A case for ecotechnology
"Following the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, there had been a worldwide interest in developing and promoting 'green technologies'. After that. the International Business Council's book, Changing Course, came up with the theory that good ecology is also good business. All this has generated much interest in natural products, particularly in Europe, North America and Japan.
In this process, neem has attracted considerable attention as a plant with multiple nutritional qualities. Various laboratories, including the New Delhi-based Indian Agriculture Research Institute have been publishing papers for a long time on the major qualities of neem as a pesticide, as a nitrification inhibitor to prevent the loss of applied fertilisers and as a soil improver.
A vast majority of the patents on neem taken in recent years relate to its use as a pesticide. Substitution of toxic chemical pesticides with safer versions is high on the priority of industrialised countries, as some chemical pesticides take a long time to get permission for release, besides requiring an enormous amount of money for testing. In the stringent conditions laid down in the West, before a pesticide is approved for general use, companies are required not only to include the present generation test data, but also genetic data on the product's potential impact on subsequent generations of people.
A number of Indian companies have released neem- based pesticides. SPIC (Southern Petrochemicals), for instance. has done good work in the area. Many biotech companies are multiplying superior qualities of neem by tissue culture.
There are a large number of other valuable plants in India. What is important is to use the knowledge about these plants immediately for identifying the chemical products. characterising them. isolating the active principle and getting patents for them.
The Central Drug Research Institute. for instance. has taken a patent on a principal (ingredient) of the brahmi plant, which is well known in Kerala. among other places. as a memory rejuvenator",There is universal interest in the brahmi now.
Also. the benefits should be shared with the locals. We have the knowledge. But unlike the Americans. we do not commercialise that knowledge. The next step should be to ensure that the patent literacy of scientists is enhanced.
Normally. all the work on neem has been already published. Once you publish. you cannot patent a product. The first and second international conferences on neem were held in Germany. Though neem is a plant native to our land. the Germans. Israelis and Americans are the ones who are studying it. The time has come for us to stop complaining about the fact that others are doing it. I would say that a think tank must be constituted jointly by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Indian Council for Forest Research and Education and the Indian Council for Social Science Research. let us form a consortium and study the various aspects of neem. We should, together. launch a national programme for using indigenous knowledge in modern scientific field. That is what we call ecotechnology ."