Adapted from Beyond Intellectual Property: Traditional Resource Rights for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities by Darrell A. Posey and Graham Dutfield.

Spun alpaca wool, colored with natural dyes. Pitumarca District, Peru. Photograph by Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel

In 1988 the First International Congress of Ethnobiology met in Belém, Brazil. Indigenous and traditional peoples (those referred to in the Convention on Biological Diversity as “indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles”) from various parts of the world met with scientists and environmentalists to discuss a common strategy to stop the rapid decrease in the planet’s biological and cultural diversity. Major concerns included the unique ways in which indigenous and traditional peoples perceive, use, and manage their natural resources and how programs can be developed to guarantee the preservation and strengthening of indigenous communities and their traditional knowledge.

The congress produced The Declaration of Belém, which outlined explicitly the responsibilities of scientists and environmentalists in addressing the needs of local communities and acknowledged the central role of indigenous peoples in all aspects of global planning. Although the language of The Declaration of Belém may seem somewhat antiquated today, it was the first time that an international scientific organization recognized a basic obligation that “procedures be developed to compensate native peoples for the utilization of their knowledge and their biological resources” (Statement 4). Since 1988, dozens of other institutions, professional societies, and organizations have followed suit.

Declaration of Belém (1988)

Decl Belem Eng from Posey*Source: Posey, D., and G. Dutfield, 1996. Beyond Intellectual Property Rights: Towards Traditional Resource Rights for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. IDRC: Ottawa.

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