Published: Sunday 15 September 1996

Could we lend a hand?

Let me compliment you for your thoughtful and timely editorial 'The challenge of the balance' ( Down To Earth , Vol 4, No 24). The fact that there have been "...contradictions between the politicians' words and deeds...", has been unfortunate for Indian politics. The starting point, to quote you again, "is to develop a green manifesto which the environmental community can jointly put forward to the people and then use its public support to influence political parties to accept the philosophy of its manifesto into their own. And more importantly, they can then develop mechanisms to hold the political parties accountable to their rhetoric."

And as you say, there could be many ways to achieve this if we could put our heads and hearts together. I commend your initiative and offer to happily associate ourselves with this process....

True colors

It is always a pleasure to read your magazine. So please take my comments on the two features ( Down To Earth , Vol 4, No 22) as well-intended criticism.

The brief 'Cyber sacrilege' will certainly be to the liking of the church of scientology. But it is all the same way besides the truth. This cult -- as calling it a religion would be too flattering -- has built a solid reputation for harassing its critics. Court cases based on the flimsiest of evidence are a clear favourite with it. Scientology's interpretation of copyright is a very peculiar one whose sole purpose is subduing public debate on their practices.To get the full flavour of the scientology debate (scandal) you could check out Karfin Spaink's home page (in English) on the World Wide Web (http://www.xs4all.nl/ kspaink). Take a good look!

I also found Jayanta Bhattacharya's review of Bill Gates' The Road Ahead puzzlingly laudable for a magazine that is usually averse to the message of market-driven globalisation. Please remember that Gates is the subject of Net-jokes such as how many Microsoft engineers are needed to replace a light-bulb? None, since Gates has decreed darkness to be the next industry standard!...

Homework not done

This is with reference to 'The genepool war' ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 3). In recent years, it has become fashionable for journals to run articles authored by writers with little experience and knowledge about issues regarding crop biodiversity. Take statements such as this: "International agencies like the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research ( cgiar ) collected precious germplasms from the resource-rich Southern world and stored them in research centres and gene banks located mainly in the North."

Yes, the cgiar centres did undertake explorations in countries where diversity was to be found, and yes, in the '60s and '70s a subset of these collections were sent to gene banks in the North. But that is only one side of the story. The following points are almost never mentioned. The cgiar 's collectors invariably left a complete set of the subsamples with the national programme's counterpart/s. Also, these subsets were lost in several cases because firstly, the national programmes of the Southern countries did not realise their value at that time. Secondly, they did not possess adequate conservation facilities. And thirdly, they lacked trained personnel to handle such collections. Under such circumstances, it was better to have the samples stored safely somewhere, than nowhere at all.

The cgiar 's centres have always repatriated entire collections to their countries of origin whenever such a request was received from that country. For example, when Ethiopian farmers lost heavily due to the civil war and famine, they were able to replant their landraces after their seeds were returned to them.

Another point often overlooked is that with global warming and the inevitable change in the environment, 75 per cent of the ex situ collections in the North may not perform at all if called upon to do so, half a century from now. Hence, it must not be construed, after reading articles such as 'The genepool war' that the North has it all.

In my opinion, it is shortsighted and pointless to have these North versus South gene battles as to who should compensate whom. Both developed and developing economies should work together to conserve genetic resources and utilise them for the benefit of humankind...

Sumita Dasgupta replies

If the cgiar centres had simply stuck to conserving genepools and making the resources collected available only to the research community worldwide, my article would be irrelevant. But what has been allowed is unrestricted access to the corporate community leading to largescale commercialisation of resources. This is what the 'war' is all about. cgiar 's members pay an annual fee of roughly us $300 million while industrialised nations earn around us $5 billion every year from products developed from germplasm. The Convention on Biological Diversity endows the countries of origin sovereign rights over their genetic resources, and the cgiar should no longer be allowed to violate this right. If private companies are to be brought into the picture, developing nations must have their share in the profits....

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