n Indilinga African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems - Of our forefather's seeds and the next generation

Volume 4, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1683-0296



In the wake of multinationals dominating the world genetic pool of natural resources without minding the consequences thereof, the paper intends to look at the issues of Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the overriding intellectual property rights as pro-moted by Western governments and existing international regimes such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the defunct proposed Plant Variety Act, which fails to protect the interests of farmers. This Act allows corporates to access farmers' varieties. In lieu of enabling the community benefit-sharing principle to be effective as advocated by the Convention on Biodiversity, the paper endeavours to investigate what communities can do to safeguard their intellectual and genetic resource proceeds and interests, and assert their rights worldwide. The challenge for the communities is to assert themselves rather than act as mere red-tapism. Communities must retain their status as stewards or custodians of the biodiversity bequeathed to them by their forefathers, and must benefit, in one way or another, rather than act as supplicants for benefits to be given for the pleasure of the corporates. The benefits should be in the form of compensation - get compensated / receive royalties. This may extend to land reform programmes and tenure. Two case studies will be reviewed in the light of showcasing the issues at hand. The cases of the Khoi San experiences with multinationals, such as Pfizer and Glaxo, on the use of Hoodoo gordonii cactus (an appetite suppressant straw used during hunting), on issues of profits and royalties to be given to the community, and the dynamics involved when the research on medicinal and herbal uses of the extract of the straw is said to be put on hold. Thus, no reward at all. The other case concerns the basmati rice grown from varieties of rice in India. This rice variety has been patented by an American Company under a new name, Kasami rice by Rice Tech Pty Ltd, leaving many farmers crying foul, surprising many Indians who believe that seeds are never for sale but for sharing (navdanya = 9 seeds). Some generic cases of Africa will be mentioned to illustrate the extent of the damage caused by these multinationals and their greed. The paper advocates that the community be assertive, and not record their seed on the Biodiversity Register on the WIPO computer database, as this will push their traditional knowledge to the edge of extinction, instead of establishing a community biodiversity seed register (CBR) for their own benefit and for rejuvenating the economic basis of agriculture.

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