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Plants that speak and institutions that don't listen: notes on the protection of traditional knowledge

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An ethnographic account of a bioprospecting encounter

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... "Action ethnobiology" is a term recently coined to urge our discipline to organize more thoughtfully around land use and land rights among Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (Armstrong and McAlvay 2019). Ethnobiological research can play an important role in challenging current power inequalities in projects implemented with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (Moeller 2018;Wolverton et al. 2014) or involving extractive industries (Spice 2018). Ethnobiologists conducting action-oriented projects include research for, and with, people facing violence on frontlines (Armstrong and Brown 2019), working with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on reclaiming public lands (Fowler 2019), working (critically) with NGOs promoting sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (Blair 2019), re-structuring research partnerships toward relational accountability-responsibility of researchers to entire communities and the non-human elements of where they work (Reo 2019), and joining with other disciplines like biomonitoring and toxicology to expose health inequalities and environmental racism (Caron-Beaudoin and Armstrong 2019; Golzadeh et al. 2020). ...
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Ethnobiology, like many fields, was shaped by early Western imperial efforts to colonize people and lands around the world and extract natural resources. Those legacies and practices persist today and continue to influence the institutions ethnobiologists are a part of, how they carry out research, and their personal beliefs and actions. Various authors have previously outlined five overlapping phases of ethnobiology. Here, we argue that ethnobiology should move toward a sixth phase in which scholars and practitioners must actively challenge colonialism, racism, and oppressive structures embedded within their institutions, projects, and themselves. As an international group of ethnobiologists and scholars from allied fields, we identified key topics and priorities at three levels: at the institutional scale, we argue for repatriation/rematriation of biocultural heritage, accessibility of published work, and realignment of priorities to support community-driven research. At the level of projects, we emphasize the need for mutual dialogue, reciprocity, community research self-sufficiency, and research questions that support sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities over lands and waters. Finally, for individual scholars, we support self-reflection on language use, co-authorship, and implicit bias. We advocate for concrete actions at each of these levels to move the field further toward social justice, antiracism, and decolonization.
... Studies have suggested that the use of indigenous plants is currently low due to the non-availability of these plants in modern markets/shops and the lack of investment in research development [14,17]. Thus, indigenous plants have remained less competitive relative to the existing exotic crop varieties [18,19]. ...
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Underutilised indigenous plants can support and strengthen the existing food system, as they are considered as socioeconomically and environmentally appropriate. These plants generally adapt to marginal conditions, which is essential for a resilient agriculture and sustainable food systems. The current study relied on food security and indigenous plants data collected from some selected rural households from the North West Province of South Africa. The utilised data were collected through a multi-stage sampling technique with the aid of a pre-tested semi-structured questionnaire, while descriptive methods Foster-Greer-Thorbecke (FGT) and binary logistic regression were used for data analysis. The models produced a good fit for the data, and the computed F-value was statistically significant (p < 0.01). The study examined socioeconomic and food security status based on the knowledge and the perception of indigenous plants by the households. The incidence of food insecurity (θ 0) was 0.4060, indicating that 40.6% of the participants were food insecure while 59.4% were food secured. Binary logistic regression results indicate that factors such as age, gender, educational attainment, inclusion of indigenous plants in diet, food expenditure, and access in the study area impacted results. It was also evident that the participants had considerable knowledge of indigenous plants. However, these indigenous plants were not cultivated or included in the diet by the majority of the participants. The formulation of appropriate holistic policies that support the incorporation of the indigenous plants into the food system is recommended.
... In order to destabilise the hegemonic construction of knowledge as (interpreted) dataset, as transmissible through print or digital media, as intellectual property (see also Moeller, 2018a), let us focus our attention on the relations we build "in the field"something feminist researchers have long insisted upon (e.g. Bondi et al., 2002;Moss, 2002;Hesse-Biber, 2014). ...
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Using a series of examples taken from fieldwork on socio-ecological change in the Ecuadorian Amazon, this chapter argues that, alongside its more conventional aims of data collection, textual representation and theoretical framing, ethnographic work also leads to a messy and collective generation of visceral, embodied knowledge in a spontaneous making of relations and connections. Usually disregarded, this kind of knowledge ought instead to be emphasised, valued and explored as integral to social research. By focusing attention on field relations, it is made visible how the purposeful generation of superabundant „empirical data‟ in fieldwork allows the flourishing of „another‟ kind of knowledge, in unplanned conjunction with the researchers‟ attempts at achieving their research objectives. Noting this knowledge overflow is also noting the way in which ethnography contributes, and not merely extracts from the world(s) encountered. How valuable such a contribution ultimately is depends on „whose side we are on‟.
... For such peoples in forgetting thus lies not just an epistemological tragedy but an ontological tragedy; they recognize that for the planet to endure in its power to go on, and its power of natality (Arendt 1958)-the power to produce new beginnings as well as new endings-its memory systems have to be actively maintained. This means not just maintaining traditional knowledge, but also the subsistence practices and traditional lifeways that make such knowledge intelligible (Moeller 2018). ...
Chapter
Szerzynski argues in his epilogue that there are aspects of our emerging understanding of planets that have a curious affinity with Amerindian thought, articulating a deeper understanding of planetarity struggling to get out of the straitjacket of Western naturalism. Indigenous cosmologies foreground fluidity and transformation, as different entities shift between what might otherwise be seen as wholly separate categories; multiple times seem to operate at once, and originary immanence is just a blink away. Beings exist in and are defined by meshworks of reciprocity and generosity; grasping the deepest truth can involve departing radically from everyday perception and knowledge; everything is alive, aware, a potential interlocutor. In ways that are resonant with contemporary theory the Earth is not a dead mechanism, but sensitive (Latour 2017), ticklish (Stengers 2015), and maybe dangerous (Hamilton 2017). The cosmological accounts in this volume articulate a world that is a set of relations, obligations, and mutual dependencies, warning us of what happens when these relationships are not maintained. That world has to be actively maintained in being, through gift exchanges among humans and non-humans, against the ever present danger of the apocalypse. They are protecting the virtual—defending important, hard-won planetary preconditions that enable the future to arrive, combating a present apocalypse already occurring as a “combined and uneven geo-spiritual formation.”
... For such peoples in forgetting thus lies not just an epistemological tragedy but an ontological tragedy; they recognize that for the planet to endure in its power to go on, and its power of natality (Arendt 1958)-the power to produce new beginnings as well as new endings-its memory systems have to be actively maintained. This means not just maintaining traditional knowledge, but also the subsistence practices and traditional lifeways that make such knowledge intelligible (Moeller 2018). ...
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Climate change constitutes the greatest threat to humanity today and earth scientists suggest that one of the main causes behind it is anthropogenic. Contrasting this notion many Q’eqchi’ people would most likely argue that climate change is instead caused by a lack of anthropogenic deeds. For the Q’eqchi’ people in Guatemala and Belize an eventual “end of the world” scenario comes as a result of a disturbance in the cosmic equilibrium ideally upheld by the reciprocal relationship between human and non-human beings. This chapter contributes to the quite recent anthropological involvement in the debate concerning how we should understand and approach climate change and the concept of the Anthropocene and as such it falls in line with those that take indigenous understandings of culture and nature as serious and highly relevant alternatives in the struggle to mitigate climate changes.
... In order to destabilise the hegemonic construction of knowledge as (interpreted) dataset, as transmissible through print or digital media, as intellectual property (see also Moeller, 2018a), let us focus our attention on the relations we build 'in the field' -something feminist researchers have long insisted upon (e.g. Bondi et al., 2002;Moss, 2002;Hesse-Biber, 2014). ...
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Using a series of examples taken from fieldwork on socio-ecological change in the Ecuadorian Amazon, this chapter argues that, alongside its more conventional aims of data collection, textual representation and theoretical framing, ethnographic work also leads to a messy and collective generation of visceral, embodied knowledge in a spontaneous making of relations and connections. Usually disregarded, this kind of knowledge ought instead to be emphasised, valued and explored as integral to social research. By focussing attention on field relations, it is made visible how the purposeful generation of superabundant 'empirical data' in fieldwork allows the flourishing of 'another' kind of knowledge, in unplanned conjunction with the researchers' attempts at achieving their research objectives. Noting this knowledge overflow is also noting the way in which ethnography contributes, and not merely extracts from the world(s) encountered. How valuable such a contribution ultimately is depends on 'whose side we are on'.
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One of the most recently funded groups, known as the Maya ICBG, is being carried out in the Highland region of Chiapas Mexico. The area of study is based on cultural and linguistic factors as well as topographical and environmental characteristics. Although the Maya ICBG is primarily driven by ethnoscientific principles, a concurrent regional botanical survey is being undertaken as part of the biodiversity conservation commitment of the program. This survey will also yield opportunities for random collection of botanical species that will be subjected to phytochemical and pharmacological analysis to test the relative efficiency of ethnomedically driven vs. random screening. This ICBG also differs from sister groups in that one Associate Program is dedicated to community development, natural resource and cultural conservation. It is our goal to develop natural products for rite alternative therapy market and agroecological programs, as well as to discover and develop patentable pharmaceuticals. A major emphasis of the group is to return cultural as well as economic benefits in the form of books, videos, and community gardens, to name a few. Lack of well-defined laws governing biotechnological research and development in Mexico has contributed to a prolonged delay in initiation of the screening programs of Associate Program 1. However, we currently report progress to date in Associate Programs 2 and 3 including technology transfer capacity building, community development, and botanical surveys.
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Why did an early effort to build an ethical bioprospecting relationship with indigenous people in Peru survive when a more sophisticated approach with arguably better opportu- nities for indigenous communities in Mexico later foundered in a sea of criticism? Two projects funded under the Inter- national Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG), one work- ing with Aguaruna people in Peru and another working with Maya people in Chiapas, Mexico, have struggled with iden- tification of appropriate representation of community inter- ests and with concerted campaigns by nongovernmental or- ganizations (NGOs) to halt their efforts despite broad interest among the indigenous communities they contacted. The Peru ICBG ultimately succeeded in developing credible working partnerships and carried the project through to completion, while the Maya (Mexico) ICBG became mired in defense of its approach to prior informed consent and was terminated early. In this paper I summarize relevant aspects of the history of these two landmark projects and draw some lessons about the role of culture, politics, and local governance in the dif- fering outcomes of their efforts. In particular, I point to the role of preexisting and broadly representative indigenous gov- ernance as a key factor in determining the feasibility and integrity of prior informed consent for the use of traditional knowledge. This conclusion is important because it suggests concerted movement away from the traditional model of in- dividually oriented ethnobotanical studies for bioprospecting that involves indigenous communities toward one that is structured around institutional relationships. The central thesis of the ICBGs is that research and de- velopment projects designed to discover new pharmaceutical precursors in developing countries can, carefully constructed and equitably managed, produce benefits to health, conser- vation, and sustainable development. Since 1993 several agen- cies of the U.S government—the National Institutes of Health
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The autonomy of indigenous and local communities is widely recognized by international, national, and local laws and customs. This autonomy includes the recognized rights of communities to grant permission to enter into agreements for access to their resources, including the commercial use of these resources based on fair and equitable benefit-sharing arrangements. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their allies have questioned the autonomy of local indigenous communities, which they claim have no rights to enter into agreements for bioprospecting projects. Efforts to limit the autonomy of local communities concerning commercial use of biological resources is tied to NGO opposition to any form of sustainable development which they believe contributes to globalization and exploitation of the developing countries of the South by the developed countries of the North. To achieve their goals, these groups have launched negative misinformation campaigns to discredit applied biodiversity research projects and the scientists who lead them. Although these NGOs have no legitimate authority to speak for local communities, their access to the press and the Internet provides them with a platform that allows them to be identified as the voice of the indigenous and local communities of the world. In this case study of the Maya ICBG project in Chiapas, Mexico, we describe how local community autonomy was taken from indigenous communities that had agreed to participate in an international development project on drug discovery, biodiversity conservation, and sustained economic development. A major lesson to be drawn from the Maya ICBG case is that local indigenous community autonomy, as envisioned in the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity, is more myth than reality in the access-to-biological-resources debate, especially in the politically charged climate of Mexico and Latin America.
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bioprospecting new form of appropriation of indigenous knowledge and their cultural and natural resource sovereignty
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Bioprospecting-the attempt to identify and eventually commercialize potentially valuable genetic and biochemical resources-is not a new activity.1 Transnational, commercial flows of medicinal plants date back to the sixteenth century (Ortiz Crespo 1995). What is new about the present transnational resurgence2 in bioprospecting is that it is driven primarily by four interlocking factors:3 (1) global, market-based economic rationales; (2) rapid and broad technological changes, especially in the biotechnology industry; (3) a growing interest by pharmaceutical actors4 to link their bioprospecting profits with environmental conservation;5 and (4) efforts to harmonize and standardize global discourses on biodiversity and intellectual property rights regimes. Beyond these factors practitioners and theorists often claim that bioprospecting is a "win-win" scenario for local communities, the institutions and firms that engage in it and the nation-states where prospecting occurs (Ten Kate and Laird 2000; Reid et al. 1995). Since those that control the factors that define contemporary bioprospecting-hereafter pharmaceutical actors-wield enormously disproportionate access to resources, information, technology, and capital, preliminary data indicates that the benefits of bioprospecting overwhelmingly accrue to them and not to nation-states, nor to communities where prospecting takes place. Evidence from the field, as we shall see, underscores this point-particularly for Ecuador.
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This Note explores the discriminatory effect of U.S. patent law and policy on indigenous communities in developing countries. For years, Western researchers have relied upon local people to point them to useful regional plants and animals so that they could then isolate, develop and patent the chemical compounds found in the organisms. Yet, the U.S. patent system does not recognize or value the traditional knowledge of indigenous groups regarding their regional biodiversity. Rather, the researchers who isolate the compounds can obtain a patent with no recognition for the indigenous knowledge upon which they relied. Recently, the World Trade Organization has succeeded at globalizing Western intellectual property systems through international treaties. These efforts have met with significant resistance in several developing countries. The controversy over the ayahuasca patent is one example of developing countries' opposition to Western-style intellectual property rights. By implementing the suggestions described in this Note, the United States could ensure that indigenous knowledge would be recognized and thus could avoid future controversies like the one surrounding the ayahuasca patent.
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SUMMARYA taxonomic scoring method is used to classify the edible bananas and to provide evidence on their evolution. Edible diploid forms of Musa acuminata are thought to be the primary source of the whole group to which another species, M, baibisiana, has contributed by hybridization. Thus there exist diploid and triploid edible forms of M. acuminata and diploid, triploid and tetraploid hybrid types of genetic constitutions that vary according to their histories. There is a faint possibility that a third wild species has contributed to the origins of a small group of triploid hybrid types. Triploidy was probably established under human selection for vigour and fruit size; tetraploidy is inexplicably rare. The centre of origin of the group is Indo-Malaya and Malaya is probably the primary centre. The two Ldnnaean species M. paradisiaca and M. sapientum refer to identifiable edible varieties which are both shown here to be of hybrid origin. The names therefore may be rejected from the nomenclature of the wild bananas.
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In the past decade, Ecuador has seen five indigenous uprisings, the emergence of the powerful Pachakutik political movement, and the strengthening of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador and the Association of Black Ecuadorians, all of which have contributed substantially to a new constitution proclaiming the country to be "multiethnic and multicultural." Furthermore, January 2003 saw the inauguration of a new populist president, who immediately appointed two indigenous persons to his cabinet. In this volume, eleven critical essays plus a lengthy introduction and a timely epilogue explore the multicultural forces that have allowed Ecuador's indigenous peoples to have such dramatic effects on the nation's political structure. "Millennial Ecuador is a superb collection of essays by leading anthropoligists, historians, and indigenous intellectuals that provides a multifaceted, critical view of the social and cultural pratices of Andean, Amazonian, and Afro-Ecuadorian peoples engaged in mounting political struggles. Focusing on the clash between structural and contra-structural power, on empowerment processes of traditionally disenfranchised populations, and on multiple and competing representations of current confrontations, the book constitutes an outstanding analysis of the contradictions of modern and millennial globality of local cases."--Fernando Santos-Granero, author of The Power of Love: The Moral Use of Knowledge amongst the Amuesha of Central Peru Norman E. Whitten is professor of anthropology and Latin American studies, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, curator of the Spurlock Museum, affiliate of Afro-American studies, and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Author and editor of many books and essays, he has been working in Ecuador since 1961.
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During the last decades, however, a biodiversity conservation movement has swept Latin America--and the rest of the world. Increasingly, countries like Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico have become aware of the economic interests Northern countries have in their biodiversity. Some countries, like Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru had already benefited from debt-for- nature swaps, but the "green funds" that were being transferred from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the First World to NGOs within their Latin American borders defied governmental controls and led to suspicions that environmentalism was only a cover for foreign takeover of national lands and resources. Thus, biodiversity and environmental interests generally have been viewed with suspicion, or even as threats to national sovereignty.
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I propose the theory that agriculture originated independently in three different areas and that, in each case, there was a system composed of a center of origin and a noncenter, in which activities of domestication were dispersed over a span of 5,000 to 10,000 kilometers. One system includes a definable Near East center and a noncenter in Africa; another system includes a North Chinese center and a noncenter in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific; the third system includes a Mesoamerican center and a South American noncenter. There are suggestions that, in each case, the center and noncenter interact with each other. Crops did not necessarily originate in centers (in any conventional concept of the term), nor did agriculture necessarily develop in a geographical "center."
Report of Economic Survey
AIPLA (2001) Report of Economic Survey 2001, American Intellectual Property Law Association, Arlington.
A policy note on biopiracy in environment, technology and society
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Biopiracy in Peru: Tracing Biopiracies, Theft, Loss and Traditional Knowledge
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Chapell, J. (2011) Biopiracy in Peru: Tracing Biopiracies, Theft, Loss and Traditional Knowledge, PhD Thesis, Lancaster University.
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Wayward allies: President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian left
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Intellectual property, resources or territory?
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Property and Justice
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Harris, J. (1996) Property and Justice, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Monsanto Versus US Farmers: A Report by the Center for Food Safety
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