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A treasure-trove of wisdom: how to capitalise on local knowledge.



Edited by J Michael Finger and Philip Schuler

$24 Oxford University Press and World Bank

ISBN 0-8213-5487-6

Africa's poor earn a pittance from their sweat and muscle, and yet many live amid the source of good income to be derived from their indigenous knowledge. Poor People's Knowledge is about promoting the innovation, knowledge and creative skills of poor people in poor countries, and particularly about improving the earnings of poor people from such knowledge and skills.

While accords were reached in 1995 at the World Trade Organisation Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) to protect intellectual property (IP) in developed countries, the same cannot be said for developing ones.

The book focuses on two issues: the defence of 'traditional knowledge' against misappropriation by industrial countries, and the policing of biopiracy to protect indigenous people against exploitation of their biodiversity by industrialised nations without proper compensation

One component of the IP issue for developing countries is to identify what problems their citizens face in earning a living from the knowledge they create and apply, and to work out solutions for their problems. "This task has not yet been taken on," says editor Finger. "It is the unwritten half of the Trips Agreement--and within this lies the development dimension of IP."


Contributors to the work were selected because they were actively involved in helping poor people earn more from their knowledge, including through marketing ethno-botanical knowledge and creating new opportunities for music composers and performers in Africa.

In theory, every person in each developing country owns a share in some IP, such as its botanical assets, traditional medicines, designs and artistic material owned by a tribe, regional or sub-national group or country. Poverty can be reduced if exploitation of that IP can provide some basic income to each family. Awareness, or the lack of it, of the knowledge of IP, and how to value it and sell it, is the key.

To capture revenue from jointly-owned IP or to develop income from creativity in African and other developing countries requires effective selling as well as local institutional development for ownership of the IP. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) envisages that creativity will be further stimulated in African countries by finding channels for fair exploitation, distribution and revenue. Increasing awareness of income potential from IP and a greater application of creativity will happen naturally once revenue starts to flow.


Music is a pervasive part of Africa's life, say the authors of the chapter on The Africa Music Project, Frank Penna, Monique Thormann and Michael Finger, and quote a member of the Senegalese band Rafrache: "When you are born there is music, when you die there is music and when you are happy there is music."

That's all well and good when you look at music simplistically, but Africa's music also has significant business potential and the ability to fill bellies. "African music currently makes up about half of the fast-growing 'world music' segment of recorded music," the authors report, and point to an important psychological element in the development of the continent's music industry.

To prevent its more dynamic young people from going off to Europe or America, "Africa has to see itself as succeeding in activities that have some glamour. The music industry has the potential to be an important symbol as well as a substantive element in bringing a poor society forward."

As an example of the economic power of music, the authors point to Nashville, Tennessee, in the US. "Sixty years ago," they say, "Nashville was an undistin-guished part of the Appalachia, the poorest region in the US. Today it is the seat of US country music, a $3bn-a-year agglomeration of musicians, composers, recording studios and managers.

"At present, virtually all African music that enjoys an international market is produced in Paris or London--the agglomeration of jobs that successful African music generates is not in Africa."

By numbers, African musicians who enjoy international sales are a small fraction of the number of musicians in Africa. In Senegal, for instance, they constitute perhaps a dozen of the country's estimated 30,000 musicians.

"Their story is about Africans in the world music business, not about the African music business," the authors contend.

The way forward for improving Africa's music industry is in the creation of the continent's own Nashvilles, and that six or seven such countries would be connected with a central electronic hub, also in Africa, that would be the seat of the vendor.

A first step is to build an industry for the 30,000 low-income musicians, recognising that the measure of success would be a modest increase in earnings for each of them.


Nepad identifies as one of four main development issues "the creativity of African people, which in many important ways remains under-exploited and underdeveloped". Contributor Ron Layton comments: "Actually establishing how to develop and exploit creativity in Africa for development purposes is an important challenge."

It becomes even more critical when considering how developing countries might receive greater revenue from IP exports to developed markets to assist poverty alleviation and development through a fair trade intervention.

"Fair trade (or alternative trade) advocates seek to change the action of conventional companies to allow more income to reach the producers at the bottom of the supply chain," says Layton. He seeks to learn from the results of 50 years of fair trade in physical goods and apply the lessons to IP exports.

In contrast to many smallscale sellers, a single, substantial IP company can act as an agent for IP products for numerous developing country clients. A small number of "fair trade IP" companies could create a competitive alternative and bring about pressure--leading overall to more equitable acquisition policies.


Small ventures in developing countries trying to earn international revenue from IP face difficulties such as the lack of knowledge about how trading systems operate for IP; the lack of access to a distribution chain and to the means to package IP and unpredictable prices and demand for their IP. Negotiating from a position of relative weakness is also a common and important factor mitigating against IP exporters from the developing world.

"The international market will not function to reward ownership and creation of IP without fair distribution chains for IP products, which are currently lacking," Layton maintains. "Often, the market fails completely for small-scale developing country designers or owners of IP, who receive no revenue at all for IP that is exploited without recognition or royalty payments."

In Layton's view, IP exports are attractive for poverty alleviation because of open markets and better profit margins than for most agricultural or manufacturing options. "The products exist and can be stimulated, and the markets exist," he believes. "The development community needs to embrace the new challenge of uncovering the most effective ways in which to develop IP exports for maximum impact on poverty alleviation."
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Author:Nevin, Tom
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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