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Communities the world over risk losing control over their traditional knowledge because a UN agency insists on using existing intellectual property standards for managing access to the information. This is among the findings of the first detailed comparative study of customary approaches to protecting and sharing traditional knowledge and biological resources, published on 29 June 2009 by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London. (Find the complete paper in attachment of this email).
IIED has done a case-study of the Yanadi community of Chittoor and Nellore districts of Andhra Pradesh, and suggested immediate recognition for traditional knowledge, ahead of a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The study was based on participatory research with indigenous and local communities in areas of important biodiversity - including the Lepchas and Limbus in the eastern Himalayas, Yanadi in Andhra Pradesh, and the Adivasi in Chattishgarh (besides in Kenya, Peru, Panama and China).
"Yanadi traditional knowledge is on the verge of extinction. The youth are not interested in learning it, and the status of elders is weakening due to the extension of government control. The rich traditional knowledge of the tribe is on the verge of extinction due to lack of recognition" says the IIED's study. It argued that the codified systems - Ayurveda, and Unani - in India have relatively more recognition and patronage. But Yanadi traditional health knowledge is not recognized by policy makers and is branded as the "superstitious knowledge of illiterates, making the tribes afraid to come out openly asserting their expertise".
The researchers identified key components that international policy on traditional knowledge and genetic resources should recognise. These include:
recognition of collective rights and decision-making;
means of sharing benefits equitably among communities;
recognition of customary rights over genetic resources such as crop varieties that communities have developed;
enabling reciprocal access to genetic resources between users and communities; and
managing external access to traditional knowledge with community protocols.
They also stressed that ancestral rights to control knowledge cannot be extinguished, even if knowledge has been shared with others, because of its vital role in survival and identity.