Political Ecology of Bioprospecting in Amazonian Ecuador: History, Political Economy and Knowledge
CONTESTED NATURE: PROMOTING INTERNATIONAL BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION WITH SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, Steven R. Brechin, Peter R. Wilshusen, Crystal L. Fortwangler, and Patrick C. West, eds., State University of New York Press
24 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2004
This chapter examines a tale of three pharmaceutical actors' bioprospecting in Ecuador. One individual actor, Loren Miller, exercised his claims to Western intellectual property rights over a sacred species - ayahuasca or yage (Banisteriopsis caapi). In 1999, more than a decade and a half after Miller obtained his patent from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) an international coalition began procedures to revoke the patent. Miller's bioprospecting efforts underscore how Western (in this case US) patent laws are especially biased against indigenous communities who might dare contest them and benefit predominantly the bioprospector. Secondly, I look briefly at the case and promises of the US-based, Shaman Pharmaceuticals and their exploits in the Ecuadorian Oriente. The firm was arguably one of the most socially progressive bioprospectors in the Oriente. They maintained a policy of both and pre- and post-profit revenue sharing with local communities. In areas where they operated they actively allocated upwards of 15% of expedition costs to fund projects or programs that are based on the expressed needs of the communities with whom the work. In spite of these noteworthy efforts, community members in myriad communities, deep in the Ecuadorian Oriente, express ambivalent and even antagonistic reactions to Shaman. These reactions don't underscore how bad Shaman is but help us understand the insurmountable political-economic realities the firm faces in its operations, and how anomalous its singular efforts are with respect to the broader pharmaceutical industry engaged in bioprospecting. Lastly, we will examine a case in progress so to speak. The rather mysterious efforts and controversial publication track record of a group of scholar-venture capitalists operating in southern Ecuador. This last case underscores the ends to which some scientists will go to gain access to potentially valuable genetic materials, some times by any means necessary. The point of this final case is not to blow the whistle on seemingly dubious activities but to more poignantly highlight how the lack of any real regulatory agency, infrastructure or initiative enables such activities, potentially to the detriment of all involved.
Keywords: bioprospecting, biopiracy, Ecuador, Amazon, Amazonia, political ecology, biopolitics
JEL Classification: P1, P16, Q2, Q20, Q23, Q28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation