Traditional knowledge and its protection in the framework of the Access to Genetic Resources: the debate continues

23 December 2011 | News story

Regional Project: Strengthening the Implementation of Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing Regimes in Latina America and the Caribbean.

 Within the Regional Project Strengthening the Implementation of Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing Regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean, IUCN Sur, the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment and the Intercultural Laboratory of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) organized a dialogue on traditional knowledge, on 29 November.

Traditional knowledge (TK) is a wide concept which includes knowledge and information, cultural interaction, languages, perspectives and many other aspects, which are generally transmitted orally and between generations. Nowadays, in Ecuador as in many other countries in Latin America, there is a growing social awareness that has motivated the creation of projects and legal instruments for its protection.

Fernando Ortega, professor at San Francisco University, mentioned that the importance of TK is based on cultural identity as well as on the information that was developed in order to achieve a better understanding of nature and society. The expert recognized the efforts made by different countries to protect their TK. He proposed “to look into the past and its knowledge with new instruments that allow us to protect the authenticity of the knowledge, the identity of the authors, their intellectual property, the natural and cultural resource linked to the traditional knowledge; and, finally, to share the traditional knowledge within national and international frameworks”.

Andrea Bravo, researcher of FLACSO, talked about the current moment in which voices in favour of original, ancestral and traditional are gaining attention. “The current approach to traditional knowledge is different; there is a debate about its validity and relevance, about the need to include it in development projects, scientific research and public policies.”

Both researchers underline the relationship between knowledge and power as an argument to protect TK. Ortega emphasized that “those who developed science and technology also created industry, and that dependence submits us today”.

Attending the dialogue dialogue were delegates from the Intellectual Property Right Institution, the National Secretary of Science and Technology, environmental NGOs and several scientific researchers. Wilson Rojas, Access and Benefit Sharing Focal Point of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, closed the event stressing that TK protection is a long and complex process, a challenge for the countries, and a shared duty among the different actors. He said that after several years of debates, there is a new international framework, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from their Utilization, which should be implemented at national level.

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The regional project “Strengthening the implementation of ABS regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean” is executed by IUCN Sur (International Union for Conservation of Nature, Regional Office for South America) and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme, through its Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNEP ROLAC), with the financial support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

About the:

• International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges. It supports scientific research, manages field projects all over the world and brings governments, non-government organizations, United Nations agencies, companies and local communities together to develop and implement policy, laws and best practices. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network. Its work is supported by more than 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, nongovernmental and private sectors around the world.

• United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established in 1972, is the world’s leading intergovernmental environmental organization. Its mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC), located in Panama City, works closely with 33 countries, including 13 small island developing states and 7 megadiverse countries. This region is especially rich in diversity of environments, ecosystems, species and cultures.

• Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the financial mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other international environment agreements. The GEF unites 182 member governments - in partnership with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector, providing grants to developing countries and countries with economies in transition, linking local, national, and global environmental challenges in order to promote a sustainable future for all.

Further information:

Monica Ribadeneira Sarmiento
Project Coordinator IUCN Sur

Alejandro Laguna
Regional Information Officer

Christian Hofer
Communications Officer GEF