Final: The Convention on Biological Diversity and Indigenous Peoples

This discussion topic submitted by Lisa Ritter ( at 12:19 pm on 5/11/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Lisa Ritter
Tropical Ecosystems of Costa Rica
Conservation of biological diversity was first highlighted in June of 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Although species extinction is a part of the evolutionary process, species are more threatened today due to human influence. This has considerable implications, not only for the ecosystem, but also for social and economic development (UNEP 1999a). The Convention on Biological Diversity takes a proactive approach to ensure biodiversity, while providing for human needs through sustainable development (Department of the Environment, Sport, and Territories 1997). The Convention also highlights the importance of indigenous peoples on conservation and sustainable developments, in addition to recognizing the need for fair and equitable sharing of benefits from use of genetic resources (UNEP 1999a).
Strides have been made towards the recognition of indigenous peoples and the ties they have with resources, yet there are still challenges ahead. Debates over the ownership of Intellecutal property rights of genetic resources continues, meanwhile retarding progress for the development of new medicines. It has been asserted that there must be cooperation between foreign investors, host countries, and there must be economic influence for this cooperation to work.
Cost Rica has ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity and works within their legal system and outside organizations to maintain sustainable development. Their people have played an active role in community advancement, while keeping for future generations.
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is generally defined as the number and variety of species on the planet (Raustiala 1997; UNEP 1999a). It is also recognized by scientists and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to include, "Íthe variety of ecosystems, which comprise both the communities of organisms within particular habitats and the physical conditions under which they live" (Wilson 1992; cited by Folke et al 1996). Both numbers and varieties of species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Many of these losses are occurring in tropical regions, where 50 - 90% of identified plants and animals live. Some current estimates predict that given the rate of deforestation today, there is the potential to lose 2 to 8% of the world's species (UNEP 1999a). Not only is this an ecological tragedy, it also affects the social and economic progress of some developing countries. Analyses show that 80% of the necessities required by the impoverished and up to 40% of the world's economy are based upon biological resources. In addition, these resources play a valuable role in the development of new medicines and ability of the earth to adapt to climate changes (UNEP 1999a).
The Convention on Biological Diversity resulted from the recognition of trends in global extinction and of the value of biodiversity (UNEP 1992). This is a landmark treaty resulting in a comprehensive ecosystem protection plan (Raustiala 1997). The objectives of the Convention are stated as, "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources" (UNEP 1992). The Convention provides a foundation for global teamwork to not only conserve biodiversity, but to guarantee survival of diversity and provide for human needs through sustainable development (Department of the Environment, Sport, and Territories 1997).
The global population of indigenous peoples is estimated at 400 million, including more than 4500 different ethnic groups, distributed around the world (Valiente 1997). The Convention acknowledges the participation of indigenous people in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It also recognizes the relationship between culture and diversity and the dependence of native people on their land and resources (UNEP 1999b).
To achieve the objectives set out by the Convention, Parties are required to protect and encourage traditional use of resources (UNEP 1999b). Additionally, they must develop programs for protection, regulate resources, restore degraded habitats, and include implications for biodiversity in all governmental decisions (Raustiala 1997). Article 8, paragraph j of the Convention is recognized as the core provision regarding the role of indigenous people and biodiversity. It allows Parties to establish legal frameworks to maintain, respect, and protect indigenous knowledge; promote the application of such knowledge; and endorse equitable allocation of benefits arising from such knowledge (UNEP 1999b). In addition to article 8(j), three other provisions have been documented within the Convention that deal with indigenous communities and their interests. Article 10(c) states that Parties need to "protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements" (UNEP 1992). This article is closely associated with 8(j) and is meant to emphasize traditional use by native communities. Article 17.2 provides the foundation for transfer of information; especially how better information will help communities representing traditional lifestyles (UNEP 1999b). Article 18.4 provides requirements for technical and scientific cooperation. Parties should promote and develop technology, including traditional technology (UNEP 1999b).
The Indigenous Peoples' Biodiversity Network (IPBN) is the liaison between local communities and the Convention. This informal association is comprised of indigenous scientists, lawyers, community educators, conservation practitioners, and activists. This team has been the leader for continuing discussions among indigenous groups regarding opportunities within the Convention to promote their rights and control the benefits arising from traditional knowledge. The IPBN has also educated government officials, multi-lateral agencies, and non-governmental organizations on the role indigenous communities play in sustainable development. They have also emphasized the link between culture and resources (IPBN 1997).
To assist the Convention, especially in the context of indigenous rights, the IPBN analyzed Article 8(j). It was concluded that this article referred to indigenous peoples living in traditional locales, as well as those who have been displaced but lay claim to their homelands. Local communities encompass "indigenous societies, families, clans, bands, tribes, and nations" (IBPN 1997), including groups which cross-governmental or state boundaries. Indigenous peoples live in both developed and developing nations, and may be considered a minority or majority (IBPN 1997). The Indigenous Peoples' Biodiversity Network believes all Parties must recognize the value of traditional knowledge, to both states and the world. It is important to note that one size does not fit all in regards to culture, and each must be examined as a separate entity. After analyzing the words of Article 8(j), the IPBN (1997) suggested the following premises:

1) indigenous knowledge is site specific, in the first instance to a local community and secondly to a collective of communities; 2) indigenous knowledge is dependent on the continued well-being of the indigenous communities and environmental within which it originates; 3) indigenous knowledge covers a much broader knowledge base than environmental and biological diversity but for the purposes of the CBD it is being discussed within this limited coverage; 4) indigenous women have often been the customary guardians and practitioners of indigenous knowledge; 5) indigenous knowledge is not a transportable commodity which can be exercised to the same degree of precision outside of its original cultural framework; 6) indigenous knowledge and therefore indigenous innovation is dynamic and evolving; 7) indigenous peoples and their knowledge are important to the world; 8) indigenous knowledge is important to indigenous communities; and 9) indigenous peoples have their own views on how their knowledge should be maintained, promoted, and protected.

The fourth Conference of the Parties, 4-15 May 1998, recognized the importance of indigenous communities symbolizing the traditional lifestyle for the conservation and sustainable use of resources. It emphasized the need for dialogue with community representatives and reiterated the changing nature of indigenous knowledge, innovation, and practice. In addition, the fourth Conference of the Parties accepted that traditional knowledge should be given the same respect as other knowledge forms and that intellectual property rights may have implications for article 8(j) and the related provisions (UNEP 199b). Furthermore, an ad-hoc open-ended working group was established to address article 8(j). This working group provides advice on application and development of legal and other forms of protection for indigenous knowledge, innovation, and practice. This group also provides advice on measures to strengthen cooperation among the Parties and native peoples.
Typically, indigenous communities are located in areas rich in plant and animal diversity. Moreover, they have the knowledge base to utilize resources in both an agricultural and medicinal sense (Lasics 1996). This has led to the growing debate among the Parties over ownership of the Intellecutal property rights (IPR) over genetic resources. Intellectual Property Rights may be a way to maintain resources, meanwhile encouraging developing and benefit sharing (Gollin 1993; cited by Bhat 1999). Challengers of IPR have argued that raw germplasm differs from commercial seed varieties and property rights are biased towards developing countries (Frisovld and Condon 1998). These developing countries invest little time into the DNA of a seed. Additionally, this information is easy to obtain and can be replicated-it is what becomes of the raw material that is important (Lasics 1996). Advocates of IPR view biotechnology companies gaining patent rights to developed seeds and enjoying financial success at the expense of the host country. These private firms have essentially free access to genetic material; yet demand payment for the product. Developing countries believe they should have unlimited access to commercially developed seeds, as the genetic material was taken from their land. Meanwhile, developed countries believe this could stunt research opportunities (Frisvold and Condon 1998). If there is no patent protection, then research cost cannot be recovered, resulting in sub-par products (Lasics 1996).
Other polices have been proposed to encourage equitable sharing, while maintaining conservation. Material transfer agreements are between private firms and developing nations to share genetic resources and gains from product development. Payments are made to the host country and the private firm is ensured patent rights. Technology transfer provides the foundation to share experiences and technologies with developing countries. In addition, the expansion of intellectual property rights would place more strict processes on the ownership of rights (Frisvold and Condon 1998). These policies are not without criticisms. In the case of transfer agreements, the question arises as to whether the private firm will supply sufficient benefits for genetic resources. Moreover, much germplasm has already been collected and currently stored in gene banks. The incentive for private firms to enter into deals is relatively small, unless there is a genetic property currently unavailable in the gene bank. In addition, by placing more strict property rights over plant resources, exchange of these resources may be reduced. It is also questionable as to how enforcement will be handled, and who will incur the cost (Frisvold and Condon 1998).
Bhat (1999) believes that IPR regulation must be established in each applicable country, dependent upon the resources of that country. A cooperation must exist between the host country and biotechnology firms. If there is no government interaction or no cooperation, unlimited access will occur leading to resource extinction. If the IPR favors foreign intervention with losses to the local community, there is no incentive to conserve. Yet, if the host country tries to hard to capitalize on resources, they may provide too many incentives, once again leading to the reduction of resources (Bhat 1999).
Folke et al (1996) believes that there has to be cooperation between humans and the environment, and this must include an economic component. From an economical point of view, "ecosystems are fundamental factors of production." Raustiala and Victor (1996) raise awareness to Western laws reliance on markets and individual property exchange. They question whether this can be compatible with the Convention's provisions for equitable sharing. Problems also arise because the environment is a market externality (Blum 1993). Markets do not respond to protection of the environment - if it is not profitable why should countries conserve resources (Blum 1993; Folke et al 1996)? In spite of these concern, Blum (1993) considers markets to be a means to sustain resources. For this concept to work countries must find ways to make sustainable development profitable as opposed to exploitation. They must take responsibility for their resources and accountability for conservation. As the debate of ownership of rights continues, exchange of information is becoming disrupted. Already, some nations are refusing to allow developing countries access to genetic resources (Frisvold and Condon 1998).
Although a key player to starting the negotiations for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United States has since backed down. The ideologies stated in the Convention, as well as the view taken on property rights and biotechnology differ from "traditional" American standards (Raustiala 1997). Political and industrial positions on the CBD have shifted towards acceptance rather than dismissal. This is most likely due to the risks faced if they are left out of the negotiation process. In addition, many developing countries are using the CBD as a way to assert their rights and American apathy is hurting business (i.e., denied access into diversity rich countries to look for biological resources). Bill Clinton has signed the CBD, but there is concern that many of the provisions stated will effect domestic legislation. Analysis has shown that the Convention, despite being ambitious in global conservation, lacks clarity and clean definitions. It is also difficult to visualize the impacts of biodiversity loss and the CBD has taken a backseat to climate change issues (Raustiala and Victor 1996). For these reasons United States ratification is still pending, and it is uncertain as to when this may happen.
In spite of U.S. actions, many countries rich in biodiversity have ratified the CBD and are taking a proactive role in the Convention. In Central America, most indigenous communities are located within the only areas of undisrupted forest left. This exemplifies the continuous interdependence these communities have with their resources (Chacon 1996). Costa Rica has designated nearly 30% of its land for protection within the National Parks System. Included in these protected areas are lands established for native tribes (Heffington and Mimb 1999). Given the area of protected land with reservations the country has instituted laws to help protect the relationship between indigenous communities and their native resources. Indigenous Law No. 6172 "establishes the right of indigenous people to organize themselves in a traditional community structure within their territories" (Chacon 1996). Although measures are being taken, the system is not perfect. The National Commission on Indigenous Affairs has the power to define organizational structures and determine validity of indigenous rights. Often times representatives from communities are dismissed when there is a conflict of interest (Chacon 1996).
In spite of contradictions, the citizens of Costa Rica are making the relationship between biodiversity, sustainable development, and people work. The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio) was established to generate knowledge on biodiversity, communicate and promote this information. Their activities support the continued social and economic growth of the county in harmony with the environment (INBio 1999). They believe, "Costa Rica will obtain grater control of its biodiversity and, mainly, greater benefits for its society if it increases its capacity to add value and information to the country's biological resources" (INBio 1999).
"Bioprospecting" refers to the "systematic search of new sources of chemical compounds, genes, proteins, microorganisms, and other products that have potential economic value and can be found in our natural biological resources" (INBio 1999). INBio has led the way to focus strategies that employ this type of research. Agreements, thus far, have netted $2.5 million to InBio, conservation areas, and the Ministry of the Environment and Energy. Benefits are more difficult to determine given the complicated nature of assigning value to knowledge (INBio 1999).
An example of a bioprospecting agreement was made between Merck and Company and INBio. Terms of the contract state that INBio would collect and process plants, insects, and soils. This information would be passed along to Merck for evaluation (Blum 1993). Merck agreed to $1 million payment for the information, a percentage of the royalties form development of any new drugs, in addition to technology in the form of $135,000 in equipment for the extraction process. Merck, in turn, receives "right of first refusal" for the samples. INBio may enter similar agreements, but cannot supply similar samples without the consent of Merck (Blum 1993).
The Costa Rican community has banded together in other ways to promote sustainable development. For example, protected forests surround the town of Monteverde, located in central northwest Costa Rica. The first was established in the early 1970's, when a student from San Jose worked with the local community to set-up the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. In 1989, a second preserve was established through the efforts of local organizations. Although the town has increased in size, the community maintains an active role to keep the pressures of development low. A diverse group of individuals from the dairy farmers, to the Quakers, to the park rangers address issues at hand and work through the conflict and challenges to keep their community local (Newcomer 1999).
The Bri Bri tribe lives on a reserve within a protected park. Because this area is renowned as a "World Biosphere" (Heffington and Mimbs 1999), sustainable development is extremely important. Access to logging roads have given the Bri Bri people an opportunity to carve out pieces of land to be used in agricultural production. Although there has not been large-scale decimation, current trends could lead to this. Geographers have stepped in to help the Bri Bri manage their land. By providing maps of land use and environmental features, scientists working with the local community to enhance livelihoods while minimizing land destroyed (Heffington and Mimbs 1999).
Costa Rica is just one example of the countries making the provisions outlined in the CBD work. They have employed a variety of techniques, including financial reward, to sustain the land for future generations while maintaining indigenous rights.
Literature Cited

Blum, E. 1993. Making biodiversity profitable. Environment 35(4): 16-20, 38-45

Bhat, M.G. 1999. On biodiversity access, Intellecutal property rights, and conservation. Ecological Economics 29: 391-403.

Chacon, R. 1997. Costa Rica - The Rights of Indigenous People to Biodiversity. Earth Council. Available from Internet, accessed 10 February 2000.

Department of the Environment, Sport, and Territories. 1997. Convention on Biological Diversity - A Guide. Available from Internet, accessed 10 February 2000.

Folke, C., C. S. Holling, C. Perrings. 1996. Biological diversity, ecosystems, and the human scale. Ecological Applications 6(4): 1018-1024.

Frisvold, G. B. and P. T. Condon. 1998. The Convention on Biological Diversity and agriculture: implications and unresolved debates. World Development 26(4): 551-570.

Gollin, M.A. 1993. An intellecutal property rights framework for biodiversity prospecting. In: Reid, W.V., Stittenfeld, A., Laird, S.A., Janzen, D. H., Meyer, C.A., Gollin, M.A., Gamez, R., Juma, C. (Eds.), Biodiversity Prospecting: Using Genetic Resources for Sustainable Development. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C., 159-198.

Heffington, D., and J. Mimbs. 1999. Sustainable development in Costa Rica: an approach to the geography curriculum. Social Education 63(2): 80-85.

Indigenous Peoples's Biodiversity Network. 1997. Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Knowledge and Innovations and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Earth Council. Available from Internet, accessed 10 February 2000.

Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad. 1999. Information about INBio. Available from Internet accessed 28 March 2000.

Lasics, A. C. 1996. The Intellecutal property rights to Genetic Resources. Rice University, Houston, Texas.

Newcomer, Q. 1999. The Monteverde community: a whole greater than its parts. Social Education 63(2): 87-88.

Raustiala, K. and D.G. Victor. 1996. The future of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Environment 38(4): 16-20, 37-45
Raustiala, K. 1997. Domestic institutions and international regulatory cooperation -comparative responses to the Convention on Biological Diversity. World Politics 49(4): 482-509.

United Nations Environmental Programme. 1992. Convention on Biological Diversity. Available from Internet, accessed 1 March 2000.

United Nations Environmental Programme. 1999a. An Explanatory Leaflet about the Convention on Biological Diversity. Available from Internet, accessed 1 March 2000.

United Nations Environmental Programme. 1999b. Indigenous and Local Communities Knowledge Innovations and Practices - Implementation of Article 8(j) and Related Provisions. Available from Internet, accessed 1 March 2000.

Valiente, J. 1997 Indigenous Peoples and Global Governance: Special Report for Rio+5 Process. Available from Internet, accessed 1 April 2000.

Wilson, E. O. 1992. The diversity of life. Belknap, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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