Banishing the biopirates: a new approach to protecting traditional knowledge
The livelihoods of indigenous peoples and the conservation of biodiversity worldwide depend on conserving and protecting traditional knowledge of the use and functioning of biological and natural resources. This traditional knowledge (TK) has helped develop the millions of farmers’ food crop varieties in use today, as well as a wealth of traditional medicines and techniques for sustainable agriculture and resource use. Yet this knowledge is rapidly disappearing. It is under increasing threat from both intellectual property regimes and economic globalisation processes which undermine traditional rural livelihoods. This loss is occurring despite the fact that the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) requires member countries to respect, preserve and maintain traditional knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from their use.International and national policies have so far proved inadequate to protect traditional knowledge. The dominant paradigms of access and benefit-sharing and intellectual property rights fail to adequately protect TK because they reflect western norms and laws, and focus narrowly on protecting intellectual rights. This paper describes how indigenous and farmers’ organisations are calling for more holistic approaches to protecting their rights to TK, bio-genetic resources, territories, culture and customary laws. These components of indigenous knowledge systems and heritage cannot be separated. A new framework for protecting TK, known as collective biocultural heritage, addresses biodiversity and culture together, rather than separating them; recognises collective as opposed to individual rights; and places them in the framework of ‘heritage’ as opposed to ‘property’.