Contributed by Armando Medinaceli

In the framework of the collaboration that exists between ISE and SOLAE (Sociedad Latinoamericana de Etnobiología), and as a follow up to a first joint session on ethics in 2010, a round table on “ethics, ethnobiology, and participatory research” was held at the III Latin American Society of Ethnobiology congress in La Paz, Bolivia (12 October 2012).

The session was organized primarily by Sarah-lan Mathez as a board member of the ISE, and moderated by Armando Medinaceli (Bolivia) and Erendira Cano (Mexico).

Some of the questions that guided the session were: How does the guidance offered by the ISE Code of Ethics compare with the lived experience of ethnobiologists in Latin America? What does and doesn’t work “on the ground”? and What insights from Latin-American colleagues can be offered on ethical research practices in the future? It began with an introductory presentation on current ethical standards for ethnobiological research that draws on the ISE Code of Ethics and was followed by a presentation and discussion of the following illustrative examples and shared experiences for what it means to conduct ethical action research in ethnobiology today:

1. The implementation of the Nagoya Protocol – Rainer Bussmann (USA)

2. A Critique of the ISE Code of Ethics – Nicolás Seoane (Argentina)

3. Free Prior Informed Consent: a tool or a necessity? Armando Medinaceli (Bolivia)

SOLAEThe session generated a lot of interest, with the participation of over 40 people, including representatives and board members from the national ethnobiological societies of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil; representatives from the Latin American Society of Ethnobiology; and several other ethnobiologists from Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, USA and France.

The presentations were followed by a rich and extensive discussion, that concluded with the following points:

1. The framework of the ISE Code of Ethics does not fully reflect the Latin American reality, and as a region we should work on the incorporation of local norms and local/regional ethics to make it more appropriate for Latin America.

2. Publications in ethnobiology are mostly written with a western perspective, with the topic of participation by local communities receiving minimal attention.  We should encourage writing that acknowledges the importance and responsibility of the information and the informants.

3. The region must establish new networks and strengthen existing ones so that ethnobiologists can disseminate their research more effectively and gain support in decision-making processes. Since knowledge does not have borders, we should work to avoid the misuse of knowledge by not allowing patents and other biopiracy by private agencies and/or outsiders.

4. The time taken to reach a research agreement by free prior informed consent (FPIC) must be taken into account in the planning and development of projects, studies, etc.

5. The topic of payments and/or reciprocity in research agreements with local people should be very carefully considered to weigh the pros and cons of such an arrangement for the local people involved.

6. We should work to sensitize and inform all levels of academia about the ethics of working with indigenous peoples and local communities, and it should become mandatory to put it into practice.

7. Topics such as symbolism, religion, ceremonial topics, deities and beliefs must be taken into account when working with indigenous peoples and local communities, and researchers should acknowledge and request permission when working with these topics.

8. FPIC agreements should be created following traditional customs and norms to avoid breaking local structures or introducing western views. This includes taking into account that, in some cases, agreements could be verbal or with other locally accepted mechanisms.

9. Anticipate and try to minimize the expectations generated in communities when research takes place, understanding that those expectations can be positive or negative for both sides.

10. It is important to clearly state to funding agencies that well-developed agreements with communities require time, and research results may not entirely reflect what was initially proposed, since they are dependent on the communal and local context.

11. The researcher has an ethical responsibility to take into account local interests when planning the research, and to reflect these interests in the FPIC agreement.

12. Codes of ethics should be introduced at the universities as an important component of formal projects, and perhaps become a requirement to the implementation and completion of projects.

13. Researchers should incorporate reflection into the research process, both at the time of action, and when developing new codes of ethics.

14. Ethical implications should be considered at the moment of applying for and receiving funds from outside sources (i.e. transnationals).

Finalizing the session, Dr. Arturo Argueta, as newly elected president of SOLAE, proposed the elaboration of a code of ethics adapted to the Latin American reality and to develop it based on the ISE Code of Ethics. This new code of ethics should highlight the subjects, objects and context, and also include the political situation. This proposal was unanimously accepted, with the suggestion that this new code of ethics should include different realities at distinct levels, allowing for structuring at a national, regional and if possible, at a continental level.

It was proposed and accepted that, Armando Medinaceli (Bolivia) and Erendira Cano (Mexico) initiate the process for the new code of ethics of SOLAE in coordination with SOLAE board and members, national societies, institutions, researchers, and local and indigenous communities. A first (or second) draft of this code of ethics is expected for the next SOLAE conference in Colombia 2015.

After closing the session and thanking everyone for their participation, we encouraged participants to continue the discussion in their own countries and workplaces.