AO: Osseo-Asare notes that benefit sharing as a model has over-emphasized local priority and has failed to acknowledge the widespread distribution of herbal knowledge. She argues that traditional medicine in African contexts may be more diffuse and less tied to regional environments than has often been assumed. Osseo-Asare questions the assumption that IK is local knowledge and argues that traditional medicine was shared across a wide range of communities and was relatively public. Taking a long view of plants in African history she suggests their wide circulation and adaptation within overlapping systems of belief and use and within linked ecological zones shows that similar recipes for the same plant across geographic areas point to more regional continuities than differences. (page 16). She proposes that biomedicine and African traditional healing have not only been complementary but were, in fact, adapted from one another (page 18).
AO: Osseo-Asare relied heavily on oral history interview data because company archives were closed. She discusses how her own positionality was key in access and rapport building. Mentions how healers shared written recipes (but doesn’t discuss what she did with those).
Through legal tools based on economic principles like benefit- sharing contracts and agreements, researchers and companies have attempted to fulfil their obligations to affected groups - compensating groups for their innovations. However, as the work reveals, underlying such tools/agreement are individualist notions of the single authored innovator. (“the idea of indigenes with original and unique— albeit shared— communal knowledge still relied on the concept of priority so integral to the logic of patents for inventors.” 33) But Osseo-Asare shows that the mobility of both biological resources and people who might use or contain them made it difficult to assign benefits to individuals or communities (19)
“Benefit sharing from the profits of patents thus becomes a symbol of the drug industry’s debt to global communities rather than of retrospective justice for specific groups.” (69)
AO: Osseo-Asare notes the difficulty of limiting science/knowledge within the scale of a nation-state: “When environments and ethnic groups overlap, and plants and people move over time, who is to say that Country X somehow owns Plant Y? Policy shifts at the international level also raise questions about the extent to which national scientists will need to acknowledge local claims to plant data within African countries in their quest for patents” (201)
AO: Osseo-Asare notes that in contrast to the healers (who were open with sharing written records and recipes that had been published), scientists were wary of speaking to a historian interested in observing them in their place of work and asking them questions about their personal research narrative. “Most African universities abolished anthropology departments after independence, making a visit from a social researcher to their laboratories and offices especially ironic. Perhaps more secretive than the famously reticent healers, the scientists would rarely reveal the names of plants they were currently researching, even if publications were out and patents filed.” (26)
AO: Osseo-Asare (echoing Tilley) highlights how colonial networks allowed for the circulation of herbarium materials and information on their potential uses. French harvests of periwinkle and pennywort, Scottish documentation on Strophanthus, or Dutch collections of hoodia all relocated both plants and early recipes on their uses from African contexts to European ones (201)
AO: Abena Osseo-Asare notes the shifts over time to find ways to compensate and acknowledge multiple contributors to drug innovation. She notes that originally colonial occupation allowed for the obfuscation of the names of plant medicine experts who advised visiting botanists and chemists. By the 1950s, African nationalist scientists sought to be added to the roster of discoverers, assigning their names to patents, papers, and products but they often continued to omit the names of traditional healers or family members who had less access to the language of the laboratory but who had assisted them in their research (200).
AO: Osseo-Asare notes the challenges with finding this information given the incentive not to notate the many different stakeholders involved in creating and producing the knowledge.
Due to the legal incentive to establish “priority” groups of plant experts have constructed narratives of priority, omitting details on the many protagonists participating in knowledge production (10)
AO: Osseo-Asare writes: “African scientists, trained in new universities in their countries and abroad, collected signs of their contributions to science to secure careers at national institutes or to maintain consultancies with NGOs and international companies. African scientists traced their intellectual lineage to European societies, where from the 1700s a class of noblemen, primarily white, codified their ideas in an elite discourse of natural philosophy. These early “men of science,” as they began to call themselves, met in salons and emerging schools to discuss new ways to or ga nize plants and animals and to test hypotheses about minerals. As membership in the science professions grew, practitioners became less likely to share their ideas widely. Twentieth- century scientists have protected their ideas through a mix of lectures, publications, and, increasingly, patents. Even in regimes of shared knowledge, such as open- source software development, participants have developed ways to track their unique contributions. Scientists in Madagascar, Cameroon, Ghana, and South Africa inherited approaches to knowledge management through school systems initiated during the colonial period, and they participated in global standards for information sharing after independence.” (12-13)
AO: Osseo-Asare uses Sheila Jasanoff’s definition of co-production (18) to argue that herbal medicine and pharmaceutical chemistry have mutually supportive, simultaneous histories up to the present.