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International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups Program

  The ICBG Program not only brings together partners from developed and developing countries, but also creates links between industry, academia and conservation organizations. Josh Rosenthal - who studied botany and ecology at the University of California, Berkeley - is in charge of keeping the initiative on track.    - GJM 

    The International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) Program is an integrated conservation and development initiative set up in 1992 by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Agency for International Development of the United States. The Program has three goals: biodiversity conservation, sustainable economic activity and drug discovery. It seeks to accomplish these through the development of pharmaceuticals from natural products for the treatment of diseases in both the developing and developed world.  

    The development of new drugs is facilitated by linking organizations and indigenous peoples from developing countries with academic and industrial partners from the United States. The Program is also active in building scientific capacity within participating countries, by providing infrastructure and training opportunities. The Program seeks to develop and implement innovative agreements to ensure that equitable economic benefits from these discoveries are returned to the country of origin and to the community or group which facilitated the discovery.    

    "One of the pitfalls of “bioprospecting” ... is the danger of falling into a new form of colonialism - extracting and exporting raw materials from developing countries without increasing the capacities of the countries to develop and export their own products.  

    The ICBG projects are pioneers in developing legal agreements and procedures to prevent the possibility of resource exploitation in third-world countries. The aim is to ensure, through legal agreements, that the host countries, villages and organizations taking part in the effort share equitably in the benefits of whatever drugs are discovered. Setting up these contractual agreements, however, has required far more time and energy than participants expected. As they scratched the surface, a host of tough issues emerged: How to ensure that the project's contractual arrangements met the highest standards of fairness, including full disclosure and informed consent? How to protect against over-exploitation of commercial harvesting of plants? What if local authorities object that sacred knowledge or substances should not be made public or should not be commercialized? What if a particular plant extract does not turn out to be a useful drug in itself, but provides an intellectual lead that assists researchers in the development of a valuable drug - who should share in the economic benefits and patent protection?"  

Anonymous. 1996. Finding medicines in the forest: can shamans point the way? Frontiers (Newsletter of the National Science Foundation), March:4-6.   


  • Joshua Rosenthal, Biodiversity  Program Director, Fogarty International Center,  National Institutes of Health, Building 31, B2C39,  31 CENTER Dr MSC 2220, Bethesda,  MD 20892-2220, USA;  Tel. +1.301.4962516, Fax +1.301.4022056,  e-mail joshua_rosenthal@nih.gov  

To assist you in obtaining information regarding the Fogarty International Center Biodiversity Program, International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG), and Report of Special Panel of Experts on the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG), internet addresses are as follows: 


 The Rainforest Alliance

    The Rainforest Alliance first attracted the attention of ethnobotanists with its Periwinkle Project on medicinal plants, spearheaded by Sarah Laird. Since Charles Zerner - a Southeast Asia specialist and lawyer - joined the staff in 1992, the Alliance has been increasingly active in intellectual property and resource rights issues.    - GJM    

    The Rainforest Alliance is an international, non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of tropical forests. It seeks to develop and promote economically viable and socially desirable alternatives to the destruction of endangered habitats and biological diversity through education, research in the social and natural sciences, and establishing partnerships with businesses, government and local communities.  

The Natural Resources and Rights Program (NRRP) of the Rainforest Alliance seeks to integrate concerns for pluralistic societies and for social and economic justice with community-based conservation and resource management programs.  

    The NRRP pursues these goals by promoting field research and projects which emphasize the relationships between community, culture, biodiversity and property rights. It is active in Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and Latin America. In Indonesia, the NRRP is working with local researchers to evaluate community-based tenurial control of reefs in the Maluku and Sangihe Islands. In the South Pacific, in collaboration with plant chemists, marine biologists, patent lawyers, government officials and community leaders, the NRRP is shaping a progressive social and environmental agenda for biodiversity prospecting. An important goal of the NRRP is to influence environmental policy and education by stimulating and disseminating original research. The NRRP has commissioned case studies of the social and environmental effects of tropical resource extraction in Asia, Latin America and Africa, which will be published in a book, People, Plants and Justice.    

    " ... community-based institutions and customary laws may be used to develop contemporary conservation and economic development programs. Examples can be found throughout Asia, the South Pacific and Africa ...   There are many lessons to be learned from existing institutions about local control and  incentives. Where these institutions still function, we can develop programs and policies that provide support on the national and international level. Where they are weakened, we can understand what forces are undermining them. Where these institutions don't exist, we may assist in developing them."  

From: Anonymous. 1994. Alliance program spotlights natural resources and rights [Interview with Charles Zerner].  The Canopy Winter:1,4-5.


  • Charles Zerner, Program Director,  or Ina F. Chaudhury, Program Assistant,  The Rainforest Alliance, 65 Bleecker Street,  New York, NY 10012, USA; Tel. +1.212.6771900,  Fax +1.212.6772187, e-mail canopy@igc.apc.org
  • Diane Jukofsky or Chris Willie,  Co-Directors, Latin American Office,  The Rainforest Alliance, Apdo. 138-2150,  Moravia, San José, Costa Rica;  Tel. +506.2363073, Fax +506.2402543,  e-mail tcnbcr@huracan.cr


World Resources Institute

    Apart from the activities described below, the WRI supports a community law program. Through seminars given in various developing countries, the program seeks to inform communities about their property, resource and intellectual property rights. For more information, contact Owen Lynch.     - GJM    

    The World Resources Institute (WRI) is an independent policy research center focusing on global environmental and development issues. Within the Institute, the Biological Resources and Institutions Program has been working to develop new policies and management regimes in order to promote conservation and sustainable development. In particular, research is undertaken into the legal, economic, ethical and conservation issues related to genetic resource use. The Program seeks to stimulate the establishment of policies that will act as an incentive for conservation and will promote long-term development in those countries which are the source of valuable genetic resources. Initial work has focused on the rights of local communities and use of natural products in the pharmaceutical industry.  Recognition of the value of local knowledge and of the rights of local communities has been promoted through workshops and the process of writing The Global Biodiversity Strategy.  

    The Strategy, developed by WRI, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and IUCN - the World Conservation Union, is a comprehensive agenda of policy reforms and conservation action by which nations can preserve biodiversity while utilizing its benefits for food, medicines, chemicals and other necessities. WRI’s work on natural products in the pharmaceutical industry, which included research into policy tools and legal frameworks, resulted in the report Biodiversity Prospecting (co-published with Costa Rica’s National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), the African Centre for Technology Studies and the Rainforest Alliance).    

    " ... there is no guarantee that the institutions created to capture the benefits of biodiversity will contribute to economic growth in developing countries. Quite the opposite has been the case historically. The chief commercial beneficiaries of genetic and biochemical resources found in developing countries have been the developed countries able to explore for valuable resources, develop new technologies based on the resources and commercialize the products. The Convention on Biological Diversity provides a framework that may boost developing countries’ negotiating strength and foster needed investments in conservation, but it will be up to individual nations to pass the laws and establish the regulations needed to achieve these benefits. From a conservation standpoint, unless developing countries do realize benefits from these resources, summoning the political will to conserve them will be difficult." 

From: Reid, W.V., S.A. Laird, C.A. Meyer, R. Gómez, A. Sittenfeld, D.H. Janzen, M.A. Gollin and C. Juma, editors. 1993. Biodiversity Prospecting. WRI, Washington, DC.


  • Walter Reid, Vice-President, Biological Resources and Institutions Program, WRI,  1709 New York Avenue, NW,  Washington, DC 20006, USA;  Tel. +1.202.6386300, Fax +1.202.6380036
  • Owen J. Lynch, Senior Associate,  World Resources Institute, 1709 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA; Tel. +1.202.6622514,  Fax +1.202.6380036, e-mail owen@wri.org
  • Copies of Biodiversity Prospecting  and The Global Biodiversity Strategy can be obtained  from: WRI Publications, PO Box 4852,  Hampden Station, Baltimore, MD 21211, USA; Tel. +1.410.5166963, Fax +1.410.5166998      


IUCN Environmental Law Programme

      In 1994, IUCN’s Environmental Law Centre, together with the IUCN Biodiversity Programme, published A Guide to the Convention on Biological Diversity, by Lyle Glowka, Francoise Burhenne-Guilmin and Hugh Synge. It explains the text of the Convention and provides additional background material. Spanish and French editions are now out, and work is underway on Arabic and Chinese versions. Other initiatives of the IUCN - including its Indigenous Peoples’ Programme - will be described in future issues of the Handbook  - ALH .

    Founded in 1948, IUCN - The World Conservation Union brings together States, government agencies and a diverse range of non-governmental organizations in a unique partnership of some 773 members spread across 123 countries. The Union seeks to work with its members to achieve development which provides a lasting improvement in the quality of life for people all over the world.  

    The mission of the IUCN Environmental Law Programme (ELP) is to assist societies  in strengthening the framework and implementation of environmental law for conserving the integrity and diversity of natural environments, managing natural resources and ensuring that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. The Programme has four goals: to promote the adoption of sound international and national environmental legal instruments; to provide technical assistance and services in this field; to build capacity in the field through workshops, research fellowships, and support of specialized regional centers; and to monitor developments in the field of environmental law and provide information on them. Three integrated units comprise the ELP: Environmental Law Development, Environmental Law Services and the Environmental Law Information System. The ELP is carried out jointly by the Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) and the Environmental Law Centre (ELC). CEL is a network of more than 200 international and environmental law specialists in over 60 countries who, usually on a volunteer basis, provide time and expertise to support ELP projects and other IUCN initiatives. All activities are coordinated through the ELC, a unit of IUCN headquarters established in 1970, that develops and manages projects, assists other IUCN programs and serves as the Secretariat of CEL. 

    "In some cases, indigenous and local communities will be the ultimate providers of genetic resources and related knowledge. Mechanisms might be explored which guarantee respect for the wishes of communities in whose territory collecting activities are proposed. Mechanisms might include (1) identifying the communities living in areas where collecting will occur; (2) consultation by the government or by a designated NGO with the communities to ascertain their interest in allowing collecting in their territories and in negotiating an agreement with the potential user; (3) assisting communities to negotiate terms of access and benefit-sharing; and (4) reviewing the agreement between a community and a potential user of genetic resources to ensure conformity with relevant access criteria." 

From: Glowka, L. 1995. Determining Access to Genetic Resources and Ensuring Benefit-Sharing: Legal and Institutional Considerations for States Providing Genetic Resources. Paper presented to the Global Biodiversity Forum, 4 November, Jakarta.


Rural Advancement Foundation International

      RAFI is the pre-eminent international organization concerned with patenting of life and biogenetic resources. It is a major source of information on the unethical practices and exploitative nature of the biotechnology, agricultural, seed and pharmaceutical industries  - DAP  

The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research on agricultural biodiversity, biotechnology and intellectual property. RAFI also campaigns on policy issues and practices related to plant genetic resources. Studies undertaken have included an investigation into the implications of intellectual property rights and biodiversity for indigenous peoples, for the United Nations Development Programme. This report, published in both Spanish and English, is entitled Conserving Indigenous Knowledge: Integrating Two Systems of Innovation. RAFI produces regular publications, including RAFI Communique and an Occasional Paper Series, both available free of charge on RAFI’s home page on the Internet.

Titles include Bioprospecting/Biopiracy and Indigenous Peoples and COPs and Robbers: Transfer Sourcing Indigenous Knowledge and Pirating Medicinal Plants (jointly produced with the Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network).  

Possibly two-thirds of the world’s people could not survive without the foods provided through indigenous knowledge of plants, animals, insects, microbes and farming systems.


    ‘... indigenous communities are faced with a number of possible policy strategies. Whichever strategy they adopt, however, indigenous communities should not move toward environmental entrepreneurism but toward collective self-reliance. Bargaining between developing countries and indigenous peoples on the one hand and developed countries and private industry on the other hand should be undertaken within the framework of intergovernmental arrangements and on a collective basis.   

The major strategies available to indigenous communities include adopting existing (and evolving) intellectual property systems; developing a sui generis system of intellectual property protection; entering bilateral contractual arrangements; or creating a new system combining various elements of each of these.’   

RAFI. 1994. Conserving Indigenous Knowledge: Integrating Two Systems of Innovation. United Nations Development Programme, New York.


  • Hope Shand or Edward Hammond, RAFI, P.O. Box 655, Pittsboro, NC 27312, USA; Tel. +1.919.5421396, Fax +1.919.5420069, e-mail rafi@nando.net
  • Pat Roy Mooney, Executive Director, RAFI, 71 Bank Street, Suite 504, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5N2, Canada; Tel. +1.613.5676880, Fax +1.613.5676884,  e-mail rafican@web.apc.org Internet http://www.charm.net/rafi/rafihome.html
  • To obtain a complimentary copy of Conserving Indigenous Knowledge write to: UNDP, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP, One United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA   


United Nations Development Programme

    Among the diverse initiatives supported by the UNDP, there are several projects which focus on the sustainable use of plant resources and its relationship to conservation and development. Reflecting its interest in the ethical use of traditional ecological knowledge, the UNDP commissioned RAFI to carry out a study of intellectual property rights of local people.    - GJM   

    Through a unique network of 136 offices worldwide, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helps people in 175 countries to help themselves, focusing on poverty elimination, environmental regeneration, job creation and the advancement of women.   

   An ethnobotanical exchange program was created by UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (RBLAC) and funded by UNDP’s Special Unit for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) following a meeting on ‘Ethnobotanical Exchange between Asia and Amazonia’, held in Belém, Brazil in December 1991. So far, two exchanges have taken place: between Brazil and India, on the comparison of medicinal plants and their uses in two specific areas; and between Vietnam and Brazil, on the coordination of ethnobotanical initiatives through the medium of workshops.  

   Ethnobotany is also an integral part of a UNDP-supported program, funded through the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), entitled ‘Regional Support for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources in the Amazon’. A pilot project based on the establishment and cultivation of a medicinal plant garden is currently underway in Iquitos, Peru. This project is part of a series of demonstration projects which promote the transfer of information on sustainable uses of natural resources and the duplication of successful pilot initiatives throughout the Amazon basin.    

    ‘According to our initial investigation, most of the Muong medical practitioners are women. We contacted them often to gather information about medicinal plants, yet it was not always easy to obtain data. Some Muong healers in Long San village (Kim Boi district, Hoa Binh province) strongly believe that if they share knowledge with someone else, the efficacy of their remedies will be reduced or disappear completely. They also believe that they might be punished by their spiritual sponsor or deity.  
We heard a similar story from an herbalist in Ba Trai village (Bavi district, Ha Tay province). A man from our research team asked her to keep a list of the medicinal plants she used. Although she was hesitant, she finally she gave it to him. Some days later she fell sick. The illness was mild, but she thought she had been punished by a deity. Her husband asked the researcher to return the list, explaining that she could give it back only if she were not to practice medicine any more.’

Adapted from: Nguyen, T.Q. 1995. Material for a Common Report of Joint Project: ‘Ethnobotanical Research and Exchange between Vietnam and Brazil’. Manuscript, Department of Biology, Hanoi University, Hanoi.  


  • Nick Remple or Lita Paparoni,  Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean,  United Nations Development Programme,  One United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA;  Tel. +1.212.9065376, Fax +1.212.9065892
  • Peter T. Hazlewood, Coordinator,  Small Grants Programme, GEF,  NGO Division/BPPE, UNDP, One United Nations Plaza,  New York, NY 10017, USA;  Tel. +1.212.9065084, Fax +1.212.9066690,  e-mail peter.hazlewood@undp.org


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