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Traditional knowledge needed for climate change survival

Via Frederick Noronha:

(more info via http://twitter.com/fn)


Traditional knowledge should not be overlooked' Text

New Delhi, June 29 (IANS) Communities the world over risk losing
control over their traditional knowledge because a UN agency insists
on using existing intellectual property standards for managing access
to the information, a global research organisation has warned.

The London-based International Institute for Environment and
Development (IIED) has done a case-study of the Yanadi community of
Chittoor and Nellore districts of Andhra Pradesh, and suggested
immediate recognition for traditional knowledge, ahead of a meeting of
the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The study was based on participatory research with indigenous and
local communities in areas of important biodiversity - including the
Lepchas and Limbus in the eastern Himalayas, Yanadi in Andhra Pradesh,
and the aivasi in Chattishgarh (besides in Kenya, Peru, Panama and
China).

"The Yanadis are recognized as a Scheduled Tribe under the
Constitution of India. Through their reliance on forests they have
developed extensive knowledge of bio-resources, medicinal and aromatic
plants and wild foods - including unique remedies for snake bite,
paralysis, skin diseases etc," said the IIED study, made available to
the media Monday.

Yet, it charged, the Yanadis have been relocated to isolated hamlets
away from the forests, where they are "marginalized, living as farm
labourers, supplemented with minor NTFP (non-timber forest produce)
collection.

IIED said, in a case study specifically released to the media, that
the rich traditional knowledge of the tribe is "on the verge of
extinction due to lack of recognition".

It argued that the codified systems - Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani - in
India have relatively more recognition and patronage.

But Yanadi traditional health knowledge is not recognized by policy
makers and is branded as the "superstitious knowledge of illiterates,
making the tribes afraid to come out openly asserting their
expertise".

Yanadi traditional health knowledge, in Andhra, is closely linked to
availability of bioresources - medicinal plants, knowledge generation
depending on a traditional lifestyle.

Says the study: "Medicinal knowledge is acquired and transmitted
through rituals in sacred forests. Plants for specialized cures are
harvested wild through special rituals and are believed that their
cultivation will remove their potency."

IIED's study argues that maintenance of knowledge systems depends on
access to sacred forest flora. Ceremonial visits are traditionally
made to the forest to show respect to nature and ancestors, worship
health goddesses and revere plants.

Under their community law and practices, forest bioresources are
considered to be the common property of the community.

Yet, forest protection laws prevent free access to the tribes to
collect herbs from the forest, while "the smugglers and multinational
companies are let in freely to tap the rich bioresources", says the
IIED study.

The Scheduled Tribe Recognition of Forest Rights Act 2006 "does not
seem very useful and though notified is yet to come into force", it
adds.

"Yanadi traditional knowledge is on the verge of extinction. The youth
are not interested in learning it, and the status of elders is
weakening due to the extension of government control," says the study.

The WIPO meet aims to develop rules for protecting rights over
traditional knowledge, such as indigenous knowledge about medicinal
plants, which conventional intellectual property laws do not cover.

"WIPO's call for consistency with existing intellectual-property
standards is a flawed approach as these have been created on Western
commercial lines to limit access to inventions such as drugs developed
by private companies," said IIED's Krystyna Swiderska who coordinated
the research in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

IIED argued that this "is a problem" because traditional communities
tend to protect knowledge and resources in entirely the opposite way,
meaning that ideas and life-forms cannot be privatised and that access
to them remains non-exclusive.

It pointed out that this ensures access to knowledge held by others
which is essential for survival in often harsh environments.

Researchers warned that the loss of such customary approaches would
lead to a loss of biological diversity and traditional knowledge and
"would limit the abilities of poor communities to adapt to climate
change through, for instance, sharing climate-resilient plant
varieties".

Studying the situation in India, China, Panama, Peru and Kenya, the
organisation argued for accepting some "key components".

These included: recognising collective rights and decision-making;
finding ways to share benefits equitably among communities; finding
means to share benefits equitably among communities; recognise
customary rights over genetic resources; enabling reciprocal access to
genetic resources; and managing external access to traditional
knowledge with community protocols.

"The UN Convention on Biological Diversity requires member countries
to equitably share benefits from the use of genetic resources and
related knowledge, and to protect and encourage customary use of
biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural
practices," said Ruchi Pant of Ecoserve in India.

"But nearly 20 years after the convention was created it still has no
legally binding rules to manage access to biological resources and
traditional knowledge, and to govern how the benefits from their use
are shared."

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