Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

Biological Rape of Sri Lanka

Colombo: The Daily Mirror of Wednesday 21 May 2003

Most Sri Lankans may be aware of the historical and archaeological features, the sun, sand and golden beaches of this tropical paradise that we offer to tourists. These are special attractions that bring in lots of foreign exchange while the hospitality sector involved in it plays a part in our overall economy.

But many Sri Lankans may be unaware that more than any of those attractions Sri Lanka is fabulously wealthy in biological resources thousands of rare plants and animals so rich —in their variety and variability. According to Dr. Ranjan Femando—Global 500 Laureate of the UN environmental programme—Sri Lanka's bio-diversity is of such magnitude that this small island of 6.2 million hectares is ranked 11th in the world in terms of treasures of bio-diversity. Some of our plants and animals are found only in Sri Lanka.

Larger countries such as Malaysia, India and Indonesia have a comparatively scanty distribution, variety and concentration of animals and plant life, he says. According to Dr. Fematalo, our economists, planners and government leaders need to be fully aware of the abundance, variety and fabulous wealth of our biological resources when they take policy decisions related to globalization, the market economy and the exploitation of resources.

He says that simultaneously it is essential for our people and economists to be forewarned against the methods resorted to by international agencies to gain free and easy access to these biological materials and their inherent genetic resources which would in the years to come, be far more valuable than the oil fields of Kuwait or Iraq.

The potential value of these animal and plant resources could be estimated when you realise that the materials that go to form bullet proof vests, which are now a multi billion dollar industry originated from the materials discovered in a spider's web, Dr. Femando says. He points out that another recent example is the market value of a herbal medicine originating from a plant referred to as the ‘Devils Claw'. This plant, harvested from an African state was the base of a 14 billion dollar trade, but the country of origin benefited only to the extent of a 0.06% share of this amount because of the 'cross-licensing' practices resorted to by the agency which gained the patent rights to have the materials from me plant.

Some 60 years ago, the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance was first enacted by our leaders and law makers to protect and conserve Lanka's priceless heritage in biological diversity, but now sinister moves are being made under sophisticated processes to amend the fauna and flora laws and allow transnational companies linked with local businesses to exploit and plunder the wealth of Sri Lanka's biological resources. Millions of people are not even aware of this. How could they, when most MPs, politicians and even Cabinet ministers are not aware or concerned about the dismantling of protective laws so that TNCs could come in to plunder. Last week one such law was passed though it was innocuously or innocently titled as the Seeds Bill and not many of the legislators, let alone the people, were aware that in the weeks and months to come a big company might have patent rights over our poor farmers' seeds.

Poverty reduction is held high in the objectives of globalization advocates such as the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and their godfather G8, which is today largely a G1 because George W. Bush wants to run everything and wants everyone to run according to his world view. But after three decades of alleged growth through the capitalist market economy the number of least developed countries in the world has risen from 25 to 49. The G8 and the global corporations control 80% of the world's wealth by having access to resources. Now they are seeking access to Sri Lanka's biological wealth. It is the people's wealth and with some 8 million Sri Lankans living on or below the poverty line, the government must ensure that the wealth of our biological resources is kept for our people and not plundered by global giants.