UNESCO summit to pursue social equity goal

by GRAIN | 8 Feb 1999
TITLE: UNESCO's Upcoming Summit To Pursue Social Equity Goal AUTHOR: Keya Acharya PUBLICATION: IPS: Science DATE: 5 February 1999 SOURCE: Inter Press Service URL:

UNESCO's Upcoming Summit To Pursue Social Equity Goal

By Keya Acharya

BANGALORE, India, Feb 5 (IPS) - UNESCO needs a programme that will protect and promote indigenous knowledge systems in science in the new millennium, scientists and scholars from 10 UNESCO member countries recommended at a conference in this Indian city.

Science in this century, they said at a meeting organised ahead of the UNESCO World Conference on Science, has not addressed the problems of the underprivileged in Asia, Africa and South America.

Instead there are two worlds: the industrialised North and the impoverished South, speaker after speaker from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other countries said last week in Bangalore.

According to them, most scientific research this century has been monopolised by large private concerns like pharmaceutical giants that intensively tapped natural resources from developing countries rich in biological and natural wealth.

Indigenous knowledge systems that had for centuries used these resources in local systems are now losing out to scientific industry. The issue of intellectual property rights in a global economy is now a challenge confronting science, they reminded.

The 186-member UNESCO, they said, must establish an international fund for conservation and promotion of these non-formal knowledge systems, particularly with strengthening the role of women in this process.

The suggestions form the 49 participants were incorporated in the Bangalore Communique that will be assimilated in the Draft Declaration of UNESCO's upcoming World Conference on Science scheduled to be held in Bucharest in July.

The Bangalore conference on 'Science and Society' was the last of the preparatory meetings organised by UNESCO. Earlier meetings were held in Canada, France and Australia last year.

Dr Ali Kazancigil, executive secretary of UNESCO's Social Sciences, Research and Policy at its headquarters in Paris, believed the Bangalore symposium to be of special importance as it represented perspectives from developing countries.

The draft now recognises the need for addressing the present inequities in science due to globalisation. A global economy has put pressures on both natural resources and intellectual property regimes that have exacerbated rather than reduced inequalities.

When asked if he felt that UNESCO's directives for social change through science would be implemented, Dr Kazancigil said UNESCO can only bear upon the world community to follow certain policies, not pressure it to make laws in this regard.

UNESCO's directives, he reminded, have however been used as a moral yardstick by the international community in the last 50 years of its existence.

Dr Kazancigil was optimistic that UNESCO could now also bear upon its member states to follow a new social contract in science in the next millennium.

Prof Madhav Gadgil of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore cited the case of the Soliga tribe of south India whose knowledge of the Phyllanthus emblica, an indigenous tree with many known benefits, has proved to be far superior to its scientific documentation.

Yet the Soligas knowledge was not recognised by formal science. Prof Gadgil said, 'Science must develop a new contract of making such people partners in managing and monitoring nature.'

Indian expert Dr Smitu Kothari, member of IUCN's Ethics Committee and visiting Professor at Cornell University, United States, said instances of India's successful local community initiatives of ecological restoration needs to be recognised by national and international scientific and government institutions. He gave the example of 'Timbuctoo', a 32-acre area that is now a successful story of community effort for development in Andhra Pradesh, India.

In eight years, Timbuctoo's initiatives of ecological regeneration has raised the water table, regenerated 250 species of plants without active planting measures and the state's government has now given the group 2,000 acres for similar regeneration efforts.

Similar grassroots initiatives are also now a method of alternative technology in irrigation, power and social forestry schemes in the Himalayan kingdom Nepal, its scientists said.

In Sri Lanka, its largest NGO, the Lanka Jatika Sarvoday Shramadhana Sangamaya, has pioneered the ethic of community effort through the traditional Buddhist philosophy of non-violence that has allowed all communities to participate.

In fact local communities are 'now conserving for public good at personal cost', said Indian agriculture scientist and UNESCO EcoTechnology Chair, M.S Swaminathan.

Studies conducted in India by the Foundation he heads, has numerous cases of village people, mainly women, who have perfectly preserved seeds that have indigenous genes. They rely on oral tradition to hand down their skills. Their rights to this knowledge is now threatened by globalisation that has allowed science the access to gene research.

Developing countries, including India, have been slow in drawing up their rights in preserving indigenous knowledge, he said. (END/IPS/ka/an/99)

Author: GRAIN
Links in this article:
  • [1]