A bio-entrepreneurship revolution

December 16, 2020 5:00 AM

People’s knowledge of resources can be considered as a part of Technology Commons, in which, people-to-people knowledge sharing is allowed and encouraged, but people-to-firms is through licensing

Young people, including children, should be encouraged to participate in mapping the knowledge of elders on local resources. (Representative image)

By Anil Gupta & Anamika Dey
For a long time, scholars and students have been documenting the knowledge of the people and bringing it in the public domain by publishing it without acknowledgement, prior informed consent and reciprocity towards the knowledge providers. Once the knowledge is brought in the public domain, it also becomes ineligible for any intellectual property protection. Any industry or commercial agency can use this knowledge without having to seek the consent and permission, with attendant sharing of benefits at mutually agreed terms.

This is not to suggest that knowledge should not be shared. One can develop a hybrid model where people’s knowledge of resources can be considered as a part of Technology Commons, in which, people-to-people knowledge sharing is allowed and encouraged, but people-to-firms is through licensing. As on date, one does not expect more than 5-10% of the knowledge available with communities to be unique and worthy of protection before sharing.

How should one proceed to, i) widen the public domain, ii) encourage and empower the communities to learn from each other, iii) add value and generate livelihoods, iv) improve income, and thus, have v) incentives to conserve biodiversity resources and use them in a sustainable manner.

Young people, including children, should be encouraged to participate in mapping the knowledge of elders on local resources. The inter-generational transfer of knowledge can take place through biodiversity competitions. In one week of such a competition, more knowledge will get transferred to younger children than may have been the case in the previous decades.

College students can also be involved in not only documenting but also annotating the knowledge resources with longitude and latitude values and also with references to the prior literature. This can be a part of an applied environmental science credit course so that the goal of connecting academia with society, which is well articulated in the new education policy, is met.

The MSc and PhD students can be encouraged to take up the value addition work on behalf of the communities while protecting their rights on the resources and associated knowledge system, and making them co-authors in the research publications. If any of this knowledge is patentable, then we can assign rights to people and credit in papers shared by students.

It must be obligatory on the part of every outside individual/institution collecting knowledge from people to share the pooled knowledge back with annotation in the local language.

Multimedia, multi-language databases help in overcoming three barriers of language, localism and literacy. That is a community member would be able to learn even if he is illiterate [by looking at the video], not only from the local village but also from other regions in the country and the world, and in the mother tongue. The degree of exchange can be monitored and mentored through respect for existing rituals and also creating new rituals/festivals. For example on August 15, the village panchayat can honour, i) local knowledge experts for their valuable service to the community for building the capacity of the younger generation, ii) reward youth and children for extraordinary accomplishment in mapping and conserving biodiversity and associated knowledge, and ii) recognise young entrepreneurs who have developed DIY and commercial products based on local resources. On January 26, a village can honour knowledge experts, youth entrepreneurs/biopreneurs from other communities and regions.

Knowledge of women, particularly with regards to edible weeds, can be very an important source for meeting the nutritional gaps in the communities. Women knowledge holders should be empowered and encouraged to set up small processing units for nutritional products based on local weeds and associated knowledge systems.
The in-situ value addition has to become a mantra for achieving the benefit sharing with local communities and generating more livelihood opportunities.

The panchayat fund/other funds should be allowed to be used to buy fractional distillation equipment, multipurpose bioprocessing units and other such devices for adding value to local biodiversity resources with or without blending it with other resources. Biotech industries should help in creating a market for herbal extracts developed by the communities, entrepreneurs and women groups. A library of such extracts can be publicised to create even a global market implementing what Honey Bee Network says, Grassroots to Global (g2G). A joint pilot of UNDP and the NBA can test these ideas.

Health for all is a desirable goal to link soil, plant, animal and human health. A pilot was done with the help of scientists of Anand Agri University and a team of local voluntary doctors, which showed the contribution of copper as a mineral in distinguishing the people and places with high chronic diseases compared to low chronic diseases. Habitat conservation and characterisation, therefore, should be an integral part of biodiversity mapping and tapping process.

Building a cadre of para taxonomist by Botanical Survey of India and Zoological Survey of India with National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) support is a good idea. AI-based applications to identify plants and their characteristics is an urgent priority. There is no doubt that the momentum that the NBA has created can be taken forward for a decentralised bio- entrepreneurship revolution, celebrating the Gandhian spirit in 150th year of Mahatma.


Gupta is founder, Honey Bee Network, SRISTI, GIAN & NIF and Dey is CEO, Gian.org, and associate editor, Honey Bee Newsletter
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