23 March 2006

Peasants Say No to ‘Selling' Traditional Knowledge

By Mario Osava, Inter Press Services
2006-03-23 - CURITIBA, Brazil - Meanwhile, Greenpeace International added another urgent action for saving life on earth: protecting international waters. These announcements were made by the two global movements on Tuesday, at the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8), taking place in this southern, "ecologically-minded" Brazilian city from Mar. 20 - 31.
Land, water and other natural resources, including genetic diversity, as well as the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities, "are priceless," and to pay for them with part of a company's profits from patents "is privatisation," which Via Campesina opposes, bee-keeper Karen Pederson told IPS.
Pederson is women's president of the National Farmers Union in Canada, one of the Via Campesina member organisations. Via Campesina, a worldwide network of rural movements, is developing a "structural project" for agriculture in which seeds, food, forests and other natural resources cannot be treated as "merchandise, objects to be bought and sold," added Roberto Baggio, a leader of Brazil's Landless Rural Workers' Movement (MST).
Sharing the profits arising from appropriating something that is "a product of collective accumulation, at the service of all people," so that "knowledge becomes merchandise that can be traded," is the beginning of exploitation and privatisation, the activist argued.
This is in conflict with the "long-term vision" of the peasant movement, which is aimed at "preserving goods in common ownership," he added.
An example of the harm that this can bring about happened in Canada in the past, when industry bargained with indigenous peoples, offering them benefits in return for land and knowledge, and "they lost everything," Pederson said.
Baggio and Pederson were speaking at a press conference to explain Via Campesina's position on biodiversity and COP8. Their fellow activists Alberto Gómez, of the National Union of Autonomous Regional Farmers' Organisations (UNORCA) in Mexico, and Ballo Mamadu, a herdsman from Togo, defended food sovereignty and condemned the "mercantilisation" or "commodification" of products like seeds.
In Africa "we cannot afford to buy seeds every year," stressed Mamadu, a representative of a network of peasant organisations in West Africa, criticising Terminator seeds developed by multinational agribusiness firms and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which produce infertile plants, whose seeds cannot be used from one growing season to the next. Despite the world moratorium imposed on this "restricted use" technology, research is still being carried out in Canada, the United States and Europe in laboratories and in one case, even a greenhouse, said Pederson.
At COP8, "the central, strategic battle will be waged around seeds," pitting peasant farmers who have produced and improved seeds for 10,000 years, thus expanding their genetic diversity, against the transnational corporations that want to control the entire agricultural chain from production to marketing, said Baggio. But another major concern highlighted today by Greenpeace International is the destruction of the world's marine life. According to the environmental watchdog, an immediate U.N. moratorium on high seas bottom trawling is essential to stop the destruction of deep-sea life until a global network of marine reserves has been established.
The group proposes that these reserves cover 40 percent of the world's oceans and that the network be in place by 2012. Greenpeace stated that the Convention on Biological Diversity should call on the U.N. General Assembly to decree the moratorium. The oceans, which cover 70 percent of the earth's surface, are facing a crisis similar to the world's primary forests, where deforestation claims an estimated 13 million hectares annually.
Studies have covered only 0.0001 percent of the world's sea bed, but they make it possible to estimate that deep sea habitats are home to between 500,000 and ten million different species, said Greenpeace. Populations of large migratory fish like swordfish, tuna, marlin and shark have been reduced to one-tenth of what they were 50 years ago, while some species have been reduced to less than one-hundredth, said the organisation. In the past, human beings did not fish on the high seas, because of the distance and the costs involved. But that changed with the advent of industrial fishing and the demand for large fish. Overfishing is becoming a more and more serious problem in the deep seas because these areas are beyond national territorial waters and thus outside of the control of individual countries, explained Callum Roberts, an oceans expert at York University in Britain.
In order to meet the goal set in 2002 by the parties to the Convention to "significantly" reduce biodiversity loss by 2010, Greenpeace put forward additional proposals: expanding protected areas in accordance with a fixed timeline; creating an international financing mechanism; establishing global goals for reducing the deforestation of primary forests; speeding up the adoption of an international regime for access to genetic resources and the sharing of their benefits; eradicating biopiracy; and demanding that governments assume the public nature of biodiversity by regulating commercial practices that threaten it.

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