Andrea Gibbons 3 Comments Vandana Shiva is amazing — I only recently read her for the first time and had my giant activist-writer crush, but Biopiracy might have been even better. Another three of her books were sitting on the shelves here, happy days, so I picked this one up. Colonialism and capitalism vs life with insights into all three. I loved it, and am finding it very useful in thinking about how we arrived where we are now and just what we are up against as well as where hope lies. She argues that … each time a global order has tried to wipe out diversity and impose homogeneity, disorder and disintegration have been induced, not removed.
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The neem tree - a case history of biopiracy By Vandana Shiva A classic case of biopiracy by transnational corporations is that of the neem tree in India. Vandana Shiva provides the background to this attempt to appropriate an invaluable biological resource of the South.
On 2 October, about half a million converged upon Bangalore to voice their fears about the impending legislation, aware of the threat that GATT poses to their livelihoods, by allowing multinational organisations to enter Third World markets at their expense. In their demonstrations, protesters carried twigs or branches of neem, a tree found throughout the drier areas of India.
Several extracts of neem have recently been patented by US companies, and many farmers are incensed at what they regard as intellectual piracy. The village neem tree has become a symbol of Indian indigenous knowledge, and of resistance against companies, which would expropriate this knowledge for their own profit.
A tree for all seasons Of all the plants that have proved useful to humanity, a few are distinguished by astonishing versatility. The coconut palm is one, bamboo another.
In the more arid areas of India, this distinction is held by a hardy, fast-growing evergreen of up to 20 metres in height - Azadirachta indica, commonly known as the neem tree. From its roots to its spreading crown, the tree contains a number of potent compounds, notably a chemical found in its seeds named azadirachtin.
It is this astringency that makes it useful in so many fields: Medicine Neem is mentioned in many ancient texts and traditional Indian medical authorities place it at the pinnacle of their pharmacopeia.
The bark, leaves, flowers, seeds and fruit pulp are used to treat a wide range of diseases and complaints ranging from leprosy and diabetes to ulcers, skin disorders and constipation. Toiletries Neem twigs are used by millions of Indians as an antiseptic tooth brush. Its oil is used in the preparation of toothpaste and soap. Intriguingly, it is also taken internally by ascetics who wish to abate their sexual desire.
Timber Besides being hard and fast growing, its chemical resistance to termites makes neem a useful construction material. Fuel Neem oil is used as lamp oil, while the fruit pulp is useful in the manufacture of methane. Agriculture The Upavanavinod, an ancient Sanskrit treatise dealing with forestry and agriculture, cites neem as a cure for ailing soils, plants and livestock. Neem cake, the residue from the seeds after oil extraction, is fed to livestock and poultry, while its leaves increase soil fertility.
Most importantly, neem is a potent insecticide, effective against about insects, including locusts, brown plant-hoppers, nematodes, mosquito larvae, Colorado beetles and boll weevils. Access to its various products has been free or cheap: there are some 14 million neem trees in India and the age-old village techniques for extracting the seed oil and pesticidal emulsions do not require expensive equipment.
A large number of different medicinal compounds based upon neem are commonly available. Much of this research was fostered by Gandhian movements, such as the Boycott of Foreign Goods movement, which encouraged the development and manufacture of local Indian products.
A number of neem-based commercial products, including pesticides, medicines and cosmetics, have come on the market in recent years, some of them produced in the small-scale sector under the banner of the KVIC, others by medium-sized laboratories. However, there has been no attempt to acquire proprietary ownership of formulae, since, under Indian law, agricultural and medicinal products are not patentable.
Patent appeal For centuries the Western world ignored the neem tree and its properties: the practices of Indian peasants and doctors were not deemed worthy of attention by the majority of British, French and Portuguese colonialists.
However, in the last few years, growing opposition to chemical products in the West in particular to pesticides, has led to a sudden enthusiasm for the pharmaceutical properties of neem. Over the next decade he conducted safety and performance tests upon a pesticidal neem extract called Margosan-O and in received clearance for the product from the US Environmental Protection Agency EPA. Three years later he sold the patent for the product to the multinational chemical corporation, W R Grace and Co.
Since , over a dozen US patents have been taken out by US and Japanese firms on formulae for stable neem-based solutions and emulsions and even for a neem-based toothpaste. Having garnered their patents and with the prospect of a licence from the EPA, Grace has set about manufacturing and commercialising their product by establishing a base in India. The company approached several Indian manufacturers with proposals to buy up their technology or to convince them to stop producing value-added products and instead supply the company with raw material.
In many cases, Grace met a rebuff. Ltd, which manufactures the neem-based insecticide Indiara, was put under pressure by Grace to sell the technology for a storage-stable neem extract, which does not require heating or any chemical change. They are now setting up a plant in India which will process neem seed for export to the US. Initially, the plant will process 20 tons of seed a day.
They are also setting up a network of neem seed suppliers, to ensure a constant supply of the seeds and a reliable price. Grace is likely to be followed by other patent-holding companies. Plagiarism or innovation? This has stimulated a bitter transcontinental debate about the ethics of intellectual property and patent rights. There is no patent on it, perhaps because everyone recognises it as a product of nature. The existing patents apply only to methods of extracting the natural chemical in the form of a stable emulsion or solution, methods which are simply an extension of the traditional processes used for millennia for making neem-based products.
The biologically active polar chemicals can be extracted using technology already available to villages in developing countries, says Eugene Schulz, chair of the NRC panel.
However, this novelty exists mainly in the context of the ignorance of the West. Over the 2, years that neem-based biopesticides and medicines have been used in India, many complex processes were developed to make them available for specific use, though the active ingredients were not given Latinised scientific names. Common knowledge and common use of neem was one of the primary reasons given by the Indian Central Insecticide Board for not registering neem products under the Insecticides Act, The Board argued that neem materials had been in extensive use in India for various purposes since time immemorial, without any known deleterious effects.
The US EPA, on the other hand, does not accept the validity of traditional knowledge and has imposed a full series of safety tests upon Margosan-O. The allegation that azadirachtin was being destroyed during traditional processing is inaccurate. The extracts were subject to degradation, but this was not a problem since farmers put such extracts to use as and when they needed them.
The problem of stabilisation arose only when it needed to be packaged for a long time to be marketed commercially. Moreover, stabilisation and other advances attributable to modern laboratory technology had already been developed by Indian scientists in the s and s, well before US and Japanese companies expressed interest in them. In the late sixties we discovered the potency of not only ethanolic extract, but also other extracts of neem Work on the neem as pesticide originated from this division as early as Extraction techniques were also developed by a couple of years.
The azadirachtin-rich dust was developed by me. This debt has yet to be acknowledged by the US patentors and their apologists. From waste to wealth? Over the last 20 years the price of neem seed has gone up from Rs a ton to current levels of Rs a ton. This increase in the price of neem seeds has turned an often free resource into an exorbitantly priced one, with the local user now competing for the seed with an industry supplying consumers in the North.
As the local farmer cannot afford the price that the industry can, the diversion of the seed as raw material from the community to industry will ultimately establish a regime in which a handful of companies holding patents will control all access to neem as raw material and all production processes.
This statement is in turn a classic example of the assumption that local use of a product does not create wealth but waste; and that wealth is created only when corporations commercialise the resources used by local communities.
There is a growing awareness throughout India that the commoditisation of neem will result in its expropriation by multinational companies. The farmers carried neem branches as a symbol of collective indigenous knowledge. Their campaign has been supported by many noted Indian scientists. I sincerely hope that.. There is no question of anybody else in India or outside taking a priority or patent on this aspect of neem oil.
I would like this discovery to be used as widely as possible to prevent nuisance from insect pests of public health importance and in the prevention of diseases transmitted by them.
Vandana Shiva: Controversy over Biopiracy in India & Developing World
Start your review of Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge Write a review Shelves: colonialism , democracy , environment , gardens , struggle , violence I only recently read her for the first time and had my giant activist-writer crush, but Biopiracy might have been even better. Another three of her books were sitting on the shelves here, happy days, so I picked this one up. Colonialism and capitalism vs life with insights into all three. I loved it, and am finding it very useful in thinking about how we arrived where we are now and just what we are up against as well as where hope lies. She argues that … each time a global order has tried to wipe out diversity and impose homogeneity, disorder and disintegration have been induced, not removed. Nature was transformed into dead and manipulable matter. Its capacity to renew and grow had been denied.
Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge
Her father was a conservator of forests, and her mother was a farmer with a love for nature. She was educated at St. Intellectual property rights , biodiversity , biotechnology , bioethics , and genetic engineering are among the fields where Shiva has fought through activist campaigns. She has assisted grassroots organizations of the Green movement in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Ireland, Switzerland , and Austria with opposition to advances in agricultural development via genetic engineering. The initiative established over 40 seed banks across India to provide regional opportunity for diverse agriculture. She has served on expert groups of[ where? Shiva also published a book, "Making Peace With the Earth" to an Australian publisher called Spinifex said to be based on her Sydney Peace Prize Lecture made in regarding Indian social-ecological concerns and insights.