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Medicine men and shamans from the Brazilian Amazon are calling for greater legal protection from companies that seek to patent their traditional knowledge and plant genetic resources, as well as government-funded training for indigenous people on their intellectual property rights.

The shamans also called for the creation of a database of traditional knowledge that could be used by researchers for a fee.

Their demands were drawn up at a meeting from 4 to 6 December in the north Brazilian town of Sao Luis, which brought together 150 shamans, Indians and representatives from government and nongovernmental organisations.

In a letter sent to a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s (WIPO’s) Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property that takes place in Geneva, Switzerland from 10 to 12 December, the participants wrote that “We reject all forms of patenting based on traditional knowledge”.

They added: “Our land is home to a large part of the world’s biological diversity — almost 50 per cent — which has great social, cultural, spiritual and economic value”. Yet 97 percent of the 4,000 patents taken out on natural products in Brazil between 1995 and 2000 were requested by foreigners, according to the Brazilian government.

Venezuela has already created database of around 9,000 traditional practices. “The idea would be to make a database in a similar way to Venezuela,” says Ceci Almeida of the National Institute of Patent Rights (INPI) based in Rio de Janeiro, which organised the meeting. “Brazil is larger and has more indigenous communities and could have 30,000 traditional practices in its database,” Almeida says.

If a researcher wants to use information in the database, they would have to pay for it, says Almeida. “The money would be invested in projects for the indigenous community.”

The indigenous representatives say in their letter that traditional knowledge must be given the same standing as Western science. They also call for the creation of a fund, managed by indigenous people, to finance research by community members.

The letter has been presented by INPI to State members of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) at the second session of its intergovernmental committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.

Click here for Page 1 and Page 2 of the letter sent by indigenous representatives (in Portuguese).

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