How Globalization Destroys Africa

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A new book co-written by two veteran development experts Andrew Mushita and Carol Thompson titled: 'Biopiracy of Biodiversity –Global Exchange As Enclosure' is a path breaking work on one of the most important issues in the near future.

The work by Mushita, a director of the Community Technology Development Trust and Thompson, a professor at Northern Arizona University in the US is a timely and critically important contribution that examines biopiracy in Africa, indigenous knowledge systems, biodiversity and international instruments on trade and intellectual property rights.

This book which will be launched this month also discusses sustainable farming, the limitations, successes and dangers of industrial agriculture, US trade relations in Africa, the land issue, food security and international instruments on seed and the need to preserve biodiversity as a policy for food security.

In many ways, the book, persistently works to advance public understanding of complex issues related to biopiracy, biotechnology, indigenous knowledge systems, World Trade Organization instruments on patenting and strategies to deal with food insecurity and the rampant and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.

Mushita and Thompson argue that the essence of seed exchange is sharing and not to profit as is happening in the world today. They say the current tendency to sell seed, pollute and put the dollar first can be damaging to the traditional important ways of life that seek to share seed to grow plants across the world and protect the environment.
"Yet the terrible other side of the story is that all this richness, beauty and wealth –germinating from sharing is now threatened," the authors say in the opening chapter titled: 'The Ancient Future.'

"It is being destroyed by refusal to share, by hoarding for a false, ephemeral prosperity. It is being destroyed in the name of science, of law and 'just reward' in the name of innovation, power and of profit." The authors also contribute to a vital dialogue about the effects of globalization on traditional farming systems in Africa, the use of food aid as weapon of domination by powerful countries and the dwindling use of African grains.

They say the US government sent genetically modified (GM) maize kernels to southern Africa in 2002 as food aid, without bothering to care about the high risk or uncertainty that the shipments would pollute the local genetic maize pool.
Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi rejected the GMO maize.

"The view from the inside of the continent looking out is that aliens have responded to drought and famine with inappropriate technology, expensive (highly profitable to some) unsustainable inputs, trade barriers against African goods and more loans than grants for so-called food 'aid," Mushita and Thompson pointed out.

The authors also argue vehemently for the protection of Africa's biodiversity, which is now increasingly being poached by western countries. They say indigenous knowledge is a key weapon for the survival of the people on the continent. Mushita and Thompson say the demise of traditional medical knowledge was due slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and globalization.

For long, they say, indigenous communities used their own traditional knowledge to treat successfully ulcers, asthma, diabetes and sickle cell anemia among a string of other ailments. Bioresources have been shared freely for centuries as people exchanged seed, plants and animals for breeding and the writers say, what is new and disturbing is the patenting of the seed 'whether an offered gift or stolen cultural secret' into private property.

Mushita and Thompson give an in-depth historical overview on biopiracy relating this colonial legacy to piracy in the 21st century. They also discuss the debate about intellectual property rights and analyze new and different laws under the WTO before moving on to propose that the extension of intellectual property rights over seeds and plants challenges scientific logic and threatens biodiversity.
The books speaks out in a simple and captivating way explaining how plants, roots and seeds define the community through healing. "Most often, women are the keepers of the seeds, tucked away among the beams in the thatched roof, protected from pests by smoke from cooking fire. Others are stored in tins in another location. Villagers volunteer labor to build storage buildings for seed banks, protecting the treasure within the public trust," the authors wrote.

The same happens when African farmers choose seed from the best plants in the field using traditional farming 'genetics' that takes into account seed yielding the most grain, preferred color, pest resistance and drought resistance.

But when international aid agencies come in, the writers quote one Zimbabwean plant scientist, they come with advice and an agenda that focuses more on "yield, yield, yield" ignoring taste because the American industry manufactures taste with additives of sugar and citric acid.

"On the farms in Africa, the choices are complex and subtle and learned from the older generation. Farmers with the reputation for having good seed will be sought out and will harvest more seed, ready to exchange it," Mushita and Thompson say. They say at one time, over 3, 000 species were used as human food but now, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that only 150 plant species are cultivated, 12 of which provide approximately 75 percent of food needed and four of which produce over half of the food people eat across the world.

The writers respond proactively to this challenge and say: "The future of the planet depends not so much on military power nor capital speculation but on each one becoming informed, debating and making choices about global exchange or enclosure of seed and plants – our collective nourishment, our wealth."

This book refers both to the African continent and to the region of southern Africa and captures the experiences of the people as it pertains to biodiversity, biopiracy and traditional knowledge systems.
 The emotive land issue in southern Africa is also discussed in detail showing its importance when it comes to food security and food self-sufficiency.

There is a section, which compares and contrasts international protocols for seed exchange from agencies trying to reconcile the demand for patenting, the respect for indigenous knowledge and the need to preserve biodiversity as a policy for food security.

The final chapter summarizes policy recommendations relevant both to other developing countries and the US. In contrast to current international policies which have reduced the role of the state, the recommendations include the public sector as a vital player in preserving biodiversity and delimiting piracy.
Mushita and Thompson call for the fostering of new patterns of relationships through seed exchange and sharing of information.

The western world continues to infringe on human rights and the ecological balance of nature in Africa through the export of seed GM seed hybrids, biopiracy and promotion of unsustainable technologies in agriculture.
In addition, this book co-written by Mushita and Thompson which argues against the commercialization of science and the commodification of nature is a clarion call that should be widely read and discussed by everyone concerned with biodiversity.

It advances public understanding on issues related to the environment and development which are happening in the world but are not getting reported in the mainstream media.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’ Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare.

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