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A North-South conflict

BIORESOURCES AND BIOTECHNOLOGY: POLICY CONCERNS FOR THE ASIAN REGION·Edited by Suman Sahai·Gene Campaign·New Delhi, 1999·Rs 200, 174pp

By Indira Khurana
Published: Friday 31 December 1999

-- biotechnology and bioresources are two issues that have been in conflict for a while. Biotechnology, proposed as "the technology of the next century", has its proponents in the developed countries and users in developing countries. But with companies in the North taking the bioresources from the South, patenting them and selling them right back to the developing countries, biotechnology has now become a major area of North-South confrontation.

That developing countries have a great stake in biotechnology cannot be ignored. What is required is that these countries make optimal use of their bioresources applying biotechnology in a way that suits the communities that have, over the centuries, protected this biodiversity. The book is based on papers presented at a seminar convened by Gene Campaign, a non-governmental organisation based in New Delhi. Experts and practitioners got together and, at the end of the seminar, drew up at a set of recommendations. The participants included experts from India and other countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

Two papers make interesting reading -- Bioresources and biotechnology in the Philippines and Recent developments and tribal rights over natural resources in Nagaland. The paper from the Philippines describes bioresources of the region, the country's policy on such resources and biotechnology and the prospects for the South Asian region. The paper on Nagaland describes the efforts of villagers from a poor remote village, neglected by the government, in using the available resources to become self-sufficient.

However, there are a number of editing errors in the book. Though the book was published in 1999, there is no mention of when the seminar actually took place. Besides, the name of the book, though catchy, is misleading. One reads it expecting to be much wiser by the last page on issues that are being hotly debated by all stakeholders across the globe.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Nothing new has been said nor any new recommendations made. The authors have recommended creation of awareness, enacting a biodiversity legislation, capacity building, transparency, strengthening of the voluntary sector and designing of sui generis system for protection of plant varieties and farmers and breeders rights to name a few. But then, haven't we heard all that before?

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