A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
Interested in GIS?
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Posted 1:11 PM by Luigi
More on Hawaii taros
Exploitation of Hawaii's taro plant prompts outcry: Researchers say indigenous flora should be mined for medical purposes
By PAUL ELIAS
Saturday, January 21, 2006
HONOLULU -- On an idyllic spit of lush landscape at the University of Hawaii sprout the massive heart-shaped leaves of hundreds of taro plants.
Native Hawaiians hold the plant sacred in cultural lore, which is why many are now demanding that the university relinquish three patents claiming ownership to taro varieties developed by one of its scientists.
It's just the latest collision between indigenous people and commercial interests over so-called biological prospecting, the growing practice of scouring the globe from the Amazon to the deep ocean for exotic plants, microbes and other living things with biological properties ripe for commercial exploitation.
A United Nations University report concluded that 62 per cent of all cancer drugs were created from bioprospecting discoveries. The patenting of such living things has exploded in the past few years from less than a dozen in 2000 to more than 100 last year, according to University of Hawaii researcher Stuart Donachie.
"There are things here worth looking for," said Dr. Donachie, who has discovered five new bacteria on remote islands in the state. "They could provide something new that benefits society."
For example, the key ingredient in the breast cancer drug Taxol, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, is taken from the bark of the yew tree, while Wyeth's kidney transplant drug Rapamune comes from Easter Island soil.
Such bioprospecting is on the rise and has huge potential for good, according to the researchers going to sea, climbing mountains and trekking to obscure corners of the world in search of exotic and undiscovered life.
The expeditions could ultimately make hazardous waste cleanup more affordable, reduce pollution and make better medicines -- if genetic discoveries can be exploited and controlled.
Pharmaceutical companies view bioprospecting as an alternative for drug development to their traditional, chemistry-based manufacturing process.
Other companies are looking to nature for industrial applications, such as using an enzyme found in deep-sea vents to streamline ethanol production, while still others are hunting Antarctica for useful microbes.
But tough ethical questions are being raised about allowing private companies to patent and profit from Mother Nature: Who owns the living thing that yields the revenue? Are companies simply pirating local knowledge and resources from indigenous people?
Legislation in the Hawaii legislature to ban bioprospecting has stalled, although lawmakers are expected to soon release an inventory of all bioprospecting agreements that the University of Hawaii has with industry.
A long history of colonialism in the remote bioprospecting hotspots of the world has also created mistrust of prospectors -- even if most mining projects only involve scooping up a smidgen of DNA to tease out novel enzymes and proteins to make new products.
"We are taking spoonfuls or handfuls of dirt or water and we aren't disturbing the environment or depleting the resources in any way," said Martin Sabarsky, a spokesman with San Diego-based Diversa Inc., which has rights to mine University of Hawaii discoveries for novel genes.
"We are finding things that haven't been found before and we think that adds value in many different ways," Mr. Sabarsky said.
Many Hawaiians accuse the University of Hawaii -- which in 2003 began sending Diversa exotic microbes unearthed by researchers in volcanoes and elsewhere in the state -- of giving away things that belong to the Hawaiian people and cannot be sold.
"It's not about the money so much," said Le'a Kanehe, a lawyer with the nonprofit group Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism. "It's really about our relationship with the land. Our rights aren't being recognized."
Nowhere is the bioprospecting issue more contentious than in Hawaii, the most biologically diverse state in the country and home to more than 22,000 species of plants and animals. Close to 9,000 of those species are found only in Hawaii.
The patenting of the taro plants is just the latest dust-up between native Hawaiians and the school.
Eduardo Trujillo, the researcher who developed the three disease-resistant strains and patented them, said his work saved the sacred plant from devastation.
"The patents are intended to protect the new hybrid taro cultivars for exclusive use by our farmers," he said in an e-mail reply to questions.
According to Hawaiian legend, the first cosmic couple gave birth to a stillborn, Haloa, from whose gnarled body sprang the broad-leafed taro plant, whose roots also happen to yield one of Hawaii's best-known foods -- poi.
The Hawaiian people, it is believed, came from a second brother, making the taro plant part of their common ancestry.
"Our genealogy arises from the taro," Hawaii activist Mililani Trask said. "The taro patents are a desecration."
Bioprospecting is mostly unregulated, especially in international waters, and there are mounting calls in the North America and at the UN to establish legal frameworks for such work.
"With more pharmaceutical companies turning to exploring other new technologies as sources for new drugs," the United Nations noted last April, "it is becoming increasingly clear that poor countries might never realize the full benefits of their genetic endowments."
Greetings from Lae, Papua New Guinea. I write to inform you that I have been keeping a close eye on the development taking place in Hawaii on Taro. The struggle between the traditional Hawaiians and patenting of taro will certainly create a situation in the region particularly in the small Island nations that depend on taro as one of the export commodities.Post a Comment
In PNG, after our recent trip to Fiji, we are waiting for our Provincial Government to official launch the “Commercialisation” of taro this will be history as we see one of our traditional root crops enters the commercial arena. In commercializing our taros, we give our farmers the opportunity to value their taro the same way they value their coffee, cocoa, coconut, vanilla, etc, but within our control. Commercialising our taro, would also address the issue of income generation and employment opportunity.
In this regards, the ownership of traditional gene pool for taro and other traditional root crops which PNG also has the genetic diversity will bound provide interesting arguments as the situation in Hawaii become increasingly echoed throughout the Pacific. PNG’s NARI has so far released 4 Taro Leaf Blight resistant varieties which our farmers and passionate taro eaters are trying to get use to. The genetic materials came from some of traditional taros. So there we are. Patenting, ownership of original materials, all remains to be seen when the matter is becoming an issue throughout the region.
Thank you for keeping us informed,
Agrobiodiversity Weblog: For discussions of conservation and sustainable use of the genetic resources of crops, livestock and their wild relatives.