14 March 2016

Appropriating Indigenous Knowledge: Biopiracy or Scientific Colonialism

"Biopiracy: when indigenous knowledge is patented for profit" (7 March 2016) reflects on an ongoing form of colonial exploitation and cultural appropriation.
Historically, biopiracy has been linked to colonialism, with formerly colonised countries having many of their resources forcibly removed. Pepper, sugar, coffee, quinine, or rubber did, and still do, have significant impact on the world economies. All of them have a colonial past.
At the heart of the matter is the idea of ownership. Patents and trademarks are hotly defended by international trade organisations and multinational groups. But for many traditional farmers or indigenous groups, owning a constantly evolving and changing organism is illogical, as is assigning ownership to one person instead of a community of users.
Even though international organizations like the WTO have prompted the development of legal frameworks to protect plant and animal resources in the contexts of pharmaceutical and agricultural development, these legal interventions fall short of protecting or considering the cultural aspects of knowledge.