To ban or not to ban – scope for legalizing the wildlife trade

This is a link to an article I had published today by ICTSD’s BioRes – it discusses what scope there is for legalizing the trade in wildlife given the failure of trade bans to stop poaching of iconic species like rhino and elephant.

This article discusses why certain trade bans could undermine conservation goals, the opportunities and limitations for legal trade models to conserve species, and how aid for trade can support sustainable use of wildlife.

It finishes by framing the decision to ban or not in terms of risk.

“Legalisation is perceived by its opponents – and some supporters – as a risk. Risk is a function of uncertainty and thus there is a pressing need for more research and dialogue. If the research is well executed and South Africa consults widely, the voting parties at the CITES COP in 2016 will be in a better position to make an informed decision on the following important question; is the risk of rhino extinction higher under a continued trade ban or under a legalised trade?”

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How to make critical commentary

Handy four steps from Daniel Dennet via Brain Pickings on how to make critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

“If only the same code of conduct could be applied to critical commentary online, particularly to the indelible inferno of comments.

But rather than a naively utopian, Pollyannaish approach to debate, Dennett points out this is actually a sound psychological strategy that accomplishes one key thing: It transforms your opponent into a more receptive audience for your criticism or dissent, which in turn helps advance the discussion”.

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Quarrels over Quinoa

Quinoa is an iconic crop for this century. It is resilient to salinity in the soil and thus can potentially withstand changes to the climate. It is also highly nutritious thus offering food security in a world that has to ramp up food production three fold in the next 50 years.

Lisa Hamilton, writing in Harpers explores the battle for the right to improve varieties and commercialise quinoa. The following dynamic is playing out. Seed companies want to develop improved varieties of quinoa – this would enable it to be grown more widely beyond the Andes with obvious food security benefits around the world. However, Bolivia, where much of the world’s germplasm is found, does not want to share its genetic material. For Bolivia, it is the property of the indigenous peoples of the Andes. Their fears are also economic, namely that if the US or Brazil were to cultivate the crop on a large scale, Altiplano farmers would face greater competition on world markets and thus lose income.

Seed companies and plant breeders makes several counter arguments:

Wouldnt improvement in quinoa varieties (through releasing germplasm) benefit farmers, including those in Bolivia?

Breeding of new varieties would enable the plant to grow in other countries thus increasing access to food

The author argues that public ownership and storage of genetic material in Bolivia is no safeguard for its future, citing Bolivia’s largest gene bank for quinoa burning down in 1998. She quotes a Bolivian geneticist Emigdio Ballon. He abhors patents but still believes that seed should be shared.

“Quinoa doesn’t belong to the Bolivian government or to corporations. Any food, any seeds, they are very sacred – they are for serving humanity. And if you don’t have their diversity stored in other places, you are in trouble. Because we never know what’s coming tomorrow”.


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The Food Police


One of the main debate in food policy in the last ten years has revolved around what we should eat. Jason Lusk, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University describes the campaigners, food critics and celebrity chefs who advocate for state support for organic, locally sourced, non GMO food as the “Food Police”. At the heart of his argument in his book is that science and technology should be embraced to improve productivity in food production as it has led to great benefits for the world’s poor in more nutritional and cheaper food. He argue that if foodies want to pay more for higher cost organic food that is fine, but the poor should not be forced to pay for it through their taxes, farm subsidies or mandated school lunch programmes. Here are some excerpts:

On behavorial economics:

“Behavioral economics shows that people are…well, human…(it) suggests we are irrational and biased; that on some level, we are incapable of making coherent choices that serve our best interest. If we cannot act in our own best interest, then the food police believe they can step in and make our lives better”

On the “Food Police”:

“The paradox of the food police is that they have turned food into a status-seeking game while simultaneously asking why the poor don’t have enough nutritious food to eat. Its like the rich kids at school honestly wondering why everyone isn’t wearing the most fashionable jeans”

His chapter on “Locavores” demolishes each of the pro-local food campaigners’ arguments, namely, that local foods are good for the economy, the environment, are a more secure source of supply, they taste better, are healthier, and especially good for kids. He quotes Charles Mann from the New York Times:

“If your concern is to produce the maximum amount of food possible for the lowest cost, which is a serious concern around the world for people who aren’t middle-class foodies like me, (local food) seems like a crazy luxury. It doesn’t make sense for my asethetic preference to be elevated to a moral imperative. “

Note: here is a piece that I wrote on reducing carbon emissions in the food supply chain and why food miles policies are a bad idea. And an ITC review of the policy options around buying local.


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Exporting natural ingredients from the Peruvian Amazon

During the period 2010-13 ITC’s Trade and Environment Programme supported SMEs in Peru to access international markets in natural ingredients. The project focused on plant products endemic to Peru like sacha inchi and goldenberry. This video highlights the ITC approach to supporting the companies and the benefits for communities.

Sacha inchi, a nut endemic to the Peruvian Amazon - rich in omega-3 - a "superfood"

Sacha inchi, a nut endemic to the Peruvian Amazon – rich in omega-3 – a “superfood”


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