Nagas losing Natural wealth to bio-pirates

Morung Express News
Dimapur | December 8 

Nagaland is bestowed with  rich flora and artistic craftsmen to boot, but the failure to protect these properties and artifacts has resulted in many agencies claiming exclusive rights over them. Nagas have probably lost numerous indigenous plants and artistic creations to others because exclusive rights over creations, both artistic and commercial, have not been patented. It is not surprising to see a Naga traditional insignia printed on tee-shirts of a multinational clothing company or several varieties of Nagaland’s  special rice being patented by the world’s apex bank.

Intellectual property rights are legal rights which protect any intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields through the mechanisms of copyrights, trademarks, patents and related rights. But Nagas remain unable to claim any right over their works and properties because such have not been documented to prove their origin. 

The hardest-hit property is floras that are with medicinal and exotic value. The Biodiversity Act 2002 provides safeguards to protect the interests of the local people, growers and cultivators of biological diversity thereby giving local communities a say in the use of their resources and knowledge, and to charge returns. The Act also protects indigenous or traditional knowledge, through appropriate laws or other measures such as registration of such knowledge. However, it is known that many medicinal and other useful plants continue to flow out of Nagaland, rendering the ineffectiveness of the Act. 

The Medicinal and Essential Oils Association, Nagaland and Medicinal and Aromatic Plant (MAP) are said to be producing quality medicinal oils but the exclusive rights over these products have not been claimed. Any plant indigenous to a certain area has to be identified and put on record to prove that it is endemic to the area thus providing royalty to the growers. But this year, trade in white ginger which has medicinal value and found in abundance in Kiphire district, had to be stopped due to rampant smuggling. It is also reported that the ginger marketed from Nagaland are ground  and mixed with tea leaves bearing the trademark of another state. Many traditional Naga medicines have also become the targets of bio-pirates. With no proper mechanism to check such piracy and the inability of the state government to go commercial with these produce, Nagaland is losing out heavily in terms of revenue. 

The lack of awareness, about intellectual property rights, is also considered one of the main reasons for the loss and theft of many endemic and indigenous products. There is also no knowledge of any Naga tribal handicraft product bearing a trademark. At the recent India International Trade Fair at New Delhi, according to an economist, nobody stands to gain anything in the long run. With no patent right on these handicrafts,  buyers can conveniently incorporate it with their brandname. Intellectual property rights are also considered a balance of economy but even with the handful of orders from entrepreneurs, Nagas are not in a position to meet the demand of buyers. The Nagaland government is said to be in the process of patenting traditional handicrafts and trying to stop the flow of indigenous good from one boundary to another but said it needs to consider “suggestions” from different sides.