Bioprospecting: : Global discourses and local perceptions - Shaman Pharmaceuticals in Tanzania
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AbstractBioprospecting: Global discourses and local perceptions Shaman Pharmaceuticals in Tanzania Bioprospecting is an activity whereby researchers and agents for pharmaceutical companies travel to various parts of the world to collect samples of biological material. They often go to traditional healers and survey what medicinal plants the healers use for treating various diseases. Back in the laboratories, the plant samples are systematically screened, and this constitutes an important basis for the development of modern medicines. The sociologist Hanne Svarstad has written a doctoral dissertation in which she analyses global narratives on bioprospecting, as well as local perceptions among traditional healers in Tanzania.
The Convention on biological diversity says that benefits from bioprospecting is to be shared fair and equitable with source countries of the biodiversity, and an equitable sharing is also encouraged with indigenous and local communities. According to the win-win narratives , this is exactly what happens in specific instances of bioprospecting. Biopiracy narrative , on the other hand, depict bioprospecting as exploitation, and with a particular reference to the involved patenting.
In Tanzania Svarstad has traced different actors who have been visited by agents from the American company Shaman Pharmaceuticals. Many traditional healers were ambivalent towards the bioprospecting. They wanted new opportunities for participating in this activity, but at the same time they expressed disappointment with their experiences with the American company as well as with Tanzanian bioprospectors. Svarstad found that none of the two global clusters of narratives gave a satisfactory key to the interpretation of the case. For the healers bioprospecting implies positive features such as increased acceptance and status in society. Furthermore, it provides them with a seldom opportunity of accessing knowledge from modern science regarding the medicinal plants on which they themselves are local experts. The healers were disappointed about what they obtained of access to scientific knowledge from Shaman Pharmaceuticals, and in one area this caused the elaboration of a strategy to get more successful when new opportunities for bioprospecting would appear. The dissertation also shows how the meeting with representatives of modern medicine can be seen as problematic for healers when the collectors of their medicinal plants ignore that the traditional practice and knowledge often is embedded in a spiritual belief.
Svarstad s study is based on qualitative social science methodology. It focuses on epistemological questions regarding the contribution of knowledge from sociological research in fields where simple types of narratives often are powerful despite that they may be constructed on weak bases.