Cash crunch

Vietnam has an Association of Herbal Traditional Doctors with a nationwide membership of about 20,000, which is recognised by the government. But the association is starved of funds. These traditional doctors often offer their services free and are usually very poor. Berit Richter, a Danish activist working in Hanoi, is helping the association organise a workshop to help protect herbal knowledge from further erosion. Of immediate concern is the fact that about five-six herbalists who are now nearly 80 years old, are the only ones who can read and understand the principles cited in 14th century texts. Says Berit, "These texts are written in Nom language which is read by many, but few understand the herbal concepts propounded in them. The old manuscripts are stored in the library of the association but they are falling apart and need preservation.'

Says sprightly 60-year old lawyer Ngo Ba Thanh, who once spent long years in a South Vietnamese prison, "Because of its cross-sectoral and inter-ministerial nature, it is unlikely that the government will act fast on the subject. There are too many legal, institutional and scientific issues for different government agencies to agree.' She exhorted the Vietnamese participants at a DANIDA (the Danish aid agency)-sponsored workshop in Hanoi in late November 1996, to demand the formation of a National Biodiversity Committee unanimously: "If there is a national committee in which all ministries are represented, then they might agree.'