Magazine article New African

Biopiracy: Neem, the Wonder Tree: A Classic Example of Biopiracy from Which Africa Has a Lot to Learn Is the Blatant Pirating of the Neem Tree, Dubbed by the UN as the "Tree of the 21st Century"

Magazine article New African

Biopiracy: Neem, the Wonder Tree: A Classic Example of Biopiracy from Which Africa Has a Lot to Learn Is the Blatant Pirating of the Neem Tree, Dubbed by the UN as the "Tree of the 21st Century"

Article excerpt

In India, over 70 patents have already been taken out by Western (mainly American) corporations from the Neem tree whose wide-ranging medicinal and environmental properties have been used, at no cost, by indigenous people for over 4,000 years. Suddenly, the Neem's properties are being claimed by big businesses under the Western-imposed Intellectual Property Rights.

Having figured out the Neem's usefulness as a medicinal and eco-friendly source of pesticides, Western corporations are clambering all over it claiming fake discoveries and preaching the tired gospel of job creation for locals. But anti-biopiracy activists and indigenous people deem this encroachment as theft and pirating of indigenous knowledge, and are fighting to free the Neem tree.

But while India is embroiled in this state of affairs, it is increasingly becoming clear that the African Neem tree is the next target for the bio-pirates. Although hardly publicised, there are some Western companies who have already claimed patents to some of the properties of the Neem tree in certain parts of Kenya, and it appears that the Kenyan and other African governments have not noticed it at all.

Why the Neem tree? Dubbed by the United Nations as the "tree of the 21st century", this evergreen tropical tree has many versatile traits-medicinal, health, ecological and cosmetic. It is widely acknowledged that in this tree lie a lot of solutions to many of Africa's health and environmental problems.

The Neem has also been referred to as the "village pharmacy", the "curer of all ailments" and the "blessed tree". Most recently, acknowledging the importance of the Neem, the US National Research Council's Board on Science and Technology for international Development, described it as "a tree for solving global problems."

Scientists have isolated over 135 compounds from different pares of the tree, which have been researched and proven to be sale. The Neem's seed and leaf extracts, for example, have been proven to be effective against both chloroquin-resistant and sensitive-strain malaria parasites (both very common in Africa). The Neem's oil, bark, leaf and flower extracts have been used to control leprosy, intestinal worms, respiratory disorders, constipation, rheumatism, sexually transmitted diseases, ulcers, skin ulcers and infections such as eczema, blood morbidity, fever, stomach aches, anorexia, piles, urinary disorders, measles, diabetes, arthritis and chest infections, its twigs are used in the cure of asthma and can be used as a toothbrush without the need of toothpaste as they contain antiseptic properties. …

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