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 International Society for Ethnobiology

    The ISE travels throughout the world with its congresses, from Brazil to China, Mexico, India, Kenya and on to New Zealand. Before each congress, there are several training courses and workshops that bring together young professionals from various countries.     -GJM

Brazilian folk art, taken from the Proceedings of the First International Congress of Ethnobiology.

The International Society for Ethnobiology (ISE) was founded in 1988 in Belém, Brazil, during the 1st International Congress of Ethnobiology. The Congress was organized by Darrell A. Posey specifically to begin an international society of scientists, environmentalists and indigenous peoples, to work together to enhance the world’s endangered biological and cultural diversity.

  The Declaration of Belém was proclaimed at the closing of this Congress, and has served as a guide in ethical practices for the Society’s members. The Declaration states that work practices should lead to equal and meaningful partnerships between local peoples and specialists trained in a western scientific tradition. It represents the first time that protection of intellectual property rights for traditional knowledge is a principal aim of a scientific society. Return of information to communities in a useful form, as well as the necessity of respect for local customs, practices and lifestyles, are other essential elements of the Declaration.  

  At the 2nd Congress - organized by Pei Shengji in Kunming, China in 1990 - the Kunming Action Plan (KAP) was drawn up. This established a political agenda for the ISE, and was especially aimed at influencing the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (The Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro. KAP called for the formation of a permanent body, to be governed by the ISE board of directors and known as The Global Coalition for Biological and Cultural Diversity. The Global Coalition began its work to show the inextricable link between biological and cultural diversity. One of the major activities was to organize The Earth Parliament, which was the principal venue for indigenous and traditional peoples at the Earth Summit.  

  ISE formalized its membership at its 3rd Congress in 1992, coordinated by Javier Caballero in Mexico City. At the 4th Congress in Lucknow, India - organized by S.K. Jain in 1994 - the commitment to education and training was manifest, with the organization of a series of workshops and mini-courses on ethnobiology and natural resource management. The ISE will meet again in Nairobi, Kenya in September 1996, at which time a Code of Ethics and Constitution for the ISE will be discussed. This Code is currently being developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, and under the guidance of a committee of The Global Coalition. It is anticipated that these documents will be celebrated in their final form at the 6th Congress in 1998, to be hosted by the Maori Nation in Atearoa, New Zealand.  

  ‘The current devastation of native peoples and the ecological systems that they have conserved, managed and intimately known for millennia, require that new and drastic steps be taken to reorient world priorities. All channels and organizations, whether governmental, non-governmental, professional or business, must work together to reverse the current momentum in loss of cultural, ecological and biological diversity of this planet ... Ethnobiology seems uniquely placed to lead the way to this new understanding, since it bridges disciplines and cultures through a practical focus on the implications and applications of traditional knowledge for all of humanity.’  

From: Posey, D. 1990. Introduction. Pages 1-7 in D.A. Posey and W.L. Overal, editors, Ethnobiology: its Implications and Applications. Proceedings of the First International Congress of Ethnobiology (Belém, 1988), volume 1. Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Belém.


  • For membership and further information, contact:  Christine Kabuye, National Museums of Kenya,  P.O. Box 45166, Nairobi, Kenya;  Tel. +254.2.743513, Fax +254.2.741424,  e-mail biodiv@elci.gni.apc.org

  • For information on The Global Coalition, contact:  Darrell A. Posey, Programme for Traditional Rights, The Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics & Society,  Mansfield College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3TF, UK; Tel./Fax +44.1865.327358,  e-mail posey@vax.ox.ac.uk


Society for Conservation Biology

  The Society’s journal Conservation Biology, which contains a variety of news, opinion pieces and scientific articles, has quickly become an international forum for debates on biodiversity conservation. Multimedia Center for details.    -GJM   

  The Society for Conservation Biology was founded in 1985 to help develop the scientific and technical means for the protection, maintenance, and restoration of life: its species, ecological and evolutionary processes, and the total environment. The Society has over 4200 members in more than 55 countries. Its activities include:  

  1. promoting research and maintaining the highest standards of research quality and ethics;
  2. publishing and disseminating scientific, technical and management information;  
  3. encouraging communication and collaboration between conservation biology and other disciplines that study conservation and natural resource issues, such as other natural and social sciences, economics, law, and philosophy;  
  4. educating the public, biologists and managers in the principles of conservation biology;  
  5. providing funding to promote the above activities;  
  6. recognizing outstanding contributions to the field made by individuals and organizations.  

  ‘... several Indian tribes have begun a process of outright liquidation of their land resource capital in the form of western-style land concessions granted to logging companies and gold miners. For instance, having found their way to lucrative markets, the Kayapo of eastern Amazonia have logged $33 million in profits from mahogany extraction alone in 1988 ... Under the current system their trees will continue to fall, because the Brazilian government will never be able to meet the Kayapo’s demand for $50,000 per village per month for timber sales forgone. Other Brazilian Indian groups helping to shatter the myth of the noble savage include the Guajajara of the northeast, the Kaxarari of Acre, and the Nambikwara of Mato Grosso, all of which are involved in prime hardwood business. These market-oriented practices are clearly not what is generally considered genuine nature conservation, which raises serious questions over the role of indigenous reserves as conservation units.’ 

From: Peres, C.A. 1994. Indigenous reserves and nature conservation in Amazonian forests. Conservation Biology 8(2):586-588.

Updated number and size of existing Amazonian indigenous reserves ‘on paper’ compared to those of all other categories of conservation units, including national parks, biological reserves, ecological stations, and other recognized forms of extractive and production forest. 


  • Dennis Murphy, President,  Society for Conservation Biology,  c/o Center for Conservation Biology,  Department of Biological Sciences,  Stanford University,  Stanford, CA 94305, USA;  Tel. +1.415.7251852, Fax +1.415.7235920  
  • Membership affairs are handled by:  Blackwell Scientific Publications, 238 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA;  Tel. +1.617.8767000      
Indian reserves account for 54% of all 459 Amazonian reserves in South American countries. They represent 100.2 million ha in 371 reserves in Brazilian Amazonia alone.       


Society of Ethnobiology

    The Society of Ethnobiology, started in the 1980s by two young ethnobiologists, Steve Weber and Steve Emslie, currently has several hundred members. The annual meetings have been held in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Eugene Hunn, the new editor of the Journal of Ethnobiology, promises to include keynote articles that capture the range and impact of contemporary ethnobiological research.     -GJM    

Drawing of a horse that forms part of the Society of Ethnobiology logo. 

The Society of Ethnobiology is a scientific society composed largely of academics. While drawn from around the world, its membership is mostly from the USA, Canada and Mexico, including a good number of student members. Most members have backgrounds in archaeology, anthropology, and to a lesser degree botany and human geography. The Society is administered by an elected Board of Trustees. It organizes an annual conference where scientific papers and posters are presented, and produces the peer-reviewed Journal of Ethnobiology. The Society is not an advocacy organization, but exists primarily as a vehicle to facilitate communication for those people interested in ethnobiology, the study of the inter-relationships between humans, plants and animals in the past and in the present.   

  ‘Monkey bread and monkey tamarind are two of the common names that appear in published accounts of Africa’s well-known baobab tree (Adansonia digitata L.). These monkey names are generally assumed to be derived from the simple fact that monkeys eat the baobab’s fruit. Although this literal interpretation seems obvious, it is neither the only one, nor is it necessarily the correct one. In the Caribbean, the use of monkey in the compound common names for baobab and other plants implies imitation. The name monkey tamarind, for example, indicates that the baobab is like the tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica L.). It mimics the tamarind just as a monkey does a human. This is consistent with what we find in other parts of the world where the baobab is also identified as a kind of tamarind, though without the name monkey.’ 

From: Rashford, J. 1994. Africa’s baobab tree: why monkey names? Journal of Ethnobiology 14(2):173-183. 


  • Brien Meilleur,  Secretary/Treasurer, Society of Ethnobiology,  Missouri Botanical Garden,  Center for Plant Conservation,  PO Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166, USA;  Tel. +1.314.5779450, Fax +1.314.5779465 


Asociación Mexicana de Etnobiología 

    Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, well-known for her work on the edible and medicinal insects of Mexico, has been instrumental in getting the Mexican Society of Ethnobiology up and running. At the 1st Mexican Congress of Ethnobiology in 1994, the over 250 participants heard results of 41 ethnobiological studies which focused on 14 ethnic groups living in 17 different states of Mexico.    -GJM     

  The Asociación Mexicana de Etnobiología was established in 1993, with the objectives of strengthening research and teaching within the field of ethnobiology. Through promoting ethnobiology and reinforcing the value of such knowledge, the Asociación seeks to slow the erosion of ethnobiological knowledge and to contribute to the conservation of the biological and cultural biodiversity of Mexico. The Asociación seeks to improve the links between all people working in this area: private and governmental organizations, the scientific community, local communities and indigenous organizations. This is achieved through organizing congresses (held every two years) and bimonthly meetings. Some of the subjects which have been discussed include resources for nutrition and health; ethnohistory; and knowledge and conservation of natural and cultural resources. Production of a newsletter for the Asociación is planned.   

  ‘To date, our research group has recorded 247 species of edible insects in Mexico. For the most part, these were found in regions known to have severe or very severe nutritional deficiencies, in the southern and central sections of the country. Both terrestrial and aquatic insects are eaten, as adults or immatures, according to the region, and these have a wide variety of common names in the local language and in Spanish. Among these edible insects are dragonflies, grasshoppers, bugs, treehoppers, beetles, butterflies, moths, ants, bees and wasps. In many instances, the word ‘insect’ is unknown among the people, and their description or name of an edible insect stresses colors, behavior, size, or habitat. Often the flavor is in the description.   

  The large number of recorded species indicates to us the importance of edible insects to local communities and the interest people take in this natural renewable food resource. This importance is all the more accentuated when one realizes that these insects constitute a supply of animal protein and that they can be ... an almost complete meal. Although many traditional foods are eaten, the total caloric value of the Mexican peasant’s diet is low and the protein quantity may be insufficient to supply daily requirements, resulting in protein energy malnutrition.’  

   From: Ramos-Elorduy, J. 1990. Edible insects: barbarism or solution to the hunger problem? Pages 151-152 in D.A. Posey and W.L. Overal, editors, Ethnobiology: its Implications and Applications. Proceedings of the First International Congress of Ethnobiology (Belém, 1988), volume 1. Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Belém. 


  • Julieta Ramos-Elorduy,  Asociación Mexicana de Etnobiología,  Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Apartado Postal 70-153,  04510 México, DF, México;  Tel. +52.5.6225704, Fax +52.5.5500164    
  There are more than 100 ethnobotanists from Mexico listed in the directory of the Grupo de Etnobotánicos Latinoamericanos  (GELA).


Society  for Economic Botany

    SEB currently has some 1250 members, including many who live outside the United States. The Society holds some annual meetings outside the United States, including ones in Mexico City (1994) and England (1996). A policy of encouraging members to sponsor memberships in the Society and subscriptions to Economic Botany for colleagues from developing countries is allowing SEB to reach even farther overseas.     -TF     

Astrocaryum standleyanum in Ecuador.
(click for enlarged picture)

The Society for Economic Botany is an international scientific organization founded in 1959 in the USA. The Society’s aim is to encourage scientific research on the past, present and future uses of plants and to disseminate the results through meetings and publications. Its journal, Economic Botany, is published quarterly, and includes research papers, reviews and historical studies. Symposia are sponsored in conjunction with the annual meetings. Recent symposia have been held on: collection and management of wild useful plants in Mexico; ethnobotany in the neotropics; and conservation of crop genetic resources. There is a UK Chapter of the SEB, based in London. All members receive the journal and a newsletter, Plants and People, edited by Trish Flaster of Botanical Liaisons.  

  ‘The exploitation of Astrocaryum standleyanum in the Province of Manabí provides an example of an extractive resource which is somewhat protected due to its commercial value ... However, destructive exploitation, involving felling of palms or harvesting too many leaves, is also seen, underlining that the commercial value of the fibers may also lead to the depletion of palm populations, as has happened in the Province of Esmeraldas. 

Astrocaryum standleyanum seems to have a strong regenerative power if seedlings are protected from cattle and/or direct sunlight, such as in some agricultural systems and in secondary shrubs and forest.
Along with the protection and occasional planting by humans this means that the palm will probably survive deforestation better than many other forest species from Coastal Ecuador. Given its wide distribution and the limited exploitation in other countries, this palm species is not threatened.’  

   From: Borgtoft Pedersen, H. 1994. Mocora palm-fibers: use and management of Astrocaryum standleyanum (Arecaceae) in Ecuador. Economic Botany 48(3):310-325.

There are an estimated 200 genera and 2700 species of palms in the world.


  • Subscriptions:  Society for Economic Botany,  PO Box 368, Lawrence, KS 66044, USA
  • Meetings:  Lucille N.Kaplan,  Department of Anthropology,  University of Massachusetts at Boston,  Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA;  Tel. +1.617.2876846 or 2876850, Fax +1.617.2876650
  • Newsletter:   Trish Flaster, Botanical Liaisons,  1180 Crestmoor Drive,  Boulder, CO 80303, USA;  Fax +1.303.4942555,  e-mail tflaster@rmii.com


Society of Ethnobotanists

    The Society of Ethnobotanists was one of the co-sponsors of the 5th International Congress of Ethnobiology held in Lucknow, India, in November 1994. Although just 15 years old, it has become one of the largest national ethnobotanical societies in the world.         -GJM

Vendors of sal (Shorea robusta, Dipterocarpaceae) resin in a rural market in West Bengal, India.

The Society of Ethnobotanists was founded in India in 1980. The objectives of the Society are to develop our knowledge of ethnobotany, through encouraging collaboration and information exchange between researchers. It also seeks to promote interest in ethnobotany and to increase awareness of the natural environment and the loss of traditional knowledge. The Society’s activities include organizing seminars, training courses and workshops. It has produced a World Directory of Ethnobotanists (1986), and publishes a newsletter and also the journal Ethnobotany. The Society has an international membership, although predominantly drawn from India at the moment.

  ‘In conventional medical practices of Ayurveda, the plants are identified through close observations and experiences of ... shepherds ... and others who live in forests and are well versed with the names and forms of plants. Therefore, it is emphasized that the information on plants be based on inferences drawn by the ... tribal people, shepherds and saints who were the real forest dwellers ... In Ayurvedic parlance the knowledge of the saints, seers and scholars of the ancient era percolated from one generation to the other by oral communication in Guru-Shishya Parampara (i.e. the knowledge being transmitted from teacher to taught) or through assemblies of intellectuals on different parvas, fairs and pilgrimages. This exchange of ideas in later years persuaded plantation activities of the essential medicinal plants near the ashrams ... for getting authentic, potent and fresh herbal material.’ 

From: Pandey, V.N. 1989. Oriental discipline of Ayurveda - its medico-ethnobotanical approaches and their application in the evolution of drugs. Pages 105-123 in S.K. Jain, editor, Methods and Approaches in Ethnobotany. Society of Ethnobotanists, Lucknow.  


  • SK Jain, Society of Ethnobotanists,  Botany Division,  Central Drug Research Institute,  Lucknow-226001 or Herbarium Division,  National Botanical Research Institute,  Lucknow-226001, India;  Tel. +91.522.271031,  Fax +91.522.282849,  Telex 0535-315   


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