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Ethnobotany and Biodiversity Property Rights : A Point of View

WartaIPTEK.com - The problem of Biodiversity Property Rights (BPR) has been the focus of many formal and informal discussions at national and international fora in the last two years (WRI, 1992; Plotkin & Famolare (eds), 1992; Gore, 1992; Bedford and paddoch (eds.), 1992; Cunningham, 1992; Gamez, 1992,), but many questions still remain.unanswered.

With the establishment of the Biodiversity Convention in Rio de Janeiro (June 3-15, 1992), the different positions of the developed countries regarding the Convention, including the refusal of the USA to sign it and consequently the reactions in many developing countries have contributed to increase the controversial and polemic discussion about BPR more than ever before. Confusion and misconceptions of terms result from this situation and clear guidelines are needed to assist the official agencies responsible for the development of policies, the implementation for biodiversity management programs, regulation for research, definitions of conservation strategies and the sustainable use of biological resources.

The Global Biodiversity Strategy (WRI, 1992) provides such guidelines with possible actions that could help to address appropriately the development of new policies and legislation to protect the ownership and control over biological diversity. BPR refer, for instance to the fact that 'national governments should assert their right to control the genetic resources that they hold, consider establishing property rights regimes, and carefully regulate the collection of plants, animals and microorganisms, particulary those collected for commercial purposes (WRI, 1992). Another aspect of biodiversity property rights is related to "Intellectual Property Rights" (IPR): "IPR for the innovations made by plant bleders, researchers, pharmatical firms, and chemical coumpanies", and woveouw indigenous traditional knowledge over the use of plants and animals or the knowledge of traditional healers concerning medicinal plants" (WRI, 1992; Elisabetsky, 1991). I believe that the debate on IPR is more complicated, especially concerning the "indigenous intellectual property rights". There is no clear answer to how local people should get benefits in the case of patents, royalties or compensations with the commercialization of biological diversity. 

Sebuah jenis sumberdaya hayati sering hanya terdapat di suatu tempat (negara) tertentu saja. Contohnya Solanum nigrum (Lenca). Lantas, siapakah yang lebih berhak mengembangkannya?

Even more important than the control, commercialization and profit of biological divesity are the questions of how to preserve it and how to use it sustainably in benefit of present and future generations. Because we can only preserve and use what we know, researchers and field workers are playing an important role in inventoring, collecting and documenting information on the "world's genetic resources". Within this frame, however, it is also important to identify the contributions of the Ethnobotany as the "Science of the interaction between people and plants" or in other words "the study of native people's systematic knowledge of plants". The development of ethnobotanical research projects based on "professional ethics' that could have implications for a new orientation or alternatives regarding the issues of BPR and IPR are needed. As recommended in the Declaration of Panama "ethnobotanists and biologists documenting the biodiversity and cultural uses of tropical rain forest should acknowledge the intellectual contribution of forest peoples to the expansion of scientific knowledge of tropical biodiversity. They should act as mediators in assisting the local people (their collaborators) in tropical rain forests to gain recognition for their knowledge and receive equitable compensation for their use of their intellectual property. The repatriation of that knowledge to the countries, regions, and communities in which fieldwork is carrier out, should be ensured in the form of environmental education, publications, monographs, bibliographic materials, etc." (Platkin & Famolare, 1992).

Other initiatives in the same context are taking pleace within the Society for Economic Botany (SEB) and the International Society for Ethnobiology (ISE) in establishing "ethics committees to develop professional codes' (Boom, 1990). Cunningham (1992) presented at a Workshop at the Third International Congress of Ethnobiology (Mexico, Nov. 10-14, 1992) a discussion paper "Botanists, Brokers and Biodiversity" with a good comprehensive picture about the current status of Ethnobotany and BPR. In a more pragmatic way, developing countries rich in biodiversity should adopt common policies to lood for better recognitions of the BPR and establish collaborative projects and appropriate agreements for research programs with developed countries to achieve a new status for the protection of biological diversity. Within developing countries South-South cooperation can be encouraged for ethnobotanical studies and development of natural products. We should be aware that this cooperation will be successful only if the countries in capacity to do research within the framework of such linkages will get more attention. Some efforts in this direction have been made:
  • The ethnobotanical approach in the Kayan-Mentarang Project, East Kalimantan. This project is a cooperative effort by World Wide Found for Nature (WWF), PHPA and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
  • The Belize-ethnobotany project (Balick, 1992).
  • The ethnobotanical approach of the TRAMIL-Program, as a Inter Carribbean research program (Lagos-Witte, 1992; Robineau, 1991).
  • The ethnobotanical exchange between Asia and Amazonia : The UNDP-initiative.
  • The people and plants project : WWF/UNESCO/Kew Initiative on ethnobotany and sustainable use of plant resources (to be continued).

  • Balick, M.J. 1990. Ethnobotany and the identification fo therapeutic agents from the rainforest, p. 22-31 in : Bioactive compounds from plants, Chadwick, D.J. and J. March (eds), 1990 Ciba Foundation Symposium No. 154, J. Wiley and Sons, Chichester, England.
  • Boom, B.M. 1990. Giving native people a share of the profits. Garden 14 (6) : 28 : 31.
  • Cunningham, A.B. 1992. Botanists, Brokers and Biodiversity. Discussion paper presented at the workshop of the Third International Congress of Ethnobiology, Mexico, Nov. 1992. 
  • Elisabetsky, E. 1991. Folklore, tradition, or Know-how?. The ethnopharmcological approach to drugdiscovery depends on our ability  to   value non-Western knowledge of medicinal plants, in : The politics of ownership, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1991.
  • Ethnobotanical Exchange between Asia and Amazonia, Final Report, 1991. United Nations Development Programme. Special Unit for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries, Belem, Brazil.
  • Gamez, R. 1992. Biodiversity management in Costa Rica. Presentation in the Seminar on Biodiversity Management, Ministry of State for Population and Environment, KLH, Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • Global Biodiversity Strategy, 1992. Guidelines for action to Save, Study, and Use Earth's Biotic Wealth Sustainably and Equitably. World Resources Institute (WRI), The World Conservation Union (IUCN), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Consultation with FAO and UNESCO, p. 44.
  • Gore, A., 1992. Essentials for econnomic progress : Protect biodiversity and intellectual property rights. The journal of NIH Research, vol. 4.
  • Lagos-Witte, S. 1992. Ethnobotanical contributions to the TRAMIL-Program in the Caribbean Basin : The case of Honduras, p. 20-26 in : Sustainable Harvest and Marketing of Rain Forest Products. M. Plotkin and Famolare, L. (eds). Conservation International, Island Press, Washington, D.C., Covelo, California.
  • Plotkin, M. and Famolare, L. (eds.) 1992. Sustainable Harvest and Marketing of Rain Forest Products. Conslusions and Recommendations. p. 311. Conservation International, Island Press, Washington, D.C., Covelo, California.
  • Redford, K.H. and Padoch, Ch. (eds.) 1992. Conservation of Neotropical Forests. Working from traditional resources ase. 475p. Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Robineau, L (ed.) 1992 Towards a Caribbean Pharmacopeia. TRAMIL-4 Workshop, Tela, Honduras, 1989. Scientific research and popular use of medicinal plants in the Caribbean. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 474p.
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