This was the gist of the Minister of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology, Rajesh Jeetah, who launched a half-day seminar yesterday at Ebène Heights, Ebène Cybercity. The theme of that event, organised by the Mauritius Research Council (MRC) in collaboration with the NEPAD/Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio), was “Guidelines on Use of Traditional Knowledge and Plant Genetic Resources”.
According to the minister, the half-day seminar is “very relevant to us in Mauritius as we are a small island state with a large expanse of ocean, abounding with a unique variety of land and marine species”. The guidelines were developed as a result of growing concern of a lack of policies and laws in several countries of the Southern Africa Development Community which govern the use of traditional knowledge, biological resources and benefit-sharing.
Moreover, Rajesh Jeetah stressed that he is particularly concerned with the development of scientific knowledge and networking between researchers. “I have pressed the MRC to focus attention on Intellectual Property Systems in relation to traditional knowledge, and how to preserve, protect and equitably make use of traditional knowledge. Areas as varied as food and agriculture, the environment, conservation of biological diversity, health, including traditional medicine, human rights and indigenous issues, aspects of trade and economic development are of concern and should be addressed”, he said.
The conservation, use, development and commercialisation of plant varieties depend on research and development activity, as well as productive practice of farmers, meanwhile traditional knowledge is commonly used and partly commercialised. “Scientific Research Institutions and Universities can play a leading role in cooperating with local communities for collecting crop germ plasms and adapting newly introduced varieties and hybrids”, the minister remarked. He also emphasised that one area of biodiversity conservation for which there is need to formulate a proper awareness programme is the development of biotechnology policy, access to genetic resources and benefit sharing regimes and the integration of traditional knowledge and customary law into a policy.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has underlined the importance of plant genetic resources, which have been developed and maintained by farmers worldwide for over 10,000 years. The FAO has raised attention that the loss of crop genetic diversity poses a grave threat to long-term food security. It has been pointed out that they are of significant importance and economic value as they represent an irreplaceable, locally adapted source of characteristics such as resistance to pests and disease and suitability to specific micro-climatic, edaphic and environmental conditions. But these resources are being eroded due to replacement by homogenous, modern commercial varieties.
The target groups for the SANBio guidelines are government institutions, the private sector, research institutions, non-governmental organisations, development agencies and civil society. SANBio intends to publish and disseminate the guidelines widely in the sub-region of Africa.