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.
Not sure whether this is a good thing or not. On Friday, the Chinese government released a series of documents dealing with biofuels. According to Biopact, a blog, one paper says that “Through a series of measures, unused land in mountainous areas will be made available and utilized for planting biofuel feedstocks, mainly sweet sorghum, corn and sweet potato”.
On second thoughts, it is probably not a good thing.
I’ve just come across a blog maintained by Kathryn Garforth, a research fellow with the International Sustainable Biodiversity Law programme of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL) who describes herself as “an independent legal researcher and consultant working in the areas of biodiversity, health and intellectual property rights.” Recent postings deal with the Starbucks Ethiopian coffee kerfuffle, biofuels and the Indian Biodiversity Act. Some very thoughtful stuff.