And speaking of intellectual property, Spicy IP reports that the Indian National Plant Variety Register has finally set up shop, more than five years after the legislation was first proposed. The Register is an essential prelude to protection for modern plant varieties, and although initially limited to 12 species, including three of the four biggies, there are plans to extend it further. The Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV) has always staunchly maintained that registration systems in and of themselves do nothing to promote genetic erosion and the loss of agricultural biodiversity. That may be so where the government continues to permit the informal seed sector to flourish and where the companies who register most varieties do not push them aggressively even in unsuitable areas. I don’t know how India will fare, but I have my doubts, and I would certainly expect some losses of traditional and older varieties.
I think WWF came up with a really powerful idea with their “climate witnesses.” These are ordinary people around the world who WWF has asked to act as spokespeople, a kind of warning system for climate change, and advocates for action. One is an old Kikuyu cattle-keeper, who spoke up at the recent climate change conference in Nairobi about the changes he has been experiencing. Makes me wonder if we in the agrobiodiversity community could link up with WWF and use this existing network to highlight specifically how climate change is affecting crops and crop wild relatives. Or do we perhaps need “genetic erosion witnesses” of our own?
Kathryn Garforth has an excellent post digging up some of the background to the explosion of interest in Starbucks’ efforts to block the attempt by Ethiopia to trademark the names of some of its coffee varieties. She teases apart who said what when, but more than that goes into some detail on the nuances behind some of the press releases on both sides, making it clear that Starbucks did not actually directly oppose Ethiopia’s tradmark application.
The whole question of getting a better return for the farmers who preserve some bits of agricultural biodiversity is vexed. Denomination of Origin certificates offer some protection, but not against copycats who simply go ahead and make, say, Greek cheese in Denmark, or Champagne-style wines just about anywhere. For something like Ethiopian coffee, I wonder whether any protection is needed. I mean, even if they could get the material to start a plantation, are any big coffee plantation people going to bother to start up a Sidano plantation in Vietnam? I somehow doubt it. It makes Oxfam look good, to anyone who doesn’t go deeper, but will it change anything for the coffee farmers of Ethiopia? I doubt it.
A friend alerted me to this great quote by Claude Ake from his 1988 paper “Building on the Indigenous” (in Recovery in Africa: a challenge for development cooperation in the 90s: Swedish International Development Authority):
â€¦My thesis is that we cannot significantly advance the development of Africa unless we take African societies seriously as they are, not as they ought to be or even as they might be; that sustainable development is never going to occur unless we build on the indigenous [â€¦]
The indigenous is not the traditional, there is no fossilized existence of the African past available for us to fall back on, only new totalities, however hybrid, which change with each passing day[â€¦]
The indigenous refers to whatever the people consider important in their lives, whatever they regard as an authentic expression of themselves. We build on the indigenous by making it determine the form and content of development strategy, by ensuring that developmental change accommodates itself to these things, be they values, interests, aspirations and or social institutions which are important in the life of the people. It is only when developmental change comes to terms with them that it can become sustainable.
I don’t suppose Ake had plant genetic resources in mind, but this could be applied verbatim to development in agriculture, couldn’t it?
Concidentally, two articles appeared today highlighting how modern diets are impacting the health of people in both the industrialized and the developing world, and what can be done about it. From the BBC, a report on a diabetes conference, where delegates are suggesting that this disease threatens the survival of indigenous peoples the world over. Then, from FoodNavigator, an article on how a nutrition group is planning a campaign to promote the Mediterranean diet in the US.