Science in Society Archive

Brazilian Shamans Denounce Biopiracy

Shamans from 20 indigenous groups in Brazil sent recommendations to the World Intellectual Property Organisation for protecting the knowledge of indigenous peoples against biopiracy. Lim Li Ching reports.

Brazil’s indigenous peoples gathered in São Luis do Maranhão last December to discuss indigenous knowledge and science and industrial property at a meeting organised by the National Institute for Industrial Property (INPI), which handles patents and trademarks in Brazil. Recommendations from the meeting were forwarded to the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation.

The indigenous representatives were particularly concerned about bioprospecting and impacts on future generations. The Brazilian Government estimates that 97% of the 4,000 patents taken out on natural products in Brazil between 1995 and 2000 were by foreigners. In addition, biopiracy is rampant, taking advantage of weak laws, hiding behind the masks of ‘scientific co-operation’ and ‘ecotourism’. The indigenous peoples oppose any form of patenting resulting from traditional knowledge and requested the creation of punitive mechanisms to prohibit the theft of biodiversity.

Brazil’s forests have been preserved thanks to the traditional knowledge of her indigenous peoples. They contain around 50% of the world’s biodiversity, which has immense social, cultural, spiritual and economic value. Indigenous knowledge is collective, and cannot be commercialised, or separated from their identities, laws, institutions, value systems and cosmologies as indigenous peoples.

Among the recommendations were the following.

For further details: ‘Letter from São Luis do Maranhão’,

I-SIS News 13 index

Article first published February 2002

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