contradiction in the development culture is identified Mother Earth would lose its latent values essential for its existence. The bygone century has witnessed the destruction of biosphere as a result of which silent valleys and silent aborigines lost their traditional wealth. Their knowledge was not even acknowledged or recognised. As the information collected from them became show pieces in archives and museums, the natives were struggling for existence. But this fact was forgotten. When powerpoint presentation of acquarium fish was going on in seminars the ordinary fishman who could identify and give scientific details about a variety of fish was totally marginalised. When the seminar presentations became an intellectual extravaganza the real informant was struggling to meet both the ends. The fish species are on the verge of extinction due to pulluted river water. Seeds collected from forests and plains are now in sealed bottles in research laboratories/institutions in the form of germ plasm. The real owners of this intellectual property are the folk whose traditional knowledge became the texts “authored by scientists and scholors.” The story of plunder of knowledge about soil is now reenacted in every branch. Ayurveda, myths, arts all were in the memory of the local people who transferred this to the posterity only through oral tradition. But later it was monopolised by clever record keepers; and knowledge, the product of the tribe/society was aclienated from them. It was the artisans through their artifacts restructured, made available the local material culture to posterity. Ironsmitty was developed from the local process of treatment and refinement of iron ore. A variety of items were made in terracotta. Palaces, temples and a variety of domestic architecture are examples of the expertise of the artisans. Huge barrages were constructed by the agricultural fraternity across canals made for sustainable water management. They became the real guardians of seed, plant and soil. Cattle rearing was systematically patterned to keep the land fertile and their attitude could be read in the saying “no grass, no cattle”. Observing the pulses of nature, animals and humans they evolved a world view. Knowing the medicinal value of the plants they safeguarded the species to keep the whole village healthy. The villagers and the tribals utilised medicinal plants numbering more than eight thousand, and they practised many systems of medicine ranging from ‘Grandma therapy’ to sophisticated treatment. The roots of many systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Unani, Sidha can be seen in tribal medicine. Traditional veterinary and Vrikshayurveda also developed as a part of their holistic attitude to life.
The grave crisis faced now by the third world countries is connected with the commercialisation of their indigenous knowledge by the so called developed countries and multinational agencies. From the period of colonialisation the plundering of knowledge and raw materials of these countries was the aim of the west. Many formulae used in Modern Medicines are taken from the indigenous knowledge of the tribals of Asia, Africa and countries in South America without even a formal acknowledgement. The Indian Folk-Ayurveda traditions were used by the westerners by translating the texts into western language. The formulate for the preparatioin of plant based medicines are so precious and commercial potential of it is so envious that the multinationals by making favourable international rules of trade are reaping exhorbitant profit.
Not even one percent of the profit is given to the real custodians of this great intellectual property. World organisations have no concern for the humanity, and now the tribals/aborigins are becoming conscious about this reality.
The argument that knowledge of the locals was not validated is used tactfully to exploit the source by those who formulated the rules of Intellectual Property Rights. The validation process also is formulated for the advantage of those countries having an upper hand in manipulating these cleverly. That ingredients are found and validated by scientific tests in laboratories, is the argument for acquiring the right to use the information for commercial purposes. But the local people have been using it for centuries after studying, experimenting and validating it. This fact is distorted and shelved and new rules of validation are imposed on the third world countries. The time tested validation of the knowledge does not need any more acid test of the modern scientists, because all the traditionally prepared medicines have been here for centuries.
Patenting of the process, not the product is another way of distorting the rules to make only the developed countries benefit. Any product based on our traditional/local knowledge can be patented in foreign countries and they have already patented 32 products based on the indigenous knowledge of our people about Neem plant. Indigenous knowledge which became controversial since the introduction of rules of patent was mostly from India. Neem, Turmeric, Ginger, Basumati rice, Thippali, Pokkali are site/village/country specific similar to the controversial Vechoor Pasu (Cow of Vechoor village) and Alappuzha Manjal (Termeric of Alappuzha). Besides ethnic medicinal and other herbal plants there are geographically/village specific formulae of preparations which are under the threat of patent rules of the world organisations.
Artifacts, sculpture, architecture and many art items also face the problem, Though the wide range medicinal value of Neem along with its quality as an organic pesticide had been identified by the traditional medical practitioners and agriculturists in India, it was patented by others. The main ingredient of Neem Azadirachtin does not have a permanent existence and hence it cannot function as a pesticide for a long time. Manipulating this quality the multinationals patented it by evoking the rules regarding stabilisation process. Keezharnelli a very popular medicinal plant used for the treatment of jaundice and related ailments in South India has now been patented by Nobel Laureate Dr.Barucha Blumberg for manufacturing drugs for Hepatitis B and C. Turmeric used for a number of therapeutic purposes in India was targeted by the U.S.A. agents to patent, but the legal battle fought by CSIR was won by India. Thippali also has proved its medicinal value in the field of indigenous medicines; but its main ingredient Piperine’s biological potentials were patented outside India. Thippili is a main ingredient in a number of formulae for the preparation of local medicines because of the knowledge about the bio assimilative power of it by the local medical practioners. This traditional knowledge is mentioned in a number of Ayurvedic tests.
The knowledge of indigenous therapeutic details was transferred from generation to generation through oral tradition, and claiming the ownership of this knowledge by the westerners could only be considered as sheer injustice in every aspect. This knowledge is first recorded in written form and the authority of the technical knowledge is easily stamped as their own. Now knowledge is monopolised and world trade organisations are eulogising the values of monopoly for the selfish gains of the multinationals. As the scientific research in the west is stagnant now they need a face lift, for which this knowledge is monopolised, patented and with great “authority” marketed. Bio-nationalism of the continents is suppressed under Bio-colonialism and now water is targeted. Information about marketing groups selling medical products in the name of Herbal, Ayurvedic and Tribal is pouring out. Patents are obtained in the name of process of preparation, final product and application. India also became a party in the controversy about the article 8. (J) in Convention of Bio-diversity (CBD) in 1992. India had strongly pleaded for the implementation of article. 8. There were two main demands.
1. Industries or institutions conducting research and studies on traditional knowledge of medicinal plants and their application, or those who utilise bio resources or traditioinal knowledge should inform the matter to the parent nations. They should also get permission from the respective nation or the related community.
2. In case the local knowledge is used for commercial purposes, profit should be shared with the parent nation.
The main impediment is that these conferences are held without the knowledge and participation of the third world countries from where the indigenous knowledge is smuggled out.
Indigenous Knowledge Registers:-
To prepare registers and data bases of Indigenous Knowledge, efforts are underway; and for legal safeguard and other matters an organisation named WIPO has been formed in Kochi on 11th and 13th November 2002. A seminar was also organised for nations of Asia and Pacific in Kochi, and it ligalised the plunder of local knowledge by the experts of Intellectual Property Rights. Representatives of voluntary organisations participated in the seminar registered their protest against this endeavour.
Organisations spearheading the theory of globalisation demand that a register of folk knowledge and natural resources should be maintained. When the matter of cultural diversity was pleaded the experts who wanted to register the folk knowledge hesitated and even denied the cultural contexts and different world views. Now criteria for data standardisation are decided by the development strategists; but the actual data base is to be prepared with the knowledge and consent of local people. For this purpose every society should be empowered as advocated by the U.N. agencies.
Local people should be declared the resource persons and legal heirs of Indigenous Knowledge, and the legal rights to exchange the knowledge should be vested in the hands of these people. These rules prevail in local markets. The contention that to obtain legal safeguard international modalities should be followed is the imposition of the rules of globalisation, not that of localisation. World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO-Geneva) pleads for defensive protection and positive legal protection for which a register of diversified targets are kept. Institutions give more importance to collection of information than the security of the community which has been eager to preserve the knowledge till now. One has to accept primarily that the custodians of local knowledge are the local people themselves. Traditional communities which protected environmental knowledge of a particular biosphere should be recognised as indigenous scientists wno made sustainable development possible. Their knowledge was always connected with righteousness and respect to nature. Trade community does not feel any remorse in converting indigenous knowledge into a commodity that can be sold. What is needed is identification of the patential present in indigenous knowledge and converting them as new products of the community.
Developed nations have many programmes of value addition connected with traditional medicines in Asia, especially South Asia. The western world is bewildered by the new diseases caused as a result of industrialisation and side effect of ‘Modern Medicine’. To substitute allopathic medicines codified medicians like Chinese medicians, Korean therapy, Sidha Ayurveda, Unani and many uncodified traditions are suggested. Hence more importance is given for value addition making the data base of traditional medicine available to the developing countries. Digital libraries have already accquired the needful information from the written texts in our country. Govt. of India has started Traditional Knowledge Digital Library to check this menace. The data related with agriculture, medicinal plants, compositions of medicine ets. are with the industrial people, and WIPO proposes to standardise the data. The standard of indigenous knowledge is expected at three levels.
1) Identification of indigenous knowledge
2) Local technology
Developed nations dominate in all these fields and exploitation is strategic. It was through a very technical skill that Sarpagandhi was used as an allopathic medicine in 1952. Ushamalari or Savamnari were also identified and popularised as test medicinal plants. Seed of jack fruit, brahmi, keezharnelli, lime, garlic, ginger, pepper, kudampulip tamarind, bitter gourd, pineapple, turmeric, betal leaves, white gourd, gooseberry are some of the medicinal plants and fruits used as raw materials in many formulae. Though these are used in the west, neither the source of indigenous knowledge is mentioned, nor the remuneration is paid to the custodians of this knowledge.
Using Ayurvedic formulae more than 250 herbal medicines were produced in England in 1998. Both U.S.A and Japan are making clandestine research to convert this medicinal local knowledge into a final product. To safeguard the local knowledge China has enacted a number of laws, but India has to do much more than what it has doen till now. One has to be aware of the fact that the knowledge of the indigenous/tribal people is easily smuggled out by the multinationals from India as we lack adequate laws to protect the intellectual property rights of the natives. As the traditional societies and their natural resources are becoming extinct the pseudo-development propaganda force are inviting organisations to smuggle out the information as early as possible. The process of issuing patent rights to technical processes and products is to be questioned. Instead patent should be given to the local knowlkedge/the local scientist/community. Third world countries together have to fight for it. SUI GENERIS model of patent can benefit only the multinationals. Not only our seeds are cleverly patented in their name, but we may also be taxed for possessing these resources. If we remain ignorant of their clandestine movement, even our basic natural resources including water bodies will slip out of our hands.