MAIL - OUT - No Control on Life 81 (December 2000 / January 2001)
European Coordination 'No Control on Life!'
Florianne Koechlin, Blueridge Institute, http:// www.blauen-institut.ch
Bad news first : This will be the last regular mail-out.
Times have changed since mail-out 1 ( June 1992!), and there are many list-servers now on similar/ equal issues, so I have the feeling that this monthly list-server is becoming a little unnecessary. Special issues on special topics may still reach you...
Good news :
Tewolde Gebre Egziabher (Ethiopia) received the Alternative Nobel Prize on Dec.12 in Stockholm for his engagement in international negotiations re biosafety, biodiversity and protection systems. For the biosafety negotiations he was the head of the majority of the G-77-countries, the "Like minded Group". I met him in Montpellier (France):
FK: Tewolde, are you proud of the Alternative Nobel prize you just got? Tewolde: More happy than proud. Mainly because all the issues I've been working at will be heard better.
FK: You're the head of the African delegation in some international negotiations. You're partly responsible that all African states refuse to accept patents on life in the ongoing TRIPS-negotiations. Is this position not rather naive? At a time when such patents are granted all over the world?
Tewolde: Depends on which world you're talking about. Our world has no patents. Patenting living things is completely alien to our world. If we're going to accept this it is going to disrupt our systems of living and production systems based on biological ressources, it will disrupt the whole of rural life. We have no choice but to fight and protect our interests. No patents on life is central to these rights. If industrial countries want to keep patents among themselves, let them keep it, but we will not recognise patents on living things.
FK: This sounds rather selfconfident. Is this a new voice from Africa?
Tewolde: Well, the kind of highly dependent response you mentioned was one first attempt of adapting to the ongoing global dominance by the industrialised countries. Our governements who replaced the colonial governements towards the middle of last century simply felt that it was good to replace white faces with black faces and go on. To some extent it is true that it is a new world, with new knowlegde and technologies and even lifestyles. Therefore we should be open for change, but unless we become the focus of what is going to happen to us we'll always remain colonies. Perhaps remote colonies, colonies run by remote control, but still colonies. We're evaluating this kind of blind faith in imitation. And we realize that imitation is not sufficient. A new synthesis is required and only we ourselves can do this.
FK: Still, it's amazing that all African countries, without one exception, came to adopt these consequent positions: We do not accept patents on life and we want a stringent biosafety-protocol. And that all African countries, together with many other Southern countries, joined for the "Like Minded Group".
Tewolde: We all made very similar experiences. We're giving up on the usefulness of imitation and we're now realizing the need to take the initiative to a new thinking of our own based on what exists and adding to it rather than whiping it all away and starting afresh.
FK: But it's also a question of power..
Tewolde: Of course. But the only way to confront power is to be sure of what you want and to the extent possible try to get it through convincing but to be ready to fight for it if needed. Power is alienating not only us but also the public in industrialised countries. I think the world needs a new look at what is happening and a new synthesis of its visions of the future. This is Africa's contribution toward a new future. Obviously we understand that the new future will not be made out of only what we say but unless we say what we want the new future will again come without any consideration of our interests.
FK: We are here in Montpellier in Southern France, during negotiations for the biosafety protocol. This important protocol deals with the risks of genetic engineering in agriculture. The protocol was signed in spring, against strong opposition from the US and some other countries, which have signed only at the very end and quite surprisingly. Observers are convinced that your leadership and the strong position of the Like Minded Group have played a key role in achieving an outcome. What's happening now in Montpellier?
Tewolde: This week we negotiate two concrete points: The clearing house mechanism which deals with information exchange and capacity building.
FK: And the Achilles-heel of genetic engineering - the liability issue - is not on the agenda?
Tewolde: No, this will come later on. We hope that the protocol will be ratified in one or two years. We urgently need international rules for dealing with genetic engineering.
FK: How do you judge the potential of genetic engineering?
Tewolde: Genetic engineering is just one technology. The bottlenecks in production and in development in sustainability of environmental protection systems are not because of a technology deficiency at the moment. If the bottleneck had been a ceiling in production or in productivity because of limited technological availability one could think of biotechnology among others. So biotechnology is neither here nor there for helping food production. In fact, since productivity is not the bottleneck, introducing an untested technology could easily aggravate the problem. An other aspect is that genetic engineering is mostly owned by private companies. And transgenic plants are patented. The big companies are putting the farmers in Southern countries under their control. They are removing the control of food production from the local community, from the national government, from the region into the hands of a few companies in Northern America or Europe. Isn't the food-problem now a result of remote control? I am really worried to see the world with such a remote control, making worse the food-insecurity in this world.
FK: A last question: Did people here realize you just received the Alternative Nobel prize?
Tewolde: The town Montpellier gave me a big official reception and nominated me as honorary citizen and Ambassador of Montpellier. I was really moved!