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Indigenous knowledge and biodiversity under threat

(Thursday, Jan. 16, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- This piece from the January 11th edition of The Kathmandu Post, quotes Binayak P. Rajbhandari. CropChoice published one of his pieces earlier this month (link available at end of this story).

By Sudha Shrestha

KATHMANDU, Jan 11:Ram Maya Suwal (name changed), an elderly woman from Navadesh, a small village of Thimi does not take the local herbal medicine she used to take for her headache.

In her twilight years, her sons have convinced her to take ‘Citamol’, a modern-day medicine. Taking herbal medicine is a thing of past, her two sons would say. Similarly, her two little grandchildren are addicted to eating junk foods instead of home-cooked meals.

With the advent of modernity, Nepalese are coming of age over the years with significant change in their mode of life no matter where they are. Junk food culture has become almost a craze. However, the sad thing about the modern trend is that it is virtually replacing precious things about our rich heritage and mode of life including indigenous knowledge and wisdom. The experts attribute the phenomenon to the onslaught of the globalisation process.

According to them, the negative impact of globalisation has manifested itself in the loss of indigenous knowledge and indigenous life-support system along with loss of bio-diversity, in rural Nepal.

Globalisation that has set free-market economies in motion in the world is being blamed for the further impoverishment of the Third World. As never before, the gap between the haves and have-nots of the world, is widening at a faster rate. South Asia where half the world’s poor lives has been hit hard. The rural people in Nepal are quite exposed to the negative impact of globalisation.

According to Dr. Binayak P. Rajbhandari, executive director of Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, indigenous agriculture in Nepal, has been greatly affected with the introduction of Western model agriculture pattern.

"Western pattern in Nepalese agriculture has created havoc leading to the loss of indigenous resources and knowledge. This makes Nepalese rural women more vulnerable to this change with their loss of control and access over the indigenous resources. As more than 75 percent of activities in agriculture is performed by rural women, the change will affect their means of livelihood," says Dr. Rajbhandari.

Once a rice-exporting country, Nepal had more than 2000 varieties of rice. Today, almost all disappeared except for 9 to 10 varieties.

Dr. Rajbhandari fears that Genetically Modified Food (GMF), which developed countries like Japan and Europe have banned for their negative health impact, may make inroads into Nepal via India.

"If GMF food arrives in Nepal, it would wreak havoc in Nepalese agriculture, beside causing negative health impact. Already GMF mustard seeds have arrived in India and the days are not far off for Nepal," he further says.

Americans spent billions of dollars on experiment of GMF, which they are likely to dump in Third world countries to feed thousands of hungry people. The controversy surrounding GMF is that they carry negative impact on human health while their cultivation would pose threat to bio-diversity and the eco-system.

For technology-rich countries like the US, the genetic resources have been the most precious resources to generate wealth.

Dr. Meena Acharya, a renowned economist of the country assesses the impact of the globalisation the other way round.

"The globalisation process itself is not bad as it creates skills, employment and integration. But the hegemony of multi-national companies will not serve the interests of the majority of people. Unfortunately, years of political conflict in our country hindered the ground-work preparations in that direction, " she said.

Today, Nepal is likely to bear the burnt of globalisation in the immediate future, due to the lack of safety net, resource base and productivity in its economy.

Many precious indigenous herbs and their knowledge are flying abroad due to the lack of supervision and we have to pay huge sums for their patent rights.

"It’s worrisome. Our main concern should be how to protect indigenous knowledge and biodiversity and internal resources," argues the veteran economist.

Dr. Rajbhandari, observes that the time has come to reverse the trend of globalisation by making it pro-poor instead of pro-rich.

"Our development model is still lop-sided, based on Western model," he said, while emphasising the need for pro-poor development model, from rural women’s perspective.

To put it in Dr. Acharya’s words, "Nepali economic policy is simply bandwagonism. The time has come for soul-searching. We simply should not blindly, follow global trends without proper ground-work preparations. It will impoverish the masses of the country instead of enriching them".


Sustainable livelihood and rural development in Southeast Asia, http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=1256