Thursday, January 29, 2009

Funding for Dominica's Kalinagos

A capacity building project of over 8 million Caribbean Dollars has been launched in the Carib Territory of Dominica. The project was first considered in 2005, when submitted to the Caribbean Development Bank, but economic conditions necessitated its deferral until mid 2007.

(Pictured at left: Salybia Church)
Caribbean Net News reports "a high level of flexibility" in the project's structure, which is directed at both individual and institutional capacity-building in the territory, and includes provisions for the Caribbean indigenous community (Kalinago people) making up around 4% of the population. The Kalinago people are governed by the Carib Chief and Council, both elected by the people. Prensa Latina reports, "A total of 3,000 Kalinagos (Caribbean) indigenous people are living in 5.8 square miles in the northeast of the island of Dominica, where they maintain the traditions of their ancestors, despite the colonization processes to which they were submitted, and they resisted." The article suggests that the extreme moutainous landscape supported the survival of the indigenous community during the invasion of colonizers.

The Project Steering Committee, chaired by Dr Charles Corbette, will coordinate and supervise the projects in collaboration with the Carib Council. Dr Corbette explains: "The capacity building project will see the construction of a new road from the Salybia Catholic Church to the Kalinago Barana Aute as well as a link road from the Horseback Ridge Road to the hamlet of Concord. In addition, resource centers will be built in St Cyr and Bataca and the project will also include the rehabilitation of the existing road from the Carib Council Office to the end of the Horseback Ridge Road."

The work of past Carib Chief, Garnette Joseph, was acknowledged by the Ministry of Carib Affairs (the portfolio of which includes the Carib Council). Parliamentary Representative, Kelly Graneau (the first ever Carib Head of Carib Affairs), believes the resource centres should be named after Joseph in respect for his work and support in the early development of the project, saying: “If I had my way, I would do Mr Joseph the honor and name the resource centers after him; he has done a great job and this gesture should not go unnoticed." Graneau contested the Carib Chief elections in 1999, losing to Joseph.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has spoken in support of the Kalinago people and notes various capacity-building projects, including the construction of Salybia School, housing projects, free transportation and education scholarships, declaring: “This government has made every effort to meet the needs of the Carib people ... The Carib Chief himself announced and confirmed recently on national television that all the projects which are mentioned here are being undertaken in your community.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Special Roundtable Event - London - 30 January 2009

The Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute (QMIPRI), Queen Mary University of London, will host a special lunchtime event at 67-69 Lincoln's Inn Fields (map) London, this Friday, 30th January, 12-2pm. The event is free but places are strictly limited so registration by email is essential (please provide name, institution/firm and email).

Antony Taubman, Acting Director and Head of the Global Intellectual Property Issues Division (including Traditional Knowledge and Life Sciences) with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) will lead a roundtable on The Recognition and Protection of Traditional Knowledge: What's next on the international agenda?

Antony will be joined in discussion by Tim Roberts, Head of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) delegation to the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC).

Johanna Gibson, QMIPRI, will chair.

The Roundtable will commence at 12pm with a sandwich lunch and will conclude at 2pm. The event is accredited for 2 CPD points.

The event is free and open to the public but places are strictly limited and registration is essential. To register, please email with the following information:
(1) Full Name
(2) Firm/Institutional Affiliation or University and course and
(3) Email contact details.

If you would like to subscribe to the QMIPRI mailing list or unsubscribe, please email QMIPRI with your request.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Traditional Medicine - The Threat of Biodiversity Loss

New Scientist magazine has recently reported on the threat to traditional medicines and global health posed by loss of biodiversity and extinction of species of medicinal plants.

Traditional medicinal plants are threatened by the global alternative medicines boom, and are being over-harvested resulting in loss of diversity. Traditional medicine is the main source of medicine for many regions of the world, with the World Health Organization (WHO) recording that in some Asian and African countries, as much as 80% of the population relies on traditional medicine in their primary health care.

Plantlife's Medicinal Plants Conservation Initiative (MPCI) published a report this month suggesting that almost a third of medicinal plants could become extinct if the use is not regulated. The report recommends, among other things, cooperation with local communities having knowledge and interest in medicinal plants in order to link development to conservation and use. The report describes the relationship between the supply of medicinal plants to community benefits in health care, income and cultural traditions.

Sara Oldfield, the Secretary General of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), which published a report in 2007 on the conservation of medicinal plants and the role of botanical gardens, describes the problem as a "quiet disaster."

Cusco Law on Indigenous Knowledge and Biopiracy

The regional government of Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, has enacted laws (O.R. NÂș048-2008-CR/GRC) to regulate against biopiracy and protect indigenous knowledge at the regional level.

Alejandro Argumedo, Director of Cusco-based indigenous organisation, Asociacion ANDES, describes the law as "a good example of how local governments can create the appropriate legal and institutional framework, as well as the mechanisms to implement it, to ensure that biopiracy does not prey on the creativity of indigenous peoples and local communities." He explains further, "Worldwide, national governments and international bodies such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization have failed to protect indigenous people's traditional knowledge and associated genetic resources from biopirates."

The laws include provisions for prior informed consent from indigenous and local communities, benefit-sharing with communities, and limiations upon the creation of patent rights over genetic resources. The laws are based on the understanding that such communities have sustained and protected the species for centuries through their traditions and practices, and acknowledge this guardianship in the duties to those communities, as recognised in the law, as well as providing for communities to rely on customary laws to develop and implement registers for genetic resources and protocols and procedures for the access to those resources.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), long-time partner of Asociacion ANDES, praises the passage of the law. Dr Michel Pimbert of IIED (pictured at left) notes the relationship between protecting biodiversity and conserving cultural knowledge: "Biopiracy of traditional knowledge and associated native crops, medicinal plants and microorganisms has been common, depriving poor indigenous people and farming communities of their ancestral rights to natural resources."

Although the law provides for a local infrastructure to challenge national procedures on bioprospecting, the law may conflict with national laws on the recording of indigenous knowledge. The provision for locally produced and controlled registers for traditional knowledge may conflict with the National Register of Indigenous Knowledge, created by the National Institute for the Protection of the Consumer and Intellectual Property. This capacity of local and indigenous communities not only to create but also to control their knowledge registers according to customary rules is of critical importance. To reconcile the two systems, Maria Scurrah, a Peruvian scientist specialising in farmers' rights, suggests to that a cooperation between local communities and the national register is necessary: "I believe that ancient knowledge should be kept by the community and be brought to a national registry to ensure payment to each community for each variety and species registered. That is the only way to pay for each community to be the guardian of biodiversity."

Coffee IS good for us - Traditional Farming and Biodiversity

An article in last month's Current Biology establishes the significance of traditional coffee farming practices for biodiversity.

Traditional small-scale farmers in southeast Mexico utilise tree canopies to protect their crop and protect against soil erosion. Miconia sp. have been grown in these farms since they were clear-cut and burned in the 1930s. Shade-grown coffee has been known to facilitate colonies of animals through this farming method, but the article in Current Biology details research findings concerning the genetic diversity of the trees themselves. Compared to the same trees in neighbouring forests, the trees forming the canopies for shade-grown coffee demonstrate greater genetic diversity, suggesting the importance of the traditional farming practices in protecting biodiversity.

The research was conducted by Shalene Jha and Christopher Dick of the University of Michigan, United States. Samples were collected from Miconia affinis trees growing in various coffee farms and in forests. The research suggests that seed dispersal may be the reason for greater diversity. While in forests seed dispersal may be limited to forest-dwelling birds, in farms there is potential for dispersal by wider-ranging birds in that a greater diversity of animals may be found there.

The research is important during a time when there is greater pressure to expand farms and eradicate the shade-grown coffee practice in favour of mechanised, sun-intensive farming, where canopies are cut down to facilitate access for machinery. While shade-grown coffee farms actually connect otherwise isolated forest fragments, sun-intensive farming would cut off such potential gene flow and lead to potential loss of diversity through in-breeding within those isolated fragments.

Jha explains, "If seeds are not dispersed, they will remain clumped together under the mother tree, and this will make them easy targets for predators." As a result, seed dispersal is compromised and "gene flow will be limited, and this can result in future plant inbreeding."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nicole Kidman, the Didgeridoo, TCEs and the WIPO IGC.

During the run up to the festive season there was an interesting news story which might have gone largely unnoticed owing to the usual frenzy that accompanies the Christmas celebrations. The story concerned actress Nicole Kidman’s appearance on the German television program Wetten, dass....? to promote her latest role in the feature film, ‘’Australia’’. While televised promotional appearances by Hollywood celebrities out to hawk their latest movie projects are commonplace, this particular appearance resulted in immediate media attention for all the wrong reasons.
The interest resulted from Ms. Kidman’s attempt to play the didgeridoo, a traditional instrument of the Aborigines of northern Australia, on the aforementioned programme. Although the reports appearing in the press indicated that Ms. Kidman’s performance was far from that of a virtuoso she nevertheless blew into the instrument during the televised appearance. “Why is this newsworthy?” you might ask. The answer is that while this might have seemed to be nothing more than harmless hi-jinks on a talk show it created quite a backlash from Aboriginal leaders in Kidman’s native Australia. The furore centered on the fact that Aboriginal custom forbids the playing of the ancient instrument by women, claiming that it will result in infertility. Richard Green, Aboriginal actor and screenwriter, in reacting to Ms. Kidman’s televised didgeridoo performance stated, "It bastardises our culture. I will guarantee she has no more children. It's not meant to be played by women as it will make them barren." Mr. Green was not alone in his criticism of Ms. Kidman’s action and other Aboriginal leaders characterised her actions as ill-advised.
This incident appears to be the latest example of the tension between traditional cultural expressions and mainstream media and culture. In September 2008, the BBC News website reported on another incident involving the didgeridoo arising from the publication of a book teaching girls how to play the didgeridoo. The BBC reported that Harper Collins, the publishers of the book, Daring Book for Girls, apologised for causing offense but asserted that there was a ‘’divergence of opinions’’ within the Aboriginal cultures on whether girls could play the instrument.
Clearly the didgeridoo is an integral part of the religious and cultural expression of Aborigines of northern Australia with strict guidelines as to its use which includes the widely held belief that the instrument is strictly prohibited for women. Unlike Harper Collins there has been no official response or apology to the aboriginal communities from Nicole Kidman but it seems quite likely that Kidman was unaware of the beliefs and cultural significance to the Aborigines of the instrument and as one Aboriginal leader puts it, “I presume she doesn't know, otherwise she wouldn't be playing it.”
Was there an obligation on Ms. Kidman to educate herself as to the belief system of the Aborigines as it relates to the didgeridoo before deciding to play it? In fact, is there a general more wider obligation on persons who are not a part of an indigenous community to educate and inform themselves about the beliefs and practices of an indigenous community before engaging in or utilizing any aspect of that culture? Is there any way that the Aborigines or other indigenous communities faced with similar incursions on their traditions by the mainstream media and culture prevent acts which they view as inappropriate? Would the current discussions at the WIPO IGC be useful in aiding indigenous communities in preventing incidences such as these? One wonders if its not these sorts of mainstreaming of indigenous culture without regard to the traditional beliefs and customs of those cultures which has led to the sense amongst indigenous communities that their culture is under attack and requires the type of protection which is being discussed at the WIPO IGC.