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Editorial

Andau Pendiling harvests damar resin from an Agathis tree near Sabah, Malaysia.
As you pick up this issue of the People and Plants Handbook, you may be starting a research project in a community, rich in traditional knowledge and biological resources. You are already thinking of research methods, tools you need to bring along, how to analyze and publish results. Or maybe you are working on the staff of a protected area, and have been assigned to explore how local people are using resources inside and outside the park boundary.

You are pondering how to build a working relationship with the communities to achieve a sustainable balance between their immediate requirements of making a living and the long-term needs of conserving resources. Or you could be a member of one of these communities, discussing with your neighbors whether to collaborate with visiting researchers, park personnel or other people who come asking how you use and manage biological resources on your lands.  

   Under any of these conditions, you will be pulled suddenly into the debate on how to protect local knowledge, community land rights and access to biological resources. In an earlier age of innocence, people rarely asked questions about who would benefit from ethnobiological research, perhaps because there was an assumption that broadening and sharing our knowledge would better everyone's life: it was for the good of humanity. Researchers from academic institutions, while concerned about the continuity of local lifestyles, thought it beyond their responsibility to get involved in struggles for land rights and self determination. Protected area personnel were more attentive to biodiversity conservation and less aware of the needs of local people. Communities, perhaps unaware of the global value of their knowledge and resources, typically responded to requests from outsiders with generosity and hospitality. As awareness grew in recent years, a constructive debate started among participants in conservation and development programs. Much of the discussion focuses on how to recognize the intellectual contribution of local people to scientific research, and to compensate them for any knowledge used for commercial purposes.  
As local people and concerned researchers begin to raise questions about rights and compensation, the answers appear to lie beyond our expertise and authority. When we turn to lawyers and policy-makers for assistance, we find that legal concepts and terminology are often not simple for lay people to interpret. Even professionals in law and policy find themselves on new ground, simply because many issues of property and resources rights transcend the national boundaries within which they usually work. New international agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, take time to have an impact on national and local policies.  

      In the meantime, how can we ensure that our work will benefit the causes we have targeted, while avoiding appropriation of results for unintended purposes not in the interest of local people and long-term management of resources? This issue of the Handbook seeks to provide answers by putting you in touch with the many international programs, national organizations, working groups and other sources which can help you tackle these complex questions. When speaking of local rights, it appears that these issues fall into three general categories: ownership of land, access to biological resources and control over knowledge. We attempt to draw your attention to organizations and publications that focus on one or more of these matters, regionally or internationally. While giving an overview of various perspectives, we point to where you can find concrete advice on how to bring these issues down to earth by, for example, creating a working agreement between communities and researchers or deciding on standards of conduct to be followed by your research team.  

    To make our suggestions as broad and insightful as possible, we have invited Darrell Posey to the editorial team for this issue of the Handbook. Long active in the struggle to bring concerns about local rights to the forefront of research priorities, Darrell is currently the director of the Working Group on Traditional Resource Rights, which is featured on page 26. As a way of introducing the concerns that define the work of the many individuals cited in these pages, Darrell has provided the following observations.    - Gary J. Martin, Handbook editor .


   Local knowledge of flora, fauna and ecology is rapidly being recognized as significant for scientific research, biodiversity conservation and the development of alternative economic options. Put in the terminology of the legally-binding Convention on Biological Diversity - which calls for the wider use and application of community know-how -  the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles are key to effective in situ conservation. This raises questions of access to and benefit-sharing from what are called traditional technologies, including production of indigenous medicines, pesticides, forest management, agriculture, watershed control, animal behavior, soil fertility maintenance, ecological relationships and even knowledge of celestial movements and ecological calendars.  

   Because traditional knowledge has been shown to cut research and development costs significantly, it has become a prime asset of developing countries especially as biotechnology ventures raise expectations that new profitable products will be developed. Unfortunately, national legal institutions do not often support or even recognize local knowledge, which is considered to be in the public domain. Because such knowledge is often widespread in one or more communities, there are no identifiable inventors and consequently no protection under normal Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) schemes such as patents, copyright or trade secrets. A similar situation exists in international law - the few guidelines which do exist favor corporations and industrialized countries that can afford IPR lawyers.  

   Some observers suggest that existing Western legal structures, based on private ownership and individual innovation, cannot be adapted to protect local communities. This is because traditional knowledge is collective and communal, often not owned by any single person, village or clan. The concept of ownership varies from one culture to another: knowledge may belong to all, may not be ownable by any living beings, or may even be the domain of ancestral spirits that speak for past and future generations. Commoditization of knowledge and biogenetic resources may be fundamentally alien, if not immoral.  

   Researchers who collect plant, animal and cultural material are affected by this situation. Data gathered with public funds for scientific, non-profit purposes have generally been open to public inspection. Today, this inspection includes corporate bioprospecting for potential commercial exploitation. Going even further, research in institutions and museums is increasingly financed by the private sector that expects at least some IPR ownership of results. This raises questions of who controls the data which some researchers still defend as being purely scientific. The publication of information, traditionally the hallmark of academic success, has become a superhighway for transporting restricted or even sacred information into the unprotectable public domain. Once a community shares its knowledge or gives away a valuable seed or medicine, it loses control of that resource forever.  

   If the Convention on Biological Diversity is to be successful, it will have to ensure protection of the knowledge and biogenetic resources of local communities. If researchers and scientific institutions are not more active in seeking protection and adequate benefit-sharing from advances in research and business, future field work will become much harder, more complicated or impossible. Some indigenous peoples have proposed a moratorium on all research, collecting and bioprospecting on their lands until adequate recognition and protection are provided. Rather than an impasse, the situation should be seen as providing opportunities. These exchanges can produce new codes of ethics and standards of conduct, collaborative research with traditional knowledge specialists, and socially and ecologically responsible business practices.  

   Increased recognition of traditional knowledge will require the development of alternative concepts of property, ownership and value. There is ample and urgent need to develop collaborative efforts with local communities to conserve biological and cultural diversity. But even our best intentions and efforts will not succeed if we do not take necessary actions to guarantee the rights due local communities.   .  - Darrell A. Posey, Handbook Issue 2 guest editor .

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.Speaking of Jargon

It is inevitable that the People and Plants Handbook (PPH) is full of jargon. From the excerpts we select to the editorials we write, there is little chance to speak about current issues in ethnobotany, conservation and development without including some newly-coined terms or words that have taken on new meanings. Instead of trying to weed them out   or define them in the text, we have added this section.   

   Keep in mind that this is not just pure semantics (which refers to the meanings of words and linguistic symbols, and how they change over time). Jargon is used by people around the world as a shorthand way of speaking about issues of mutual interest. It becomes part of international law and policy when new terms and concepts are included in conventions, treaties and ethical guidelines. Reaching consensus on the meaning of keywords, or at least understanding what other people mean when they use them, is an essential step towards communication.  

   Indigenous, local and traditional. Used to describe people, practices and knowledge, these terms are often used interchangeably (see for example PPH 1:12, Connecting with Indigenous Organizations) or even all together in the same sentence. ‘Indigenous’, which means having originated in a particular region or environment, usually refers to people (and their cultural practices and knowledge) who are the original inhabitants of a place. The term is particularly common in Latin America, where many indigenous peoples have been living in the same general area for thousands of years. Many colleagues, particularly those who work in Africa and Asia, point out that ‘indigenous’ is often misapplied to groups which - even if they have distinct languages, dress and customs - are relatively recent colonizers of the lands where they currently live. ‘Traditional’ refers to lifestyles and beliefs (and the people who maintain them) that are an original part of a culture, as opposed to modern elements that have been introduced. The problem with ‘traditional’ is that it is often equated with old-fashioned and out-of-date, standing in contrast to the attractiveness of what is modern and up-to-date. ‘Traditional’ is correctly applied to established social and cultural mechanisms that guide innovation in decision making. Traditions are always in a process of change, and some practices which at first appear ancient have actually been borrowed into the culture recently. ‘Local’, preferred by many colleagues, simply implies that the people, practices and knowledge are found in a specific part of the world. It is commonly used to refer to people who are making a living from the land and its resources (such as agriculturalists or gatherers of forest products), including those who are long-term residents of a place as well as those who have arrived in recent years. All three terms have a more precise meaning when they are used in reference to a specific area (for example, ‘the local people around Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Malaysia’) than when used in a generic abstract sense (such as, ‘local knowledge can be applied to sustainable management of tropical forests’).  

   North, South. Apart from being cardinal points on the compass, these terms are frequently used in biopolitical debates as synonyms of terms that carry too much political weight. North refers to countries - such as the United States of America, France or Japan - typically defined as being rich, developed, industrialized, modern and situated in temperate zones. South refers to countries - including Bolivia, Indonesia, Zaire and many others - which are characterized as poor, underdeveloped or developing, agricultural, traditional and located in tropical or sub-tropical zones. The South is richer in biodiversity than the North, and is often viewed as a source of genetic resources for agriculture, biodiversity prospecting and other purposes. The North tends to be more advanced in biotechnology, to which the South would like to have greater access.  

   Please let us know of any other terms which you would like us to define, or if you have alternative definitions for the concepts we have discussed in this issue.    - GJM .

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.Leaves of Paper : Letters to the Editors

Thatch made from leaves of sago palm (Metraxylon sagu, Arecaceae) in Kiau, Sabah, Malysia
Comments from readers are a gold mine for editors. The many letters, e-mails and faxes that we received about Issue 1 of the People and Plants Handbook provided encouragement and valuable suggestions as we prepared Issue 2. Although we cannot reply to each of the responses personally, we would like to react to several ideas that were mentioned by a number of readers, and explain in more detail the philosophy and logic which guide the Handbook

  There were many requests that we include announcements about congresses, meetings and job openings. Many of the newsletters and journals that we mention provide this service in a detailed and efficient way.

  In the Handbook, we prefer to focus on organizations, projects and publications that are relatively permanent, rather than on transitory events. But permanence does not necessarily imply recognition: several readers suggested that, after describing fairly high-profile programs and publications in Issue 1, we turn our attention to lesser-known sources particularly in developing countries. Please help us achieve this goal by providing information about worthy organizations in your area.  

   You will find that we have expanded from 24 pages to 32 pages in this Issue of the Handbook. In part, this is to allow space for new sections (such as the ‘Speaking of jargon’ entry on pages 2-3) and additional descriptions of programs, publications and organizations. Equally important, it gives us the room necessary to print the index of keywords and phrases, directory of acronyms and list of contributors as part of the issue, which several people requested. In future issues, it will allow us to expand the viewpoints and issues section.  

   There were several suggestions that we include longer articles that go into greater depth and detail on the issue at hand. Although we plan to stick to lengthy excerpts for the Handbook rather than print complete essays, we would like to include exemplary background articles when we update all the separate issues and compile them in a single book. This project is a few years down the line, but feel free to suggest some key articles for us to consider. We are particularly interested in papers that explain the theoretical concepts of ethnobotany, biodiversity conservation and community development in an accessible popular style.  

   Although we argued the case for printing the Handbook in black and white, and many readers applauded this approach, other people requested at least some color. Robert Mbaria, of the Department of Forestry of Moi University in Kenya, was particularly eloquent in his letter: ‘You indicated that you would like to publish in black and white to show that “seeing the world in shades of gray can be just as accurate and beautiful as all the colors of the rainbow”. While I think that this approach is innovative, I would like to point out that it is rather restrictive in that it does not capture the myriad of shades that is the variety of life. For purposes of taxonomy, I think that you should, as it were, add more color to your life.’ While we appreciate this perspective, we will have to stick to black and white, because it is cheaper, easier to photocopy and fits the overall style of the Handbook.  

   In order to make the Handbook even less expensive to produce and perhaps more environmentally friendly, several people recommended non-glossy recycled paper. We explored several possibilities before choosing this paper (Ascot 115 g), which won out in terms of price, quality and weight.  

    Although most readers liked the layout of the Handbook - considering it lively and interesting - several people commented that some pages were hard to read, busy or cluttered. For this reason, we have reduced the number of photographs and drawings in Issue 2, and have ensured that any watermark images (that is, images behind print) do not obscure the text.  

   Although we were commended for writing in a way that is accessible for people who speak English as a second language, several readers suggested that we expand our audience by producing editions in other languages, especially Spanish and French. We have colleagues who could help us translate the Handbook, but for the time being we simply lack the funds and capacity to print in other languages.  

   Whether or not we can satisfy your demands, we look forward to receiving your letters and contributions. In the meantime, we leave you with a few letters on the subjects covered in this Issue.   - GJM  


2 May 1996     

One of the major differences between industrial, capitalist, market-oriented societies and those of the Third World is a concern and commitment to communities. Developing consensus and evaluating any development in terms of its impact on the community as a whole are vital components of survival, and hence sustainable development has to be community-based. This means that as well as sharing knowledge, local people must also have the right to withhold knowledge, particularly if it enables them to bargain for a better deal in this unjust world.  

   We much look forward to the second issue of the Handbook. We have also written something on this called A Case for Community Rights. Should you be interested, we can send you a copy.  

Sue Edwards and Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher,  Institute for Sustainable Development, P.O. Box 30231,  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Tel. +25.11.204210,  Fax +25.11.552350, e-mail sue@padis.gn.apc.org  

[Editors’ note: The Institute for Sustainable Development is part of the Third World Network, described on page 20 of this Issue. Another of the Institute’s publications is highlighted in the Multimedia Center].  
  


24 April 1996

   I have one comment on the statement of purpose you presented on the first page of the Handbook (PPH 1:1). You write that ‘our main objective is the democratization of knowledge: ensuring that men and women of all cultures, social ranks and professions have access to information ... ’.  

   I cannot question this goal, it is certainly of utmost importance. However I feel that it is only half of the story. The real challenge lies in democratizing the supply side of information. If the information available is always one-sided and biased, making it freely available will not solve the problem. How can local communities be supported ‘not only to access the kind of information that is useful to them, but also to make decisions on and produce the kind of messages about their lives that they want to send to the outside world’ (Wangu Mwangi, page 23 of the enclosed Forest, Trees and People Newsletter)? And in what fora can their voices be heard?  

   Our Forest, Trees and People Programme is working with this issue under the topic of development communications. One of the efforts to date has been to make instant video technology available to local communities so that they can tell their own story.  

   Perhaps these questions can be taken up in your issue that will look at ethical questions.  

   Daphne Thuvesson, Editor,  Forest, Trees and People Newsletter,  International Rural Development Centre,  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. Box 7005, S-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden; Tel. +46.18.672317, Fax +46.18.673420,  e-mail daphne.thuvesson@irdc.slu.se

[Editors’ note: We plan to feature the Forest, Trees and People Programme in Issue 3 of the Handbook. In the meantime, readers can contact Daphne Thuvesson for more information about the FTP Newsletter.]  
 


14 May 1996

   As a member of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Maori Congress, I am assisting Darrell Posey and The Global Coalition to prepare a draft code of ethics to be discussed at the Fifth Congress of the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) in Kenya in September 1996.  

   I see as one of the key ingredients of any code of ethics the protection and enhancement of the position of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. It is therefore with particular interest that I noted your editorial comment that ‘Our main objective is the democratization of knowledge’. Whilst on its face this is a laudable objective, I wish to sound a note of caution. Indigenous peoples in practically every nation of the world are, without exception, an ethnic minority in their own land or territory. As such, indigenous peoples are easily exploited by the ‘power culture’ within their respective countries.   

   I agree with your thesis that information is power, but what concerns me most is that indigenous peoples potentially have the most to lose and the least to gain from the exploitation of their knowledge. This is particularly so given the great disparity between themselves and the power cultures that control their destiny. After all it is largely their knowledge that is being increasingly exploited by others.   

   As a person of both indigenous and European descent, I am uniquely placed to see both sides of the argument. However from my own observations of what has occurred in Aotearoa New Zealand, the indigenous Maori people of this country have been heavily exploited resulting in the loss of their lands and other natural resources. This has been a consequence of colonization and in many instances plain theft.  

   There is increasingly a concerted effort being made to colonize and control the last treasure remaining to indigenous people which is their knowledge and traditions of their ancestors and their past. Unfortunately it is often the case that it is non-indigenous peoples who are at the forefront of this modern day form of colonization and exploitation. Thus in the haste to ‘democratize’ indigenous peoples’ knowledge, great care must be taken to preserve the integrity and spiritual ethos of that knowledge. These are matters which are often not appreciated by scientists and botanists who are more focused on categorizing, quantifying and disseminating this information. It is probably fair to say that only indigenous peoples themselves have a true appreciation of what I call the sacred or spiritual dimension of that knowledge which has been handed down over countless generations.  

   Where indigenous peoples’ knowledge is being accessed and exploited, they must as a matter of fundamental human rights be the final arbiters of the process by which that occurs and have control over how that information is used. There is also a tendency (perhaps even unwittingly at times) for ethnobotanists to regard indigenous peoples as specimens for academic research and laboratory experimentation. This was brought home to me during my attendance at the Fourth Congress of the ISE in India. In spite of indigenous people and their knowledge of plants and medicines being the central focus of discourse and academic debate, the few indigenous peoples in attendance at that congress appeared to me to be very much in the background. In their haste to protect and improve the biodiversity of the planet, ethnobotanists have an equal commitment to protecting and improving the lot of indigenous peoples who are the repositories of much of this knowledge.  

   I look forward to receiving and reading future editions of the Handbook which I believe is a valuable means of keeping peoples worldwide informed of the issues. It would also be appropriate for there to be a column dedicated to reporting news and views on indigenous perspectives written by indigenous persons.  

   Maui Solomon, Barrister, PO Box 3458, Wellington,  New Zealand; Tel. +64.4.4726744, Fax +64.4.4996172,  e-mail moriori@nzonline.ac.nz  

[Editors’ note: For more information on the Global Coalition and the ISE, see PPH 1:8.]     

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