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Indigenous Peoples and Globalisation of Genomics in Amazonia - Flagship Project

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CESAGen Theme: Genomics, Identity and Social Organisation


Indigenous Peoples throughout Amazonia possess sophisticated knowledge of the ecology, management and uses of plants and other species. This knowledge has become an increasing focus of research by private and public institutions seeking to generate economic benefits from plant genetic resources in Amazonia in which intellectual property rights claims play a prominent role.

The drive to document and commodify Amazonian peoples knowledge of biodiversity raises highly contested issues concerning the relationship between knowledge and plant genetics, the ownership of knowledge and plant genetics, the human rights of historically marginalized indigenous peoples, prior informed consent and "benefit sharing".


Amazonia is one of the major locations of the world’s biodiversity and is home to myriad indigenous peoples. In common with indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, the indigenous societies of Amazonia were devastated by the pandemics and violence which surrounded the arrival of Europeans from the 15th Century onwards. Members of these societies were subsequently denigrated as 'backwards' and 'primitive' and the resources within their lands and territories have commonly been appropriated in the name of ‘development’. The situation of Amazonian peoples and indigenous peoples around the world has been described by the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues as "…an affront to our common humanity".

Over the last twenty years Amazonian peoples have created new forms of organisation directed towards securing respect for their human rights. These organisations and networks range from the local to the national, regional and international levels. In particular, in the wake of the 1992 UNCED 'Earth Summit', indigenous peoples have become important actors in United Nations policy debates surrounding the environment and development. In the context of the rise of genomics a key focus of Amazonian indigenous rights activism has been debates surrounding traditional knowledge and genetic resources under the Convention on Biological Diversity.


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Page updated: 9 November, 2005