27 May 2023  |   06:00am IST

Save Goa Save traditional knowledge systems

Everyone would be unanimous in their opinion that Goa has to be preserved for the future generations and this also includes the Goa’s traditional knowledge. There is a treasure of knowledge in each village which has been passed onto the future generations. There would be vaidyas (traditional doctors) in every village who had knowledge of making traditional medicines out of medicinal herbs. The farmers, too, had enormous knowledge about traditional techniques of farming. However, this knowledge would be passed on only orally and there are hardly any written records on the subject. There were two effects of this, A: This knowledge largely disappeared as the nature of business changed with the next generations and B: This knowledge started to get stolen in secret ways. 

The incidents such as a PhD student writing his thesis using knowledge he compiled from locals or a company using traditional knowledge from people to manufacture a product and patenting it have increased in recent times. This has to be stopped and for that, there has to be proper records of what is available in each and every village. The traditional knowledge has to be preserved while also preserving the biodiversity in each village. The government will not be able to do this on their own. Preserving this knowledge means by default safeguarding Goa. There is a lack of enthusiasm at the government level with regard to this. There is no control over who is stealing what from Goan forests and what is its value. Regardless of who and what is manufactured in the lands belonging to villages, the ownership should lie in the hands of villages themselves. There is no way one can think that the government is serious about this. 

The biodiversity registers at village level have been created and the work of updating them is underway, but there has not been enough efforts to create an alternate system which would take care of traditional treasures from being stolen. India passed the Biodiversity Act in 2002 which had the background of Convention on Biological Diversity which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The concept of People’s Biodiversity Register was born from this Act. 

This Biodiversity Register is expected to maintain a record of knowledge, perception and attitude of people about natural resources, biodiversity, people’s traditional knowledge, relation between human life and biodiversity and ecosystem. This concept was brought in to provide legal protection to traditional knowledge and to implement programmes of preserving and conservation at village level. Although the world has admitted that the local people have the right over their traditional knowledge regarding biodiversity, the question remains as to how to implement the law. The three-tier system consisting of National Biodiversity Board, State Biodiversity Board and Biodiversity Management Committee is in place and the work of People’s 

Biodiversity Register is expected to be done by biodiversity management committee along with the villagers. In case the traditional knowledge which is documented in the biodiversity register is used by a company for business, then the company is bound to give some share of their profit to the village. The documentation work has been done, but it is also true that no share of profits has been given to any of the villages. Although this is the situation in Goa, there has been a good amount of work being done in the rest of of India. Due to the People’s Biodiversity Register, ‘Kaani’ tribe in Kerala received the patent for medicinal herbs.

Most people in the villages now prefer modern medicines for their treatment. Students and youngsters who once upon a time hogged wild berries and fruits now survive on chocolates and wafers. Due to the excessive use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers, no other crops grow apart from the ones which are intentionally sowed. This has led to the wild vegetables which would grow easily and naturally, disappear from the menu of village meals. This is why it has become extremely crucial to understand biodiversity in villages, documenting it instead of relying on oral teaching and preserving the herbs which once cured diseases of many villagers. The registers are ready, the need right now is to protect traditional knowledge and grant the villages their fair share of profits. Only then the discussions revolving around protecting and safeguarding Goa will have some meaning. 


Iddhar Udhar