New Internationalist

Update

Issue 116

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[image, unknown] PHARMACEUTICALS[image, unknown]

Tonic for Bangladesh drugs
New law favours locals

BANGLADESHI consumers looking for a quick energy Fix from their favourite brands of tonic and elixir have until the end of 1982 to stock up before the country s new national drug policy clears them from pharmacy shelves.

A total of 1742 drugs out of 4000 sold in Bangladesh will he banned under the new policy usualix’ for having harmful side effects or no therapeutic value.

In a radical move for a country so dependent on foreign benevolence. the new policy bans sales by companies without their own factories in the Bangladesh. Ii also shuts down third party licence arrangements through which multinationals have been renting out their names to local suppliers: although cheaper equivalent local suppliers have been available, gullible consumers and doctors influenced by pharmaceutical salesmen believed that the foreign name and the higher price stood for higher quality.

The new policy hopes to change all this. Local companies will be encouraged to expand, as they alone will be manufacturing drugs with simple formulations like antacids and vitamins. The multinationals will now be asked to use their high-calibre machinery and technical know-how to produce important and innovative drugs not produced by national companies.

Eight multinationals currently control 80 per cent of the Bangladesh drugs market, while 150 smaller companies share the rest One of their common practices is to transfer profits out of the country in the guise of high prices for materials purchased from the parent company. But in another boost for local industry all companies will be required to u~e locally manufactured materials when available.

But the new policy is aimed no just at the multinationals. There are many national companies selling unnecessary or harmful medicines they make handsome profits from elixirs. Cough syrups. gripe water and alkali preparations all of which will be banned or restricted under the new policy. Many of the tonics now on sale contain alcohol up to 70 per cent in the case of one local brand. Kalmegh - although the sale of alcohol is prohibited in this Muslim country. Most people looking for a nutritional pick-me-up would get more for their hard-earned taka if they bought vegetables instead.

Not surprisingly, manufacturers have already begun to lodge complaints about the way that the expert committee drew up its recommendations. Even the American ambassador got involved when she called on the Chief Martial Law Administrator, Lt. Gen. H.M. Ershad, and reportedly threatened to reconsider’ a $13.6m aid project (to support the pal/i chiki;shak village doctor programme) unless the announcement of the policy was delayed for a few months.

A two-month-old martial law administration apparently decided, however, to strike while the regime was hot and its political and business obligations cool. The pa/li chikiishak, they felt, would be a small enough price to pay and in any case, according to one source. Ershad thinks that if he is going to beg for assistance from rich patrons he will hold out a bigger begging bowl. Government qualms may have been eased somewhat by the example of Sri Lanka. In the 1960s when it implemented its own national drug policy the United States cut off PL480 food aid and later, having gained no political advantage, restored it.

Sally Bachman

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[image, unknown] ENERGY[image, unknown]

Ho-ho-ba
Oil that grows on trees

The snag with oil is that only a few countries are lucky’ enough to have it uiidcr the ground. But now it seems a new kind of oil could be produced on a bush.

The bush is called jojoba, pronounced ho-ho-ba It grows wild in Mexico’s Sonora Desert and produces seeds which contain, on average. 53 per cent oil. An oil that no other known plant on earth produces’, says University of California Professor Demetrios Yermanos. who spotted its potential some ten years ago. Jojoba plants have the considerable advantage that they seem to thrive in the poor soil and low rainfall usually considered unfavourable for growing crops. The plains can get by. it seems, with as little as three to four inches of rain a year and they positively dislike rich and fertile soil.

About a thousand bushes can be grown in one acre and they are giving 3,000 lbs of seed per year. So great is the demand for the seed that it is currently selling forS2O a lb. And the oil is fetching a staggering S200 a gallon the equivalent of $8.OOO a barrel compared with petroleum crude at S31 a barrel.

The oil is now being used by manufacturers of engine lubricant oil, who claim that it only needs changing once every 32.000 km. And cosmetics manufacturers are using it to produce a wide range of products, including face creams, hair oil and soap.

Professor Yermanos believes that jojoba oil is likely to be taken up soon by the pharmaceuticals industry and he says it also appears to have an excellent potential as a cooking oil. Tests have shown ,‘ he says. ‘that you can cook with it up to 24 times.’ And further research and development could make the oil suitable for turning into petrol.

The Sudan has been growingjojoba since 1977 and results are good. Sudan’s bushes are now yielding their first seed and proving that it grows in Africa.

A part from producing cash crop. jojoba has a further possible and valuable role. The plants secret is that it develops a very long root as long as 100 feet and this strengthens the ground and stops soil erosion.

John Madely, Gemini

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[image, unknown] CHILDREN[image, unknown]

Shantha's story
A garbage picker in Sri Lanka

SHANTHA’s father left home two years ago. ‘We had no means then: he says, so my mother became a prostitute. She was still pretty you see. But one year later she died. The work killed her. Now I provide for my sister and me’.

Shantha is nine years old and owns two pairs of shorts and one shirt. His sister Lalitha has two dresses which the rich man’ in the ‘bIg house’ gave her after much abuse.

Shantha looks hungry most of the time with distended stomach and protruding ribs. His day starts at 5.30 am. White sister Lalitha sleeps he brews tea. This with a dry piece of rod (roasted bread) will be his breakfast for the day.

A last look at his sister, and he is off with his canvas bag strung on his shoulder — a bag which becomes extremely precious as the day wears on. For Shantha is a full time employee of the streets a garbage picker. His work takes him along the corridors of Colombo’s pavements in the heat of the day or the cold of the night.

His is an eternal race against the rubbish collector. The work is not easy. Shantha searches amongst the oftal for anything saleable old iron, shoes, discarded clothing. By mid-day he is still bleary-eyed and now completely exhausted. It is also time for lunch two pieces of bread and a cheap, watery curry that is of more gravy than substance. This costs him five cents.

After two years Shantha is no neophyte. But in the beginning life was hard. For he had to compete with the hard-core professional of the Street: the pimp and the prostitute, the beggar and the thief who all made life difficult. But graduallx’ he learnt the harsh ways of the roa& When not to search and when to avoid, when to run or stand.

At the end of the day. Shantha takes his hoard’ to the Muda/alis’ (proprietor’s) shop. He is in luck. The Muda/ali is in a benevolent mood. All Shantha’s odds and ends fetches him 5O’~. With this Lalitha and he can have a respectable dinner of coconut sambol and bread. He rushes home to collect Lalitha before 730pm from the neighbour she was left with.

Shantha’s favourite days are on the monthly Buddhist Poya holidays. With Lalitha on his lap he sits outside the temple gates begging. His is a woeful and plaintive cry and the people are quick to respond. On a good day he collects two dollars to keep the two of them from want for 4 to 5 days.

Shantha’s father, too, started life on the streets. Thirty years later he is still there begging and scrounging for his daily keep. as his son does now. Shantha’s father did not bequeath him riches, clothes or a large house. The only inheritance was the legacy of the streets.

Lakslnnaii Urnagiliva

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[image, unknown] TRADE[image, unknown]

Banana trap
Windward Islands caught in cash crop slump

SOME 40 per cent of the bananas eaten in Britain are imported from the Caribbean by just one British company. Geest Industries. They have an exclusive contract with the Windward Islands: Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada.

But while the deal may be profitable for the company - and Geest made a pre- tax profit of over S8m in 1980 the islands themselves are getting less and less from it.

In 1950, three tons of bananas would buy a tractor. By 1970 it took 11 tons. Today in 1982 it takes about 25 tons. And it looks as though things are getting worse. Over the past year the price to the grower has fallen from I O to 7 a pound. while according to a recent study in Grenada the actual cost of producing a pound of bananas, taking labour costs at the minimum agricultural wage rate, is 9c.

There is money in the banana business. but close to 90 per cent of the final selling price nexer [eaves Britain. It circulates between the consumers, shopkeepers, importers and marketers. The wealth generated by the industry is exported from the Windward along with the bananas.

The Islands’ Banana Growers Association, WINBAN. with whom Geest has the contract, has no control over the price. This is set by Geest, who own the boats and control the importing and distribution in accordance with the state of the market.

All this has profound implications for the small farmers of the islands. In Dominica, for instance, bananas make up about half of total exports and banana cultivation is the major form of employment. Around 80 per cent of the crop is grown on smaliholdings of five acres or less.

But at present these farmers can see few alternatives. The Geest boat comes once a fortnight, providing a guaranteed market and a regular, if pitiful, income. To change to other crops would be difficult for farmers with no savings who rely on their fortnightly payments. And they would also need somewhere to sell their new produce.

Grenada (see Country Profile p. 32) is the only one of the islands attempting to break out of the vicious circle. But with prices falling - ar1d they are falling too for its other main exports of cocoa and nutmeg it looks as though their new strategy could be undermined by the very system they are trying to break away from.

Philip Wolmuth

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[image, unknown] BABY FOODS[image, unknown]

Mothers ruin
New marketing tactic from Beechams in India

AYEAR AFTER the passing of the World Health Organization’s code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, one manufacturer has found a subtle way of capitalising on the code. The British Beecham Group. through its Indian subsidiary Hindustan Milkfoods (best known for Horlicks in India) has recently begun marketing Mother’s Speciaf, a product intended not for babies but for their mothers. It is being promoted as a supplement to supposedly make the nursing mother better-fed and so improve breast-milk for the baby.

In essence, it evades the code on infant formula. It still means that the nursing mother ‘wanting the best for her child’ is tempted to spend heavily on a comparatively highly-priced item, when herdrinking ordinary cow’s milk would be as good and a great deal cheaper. Hindustan Milkfoods are promoting Mother’s Special quite aggressively and have recently taken time on Indian commercial radio.

The irrelevance of such a product is shown up by a clinical analysis of the milk of lactating mothers in India This showed it to be similar to that of such mothers in the UK and USA (it differed only in Vitamin A concentration). Thus the new product makes free breastmilk that much more expensive and might better be labelled ‘Mother’s Ruin’. The contents list shows that it is made up largely of wheat and barley foods eaten regularly in every Indian home.

The Indian Government clearly feels the WHO code is ineffectual and is drafting its own code which will bemuch tighter than the WHO recommendation to avoid creating ‘any doubt that there can be any real substitute for breastmilk.’

Urna Ram Nath

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[image, unknown] HOUSING[image, unknown]

Rising expectations
MuIti-storey villages in China

By encouraging peasants to make scientific use of mud and timber, the Chinese government is promoting housing construction unlike anywhere else in the Third World. And it hopes to maintain the current boom in rural housing construction at about six million new dwellings annually.

A key component of the planning exercise is to save agricultural land. China has a larger population than India but less arable land. According to the UN, only 11 per cent of China’s total land area of 960 million hectares is cultivable. The per capita arable land is only 0. I of a hectare in China as compared to 0.3 in India and 0.9 in USA.

Some 33 million additional hectares could probably be brought under cultivation in the long run but these lands are mainly situated in the north-eastern and north-western regions where the population is sparse and the cost of developing them is going to be very high.

So it is vital to prevent any encroachment of housing onto arable land. Around mid 1981, the government issued a circular urging peasants to build their houses on mountain slopes or unused lands. And it is hoped that many loosely dispersed older villages will be readjusted,’ making them more compact both by improving their layout and by introducing more multi-storied structures. Two- to three-storey buildings are now common in many villages of rural China.

Readjusting older settlements can gain seven hectares of land per village. And on present plans some 70,000 hectares of new cultivable land could be gained every year.

In early 198. the Rural Housing Office organised a competition for new house designs. More than 6.000 were submitted and the best have been selected to serve as useful references. These incorporate traditional architectural styles and take into account resistance to fires, typhoons and earthquakes as well as promoting more rational use of energy for cooking and heating.

Anil Agarwal, OSE

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