November 2008

Traditional knowledge under threat: Faulty laws, lack of trust stymie promising advances

EurekAlert, 13 November 2008


PARIS, FRANCE: Despite global moves to improve traditional rights, the wisdom and knowledge accumulated by indigenous communities over thousands of years is still being lost or plundered for corporate profit, according to a report released in Paris on 13 November by an international coalition of experts. The study was released at a conference of international biotech and intellectual property experts, convened by Sciences Po and The Innovation Partnership, a non-profit consultancy specializing in the understanding, use and management of intellectual property in industrialized and developing countries. The authors looked at how traditional knowledge is treated in three countries—Brazil, Kenya and Northern Canada, each of which has its own unique indigenous knowledge systems, innovations, customary laws and practices, and its own approach to protecting them. “Laws on intellectual property rights are so confused they are reducing intellectual property rights claims by indigenous people to barely a trickle,” said Tania Bubela of the School of Public Health, University of Alberta (Canada), co-author of the International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property’s study. “It has become clear that we need more than property rights to protect traditional knowledge and ensure fair and equitable benefit sharing with indigenous communities for the use of their knowledge.”


“Many countries have made moves to protect traditional knowledge, but they have largely been ineffective because they focus on who owns the property rights,” said Bubela. “The extreme difficulty of determining this has effectively acted as a road-block to progress.” In Brazil, for example, the study found that legislation passed in 2001 has failed so far to achieve a key goal – to encourage the scientific and commercial development of indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants. “To date, only seven phyto-therapeutic items developed with Brazilian human and technological resources are on the market in Brazil,” said Edson Beas Rodrigues Jr of the Faculty of Law, University of São Paulo, Brazil, and one of the study’s co-authors. “On the other hand, more than 700 patents on such items have been issued or filed worldwide, almost entirely by foreigners.” This is a matter of considerable concern, said Rodrigues. “There is a real risk that the holders of traditional knowledge will receive no monetary benefit at all from the commercialization of that knowledge.”


The authors’ conclusions are described in a case study released on 13 November as part of a new groundbreaking report – Toward a New Era of Intellectual Property: From Confrontation to Negotiation – from the Montreal-based International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property. The authors of the report and case studies were invited to present their findings in Paris by the renowned French research university, Sciences Po, which is working to encourage debate regarding the future of intellectual property and biotechnology. “The co-management of land use and natural resources that has come about through this shift in the legal landscape has allowed traditional knowledge owners to be part of decision-making processes.” said Bubela. “Self-government allows even greater powers of autonomy and the establishment of governance institutions that blend traditional and modern practices. Such institutions can also provide the resources for negotiating rights to and, where appropriate, the commercialization of traditional knowledge.” The study’s authors believe this is the key for the adequate protection of traditional knowledge. “The dominant argument, internationally, has been that traditional knowledge can be protected by property rights,” said Bubela. “Our case studies have shown that, in practice, this is very hard to do. In our view, promoting autonomy and capacity for self-governance for indigenous communities rather than property is the key.” Read the article … Download the report Toward a New Era of Intellectual Property: From Confrontation to Negotiation [pdf]…


Climate change, REDD and biodiversity

Statement by the CBD Executive Secretary, 12 November 2008


BAGUIO CITY, PHILIPPINES: On the occasion of the Global Indigenous Peoples Consultation on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), held from 12-14 November 2008, in Baguio City, Philippines, Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), highlighted the opportunity for indigenous and local communities to contribute to the formation and implementation of possible solutions to climate change, such as REDD schemes, to ensure that their traditional knowledge, their rights and biological diversity are protected and enhanced in the process. He further noted that REDD efforts have the potential to contribute significantly to achieving the CBD objectives. However, they may also be harmful, for example some afforestation projects involve the planting of monocultures of invasive species, such as eucalyptus, at the expense of native species in grasslands and agricultural landscapes. The consultation was organized by Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education), the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies Traditional Knowledge Initiative, the UN REDD Programme and the CBD Secretariat. Download the statement [pdf] … Visit the consultation’s website …

Ad hoc Intergovernmental and Multi-Stakeholder Meeting on an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

10 November – 12 November 2008 (Putrajaya, Malaysia)


PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA: Opening the Ad hoc Intergovernmental and Multi-Stakeholder Meeting on an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, organized by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Malaysia, outlined Malaysia’s initiatives and policies that recognize the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services while promoting development, including a commitment to sustainable forest management and maintenance of forest cover, and called for a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach that is inclusive of traditional knowledge to help countries strengthen their capacity to guide policies. Download the summary report of the meeting by the International Institute for Sustainable Development Reporting Services [pdf] … Visit the meeting’s website …

‘Arid Aquaculture’ Among Livelihoods Promoted To Relieve Worsening Pressure On World’s Drylands

Science Daily, 11 November 2009


ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Researchers with the United Nations University, the International Centre on Agricultural Research in Dryland Areas (ICARDA), and UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program say alternatives to traditional crop farming and livestock rearing will need to be put in place in drylands in order to mitigate human causes of desertification. While it may sound far-fetched, researchers say using briny water to establish aquaculture in a dry, degraded part of Pakistan not only introduced a new source of income, it helped improve nutrition through diet diversification.


The report, “People in Marginal Drylands: Managing Natural Resources to Improve Human Well-being,” summarizes the Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands (SUMAMAD) project, funded largely by the Flemish Government of Belgium. The project represents a systematic effort to understand these strategies and apply them to improving livelihood conditions of dryland dwellers with demonstration sites in China, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. “The key message is that innovations are needed to ensure long-term sustainability of communities and to avoid rapid desertification in the face of growing population pressures,” says report co-author Zafar Adeel, Director of UNU’s International Network on Water, Environment and Health (INWEH). “Management practices that build on the right mix of traditional knowledge, contemporary technology and innovative scientific research yield optimum results,” says Dr. Richard Thomas, Assistant Director at UNU-INWEH, responsible for dryland ecosystems, and a co-author of the report. Traditional practices, evolved over time for the capture, storage and efficient use of scarce and variable rainwater, floodwaters and groundwater resources, work well in dryland conditions. Examples include the Roman underground cisterns, traditional garden terracing and irrigation systems, and traditional floodwater spreading achieving groundwater recharge. SUMAMAD researchers demonstrated that traditional designs for water storage cisterns and ponds, for example, can be greatly improved with modern materials and construction techniques. Read the article … Download the report [pdf] …

State of wildlife trade in China finds consumption is rising in 2007

TRAFFIC press release, 12 November 2008


BEIJING, CHINA: China’s traditional medicine trade is rapidly growing; China’s consumption of wildlife is rising; China’s illegal ivory trade is declining; China is the world’s second largest wood importer; whilst China’s trade in freshwater turtles is thriving. These are a few of the key findings of a review of wildlife trade in China in 2007, The State of Wildlife Trade in China, released by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. The report finds that Chinese traditional medicine trade has grown at an annual rate of 10 percent since 2003. Most exports (USD 687 million-worth) go to Asia, but Europe (USD 162 million) and North America (USD 144 million) are increasingly important markets. Over-harvesting and poor management of resources are looming threats and currently there are no standards to ensure the sustainable collection of wild medicinal plants. “TRAFFIC, the Beijing Chinese Medicinal Institution and others recently contributed to the development of the International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, which could be applied to help China’s important medicinal plant industry achieve sustainability,” said Professor Xu Hongfa, Co-ordinator of TRAFFIC’s China Programme. The majority of illegal wild animal trade was in freshwater turtles and snakes, mostly sold in China for their meat and for medicinal purposes. Read the press release … Download the report [pdf] …

Indigenous knowledge safe – for now

Latinamerica Press, 13 November 2008


SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA: Costa Rican lawmakers approved the last of 13 laws to implement the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA), concluding just over a year of intense debate and two postponements. The final law – and one of the most hotly debated – originally included an article that would have risked intellectual property rights on traditional knowledge of Costa Rica’s indigenous population. But a last-minute omission of the article allowed for the law to pass. That first version of the proposal called for allowing private companies to limitless patents of animal and vegetable species, a clear threat to ancient knowledge, specifically of medicinal plants. The first version was thrown out by the Constitutional Chamber of Costa Rica’s Supreme Court for not including previous consultation of the country’s indigenous peoples, a requirement clearly outlined by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on native peoples for laws or other measures that affect their communities. Now, CAFTA will go into effect on 1 January 2009. When lawmakers introduced the bill to give companies open access to patent indigenous traditional knowledge and biodiversity, members of the Awapas (indigenous healers) and the Kekepa Women Council, which guards the traditional, ancestral knowledge of the Talamanca indigenous communities in southeastern Costa Rica, marched to the Legislative Assembly on 13 October demanding that their communities be consulted. Read the article …

Proposal to study Sarawak highland salt

The Star (Malaysia), 14 November 2008


KUCHING, MALAYSIA: Malaysia’s Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry has proposed that a study be done by local scientists on the medicinal benefits of mountain salt found in the highland areas of Bario and Bakelalan in northern Sarawak. Addressing the 10th Symposium of the Malaysian Society of Applied Biology, Deputy Minister Fadillah Yusof said there were many claims on the medicinal value, especially among Orang Ulu communities there. Fadillah also urged scientists and researchers to help indigenous communities in Sarawak to preserve their traditional knowledge through proper documentation. “Indigenous groups have inherited knowledge from their ancestors, but this is not documented. There is concern that this knowledge may eventually be lost. It is increasingly important that such knowledge be documented. The documentation will give commercial value to traditional knowledge,” he said. It was high time for those involved in documenting traditional knowledge to patent products with the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia, an agency under the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, Fadillah said. “To avoid what happened with tongkat ali, a herb found in Malaysia but patented in the United States, it is critical for us to protect our biodiversity,” he said. Read the article …

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