A leading ethnobotanist will tomorrow (19 February) receive the 2004 International Scientific Cooperation Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Michael J. Balick's research has helped transform ethnobotany — the study of indigenous people's use of plants — into an internationally recognised academic discipline.
The award citation recognises his efforts to promote scientific collaboration within the field. In particular, it stresses his research emphasis "on preserving traditional knowledge and respect for the values of local peoples, and his support for the development of scientific institutions in areas of the world where they are needed most".
Balick has worked throughout Central and South America, Asia and the Pacific. In Belize, for example, he established links between ethnobotany and economic development, and co-founded the Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation, a centre devoted to traditional medicine and cultural preservation.
In Costa Rica, Balick helped to create a major botanical garden while in the Caribbean, he promoted research in ethnobotany and economic botany.
"Balick was a leader in opening the dialogue and debate on intellectual property rights long before it was fashion," said Sherburne Abbott, chief international officer of the AAAS. "He also worked to ensure that local people would benefit from any discoveries that were made from their plants."
Balick is currently involved in ethnobotanical research in Micronesia.
He also serves as adjunct professor in four universities in New York, United States, and has published more than 14 books. Since 1980 he has been working in New York Botanical Garden, and studying traditional healing practices used by the city's ethnic communities.