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Protecting traditional knowledge: a framework based on customary laws and biocultural heritage

Krystyna Swiderska


IIED Paper for the International Conference on Endogenous Development and Bio- Cultural Diversity, 3-5 October 2006, Geneva. This paper is based on the work of IIED and research and indigenous partners in Peru, Panama, India, Kenya and China. It is a collective contribution from the project "Protecting Community Rights over Traditional Knowledge: Implications of Customary Laws and Practices". Through participatory action-research the project is exploring the customary laws and practices of indigenous communities to inform the development of appropriate policies and mechanisms for the protection of traditional knowledge and bio-genetic resources at local, national and international level. We seek to shift the dominant paradigms of access and benefit-sharing (ABS) and intellectual property rights (IPRs), which reflect `western' laws and models, towards one based on respect for indigenous customary laws and worldviews and human rights. In this way, we also seek to strengthen the institutional basis for endogenous development. A key element of our approach is the recognition of the indigenous worldview that traditional knowledge, biodiversity, landscapes, cultural values and customary laws are inextricably linked elements of indigenous ‘bio-cultural heritage’. This paper explores the concept of ‘Collective Bio-Cultural Heritage’ and its application as a means to protect traditional knowledge, biodiversity and livelihoods. Experience is drawn from IIED’s collaborative research, with particular reference to the work of the NGO Andes in Peru. The paper concludes by identifying policy challenges and recommendations for the protection of ‘Bio-cultural Heritage’ on a wider scale.

Publication information

  • IIED code: G01069
  • Published: Oct 2006 - IIED
  • Theme: Biodiversity
  • Language: English

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The current system of intellectual property rights is designed to promote commercial and scientific innovation. It offers little scope for protecting the knowledge rights of indigenous peoples, traditional farmers and healers, whose survival requires collective – not exclusive – access to new knowledge and innovations.

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Protecting community rights over traditional knowledge

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