Peruvian Agreement Protects Indigenous Potato Strains
- Potato Capital of the World Offers Up New Recipe
Peru gave the world the potato, and the potato now offers indigenous
people around the world a new recipe for securing their rights.
LONDON, Jan 18 (IPS) - Peru gave the world the potato, and the potato
now offers indigenous people around the world a new recipe for
securing their rights.
A new agreement between six indigenous communities and the
International Potato Centre in Cusco, Peru, heart of the old Inca
civilisation in the Andes mountains of Latin America, recognises the
right of these communities over the unique potato strains that they
have developed and grown.
"No, this does not mean that these communities will now procure
patents over these varieties of potato," Alejandro Argumedo, associate
director of the Association for Nature and Sustainable Development
(ANDES), a Cusco-based civil society group led by indigenous peoples,
"These indigenous people are against patents," Argumedo explained.
"They represent a model of property that does not fit into their
worldview. Indigenous people are used to exchanging and sharing
information in open ways. But this means a legal agreement that no one
else can claim intellectual property rights over their knowledge."
The implications can be far-reaching, Argumedo said. Whether it is
varieties of corn in Mexico or basmati rice in India, the agreement
over these potatoes "is a first legal sign of the restoration of
rights that indigenous people once had."
Peru would of course use potatoes to break new ground; it is the
official centre of the world of potatoes.
"Potatoes are important for us as food but also as a cultural symbol,"
Argumedo said. "We have co-evolved with potatoes. Peru gave the potato
to the world, they are so important in marriage and religious
ceremonies. They mean so much in Andean culture and iconography that
goes back thousands of years."
The Andes region in and around Peru has more than 2,000 varieties of
potato, among more than 4,000 varieties around the world. A potato
park in Cusco produces about 700 varieties of potato.
ANDES helped broker the agreement with the International Potato
Centre, one of 15 consultative groups for international agricultural
research centres responsible for the world's largest agro-biodiversity
gene bank collections.
The eminent reputation of the centre gives strong international weight
to the agreement. Although it does not involve a government, it is
legal under Peruvian law.
The new agreement "means that Andean communities can unlock the potato
gene bank and repatriate biological diversity to farming communities
and the natural environment for local and global benefit," ANDES said
in a statement Tuesday.
Though excluded and often oppressed, indigenous peoples are the
traditional custodians of biodiversity, and this agreement recognises
that "the conservation, sustainable use and development of maximum
agro-biodiversity is of vital importance in order to improve the
nutrition, health and other needs of the growing global population,"
Several policy analysts and civil society campaigners are preparing to
push for similar initiatives at a meeting of the Convention on
Biological Diversity to be held in Bangkok next month, and at a World
Intellectual Property Organisation meeting to be held in Geneva in June.
The new agreement, called the "agreement on the repatriation,
restoration and monitoring of agro-biodivisity of native potatoes and
associated community knowledge systems", will challenge the trend of
"privatising genetic resources and indigenous knowledge which has seen
seed gene banks swallowed up by unaccountable research bodies and
corporations, threatening local livelihoods and cultural ways of
life," ANDES said in its statement.
ANDES campaigned for the agreement with considerable support from the
London-based International Institute for Environment and Development
(IIED) and the government of the Netherlands.
"Civil society groups, particularly those led by indigenous peoples,
should not be dictated to, but they do need greater support from the
rich countries," Dr Michel Pimbert, director of the sustainable
agriculture and rural livelihoods programme at IIED, said in a statement.
"Groundbreaking agreements, like this example in Peru, require
negotiation with all parties on an equal footing," he said, "which
means boosting the capacity of local indigenous communities to argue
their case for access to the genetic resources they helped develop in
the first place."