Louis Tovioujdi* is a traditional healer from the district of Avrankou in south-east Benin, near the border with Nigeria.
Some professions, such as sculpture and basket-making, which are exercised only within a family or group, or a certain community, may use particular species of plants. They have a monopoly of production and never reveal their secrets. People hand down this jealously guarded right to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In our various traditional and even modern societies, the preservation of rights is dependent on the exercise of discretion, which means that you do not copy what another person does unless they give you the “right” to do so. A sale of rights, accompanied by a blessing, then takes place. In the herbal medicine we practise in Benin, everything is negotiated at a price (with payment in alcohol, money, cloth or other goods) and the beneficiary has an obligation to pay. That is why, in order to protect their place in society, almost all inventors do not divulge their secrets, because they don’t want everything stolen or available to everyone. If you feel exploited or dispossessed of your goods or knowledge, and believe that someone else is profiting without any consideration for you, then you feel a sense of indignation. This degrades the relationship with regard to rights.
Singer-composers with a gift or a talent have often been exploited. People with financial resources pay them next to nothing or give them objects of little importance (T-shirt, alcohol or whatever) for their work and then sell on their work at a high price. It is easy to spot the pirates and the traders who take advantage of the singer-composers and exploit their work on the commercial market.
The right to exchange seeds
As for the peasants and farmers here in Avrankou and in the district as a whole, the question of the right to seeds is not an issue. No particlar place and no single ethnic group has the right to the exclusive ownership of seeds. Different seeds are grown in different regions, and these must be allowed to be exchanged freely or given as a gift. The crops grown here are maize, manioc, groundnuts, sweet potato and beans.
Each socio-professional group (peasants, fishers, hunters, livestock raisers, traditional healers and so on) should meet to think through the problem of property rights in their particular sector. Then all producers should come together and work out their position collectively.
* M. Tovioudji was assisted by M. Léonce Kpodozounto from Groupe de Recherche et d’Action pour le Bien Etre/Research and Welfare Action Group, a non-governmental organisation that works with young people on biodiversity issues.