Biological and chemical compounds

The search for useful biological and chemical compounds has shown potential to increase local income and in-country technical capability, and reduce forest destruction (see text box 4.3). Collaborations in this regard, if negotiated properly, can develop the source country's capacity to conduct sophisticated research on natural resources. Prospecting of bioactive material from plant and animal species can also assign monetary values to conservation of these resources to counterbalance the tendency for resource degradation. Besides Costa Rica, such research is being started in Argentina, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru and Suriname (Grifo, 1994).

Text box 4.3: Biological resources in Costa Rican forests

In 1991 :the National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica (INBio) signed a two-year agreement with the international pharmaceutical producer Merck and Co. In exchange for: preliminary research on biologically active compounds from forest plants! insects and: micro-organisms found in Costa Rican rainforests, Merck paid US$ 1 million to INBio. In addition, Merck agreed to return to Costa Rica a percentage of: any royalties generated by drugs developed as a result of the research (which probably could take 15 to 20 years to realize).

Through another agreement, Bristol-Myers Squibb is supporting research by INBio and Cornell University that will study tropical insects and related species for compounds that: could provide potential sources of drugs (Sittenfeld and Lovejoy, 19!34).

These agreements include important provisions for developing Costa Rican expertise in biochemical prospecting and maintaining: the biological conservation areas where the research takes place.

In these agreements, the concept of: intellectual :property rights serve as an increasingly important legal mechanism for returning an appropriate share of value resulting from discoveries such as: new: drugs to source communities and countries (see also Chapter 10).

Ethnobotanical research

Since the mid-1980s, Western-style medical research has rediscovered the usefulness of traditional healing systems as sources of knowledge on pharmaceutical products. Ethnobotanical research has been enhanced due to renewed fieldwork and the development of more sophisticated means of determining the bioactivity of plant compounds. This opens up possibilities for preserving local healers' knowledge through linkage with scientific pharmaceutical research. Because it builds on local knowledge systems that have developed over a long time, ethnobotany represents a more focused plantsurveying method than prospecting for bioactive material.

In the ethnobotanical approach, a professionally trained ethnobotanist works with a local healer for an extended period. With permission from the healer, village leader and other officials, the ethnobotanist sends samples of selected plants to a laboratory for study. Bioassays can quickly screen the effect of a plant sample on up to 60 distinct types of human tumour cells (Cox and Balick, 1994). Scientists examine promising specimens to compare their molecular structure with that of known chemicals. Molecules identified as lead compounds proceed through a series of evaluations leading to approval as a medicine, which can take 15 to 20 years.

Factors that determine a locality's promise for international ethnobotanical study include:

• a diverse flora (for example, tropical forest);

• permanent settlement for many generations (this suggests greater experimentation by local people with local species);

• a tradition of healers who transmit their knowledge from generation to generation, usually through apprentices (this offers effective screening through generations of repetition).

In realizing local benefits from ethnobotanical research, local healers and communities must rely on the commitment and efforts of the ethnobotanical researcher. In order to address the important question on how ethnobotanical research can be carried out as an equitable partnership, guidelines for ethobotanists have been developed, and they have been endorsed by the International Society of Ethnobiology. The research must respect the following obligations (Cox, 1995):

• design and direct the research aim accurately to the healer;
• respect the "sacred" or secret information provided by the healer;
• acknowledge the healer as source in academic papers;
• provide for indigenous-language abstracts of the research;
• protect the financial interests of the healer, either through increased return to the source community from royalties to the patent, or pre-payment;
• help conserve important source habitats of medicinal plants.

Ethnobotanical research also can help to restore or reinforce a group's traditional knowledge base: for example, the indigenous San Carlos Comanche of Arizona, USA, collaborated in an ethnobotanical survey for this reason (Davis and Dunn, 1994).

International ethnobotanical research is still not widespread because few scientists are trained to conduct ethnobotanical research, and it requires much fieldwork. But this field continues to grow with the increasing global importance of traditional medicine.


Ecotourism aims to help local communities generate income with minimal impact on the local environment and culture. In 1994, ecotourism was the fastest growing sector of the world's US$ 3.4 trillion dollar tourist industry (IPS, 1995).

Ecotourism requires disciplined tour agencies to maintain strict practices that limit the impact on ecosystems and ensure that funds contribute to local employment and conservation. In theory, its smallscale nature makes it possible for local businesses to retain control over its development.

However, lack of long-term working models give rise to caution about ecotourism ventures. Even where pioneering efforts have developed a model appealing to local communities and governments, ecotourism can gain uncontrollable momentum and lead to foreign buy-ups of land, rising land and food prices, destructive levels of tourist visits and failure to comply with codes. Examples in Nepal and Thailand show that while ecotourism can generate considerable income, it can also lead to serious problems of garbage, waste disposal and firewood shortages (Braatz et al., 1992). Without careful preparation villages can easily find their lifestyles and values disrupted by powerful outside forces. The Kuna community of Panama managed to regain control over the tourist industry in their territory only after the destruction of two hotels that were built by outsiders without Kuna consent (Poole, 1993).

Text box 4.4: The Terra Nova ethnobiomedical reserve in Belize

The Belize Association of Traditional Healers (BATH), with support from the IxChel Tropical Research Foundation and the New York Botanical Garden, established the world's first forest reserve specifically intended to ensure the availability of medicinal plants for local use. BATH will manage the 2,400-ha Terra Nova reserve in the Yalbak region of Belize to obtain medicinal plants and to teach young people about their uses (Cox and Balick, 1994). Researchers will work with the healers to ensure that the plants are harvested on a sustainable basis. This arrangement represents one way to ensure preservation of local knowledge systems while maintaining the forest base.

For ecotourism to achieve its potential, the local and provincial/national governments must show strong political commitment to creating a working model and enforcing codes needed to handle the powerful forces which can lead to harmful effects on local culture and ecology (see Chapter 10).

Local wildlife management

Local wildlife management can sustain village nutrition, generate local income and maintain wildlife populations. Particularly in Africa, there are many examples of good wildlife management. In Zambia, more than a decade of government attempts to limit poaching by enforcing punitive laws failed; but a new policy, based on local participation in wildlife management, reduced elephant poaching by over 90 percent in just three years. In Zimbabwe, the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) has enjoyed remarkable success. In CAMPFIRE, rural communities took full control of wildlife management in conservation areas (Reds, op. cit.; see also text box 10.2).

Redford et al. (1995) describe examples of community-managed wildlife efforts in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia and the Pacific (see Chapter 2 for the criteria developed in that report for deciding when improved wildlife management is feasible). Many wildlife ventures yield overall benefits, but communities should carefully consider questions such as the following:

does the species biology, habitat needs and local socio-economic situation permit management of the species? Wildlife ventures should focus on species already in the locality; introducing wild animals to new environments often leads to major ecological problems;

can the benefits be shared equitably among interested groups? Domesticating certain animals with high reproduction rates could, :For example, cause damage to home gardens and therefore negatively affect women, who manage the gardens. Powerful cash incentives to sell game meat previously consumed in the household can undermine the nutritional status of hunter groups and, perhaps less noticeably, disrupt their social customs (for example, in sharing hunted meat);

will animal farming encourage wise management of wild populations of that species, or overexploitation? Often captive breeding, by opening legal trade in animal products of a species, has a negative effect on wild populations of that species, by lending cover to illegal hunting and rendering conservation efforts seemingly less urgent.

Some indigenous groups have generated income through controlled sports hunting. In Canada, for example, the Inuit have accommodated sports hunters who want to experience traditional Inuit hunting. Regulations enforce strict quotas and ensure that Inuit guides receive reasonable fees from sports hunters. A similar scheme has replenished snow leopard populations in a mountainous area of Pakistan (Poole, op. cit.).

Farmer-led initiatives

To help communities fully explore the range of their management options, there is need for research to look at problems from a comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspective. Researchers need to address rural problems as rural people themselves perceive them, and consider the people's preferred initiatives. By involving rural people as research partners, the search for better resource management options can go beyond conventional scientific research, which has often focused almost exclusively on increasing productivity.

This participatory approach has been gaining momentum. Working with local people on research requires more time and resources for training and data collection, but researchers find that if they accurately explain research objectives and these are consistent with local interests, people collaborate enthusiastically. In the Canadian Inuit example mentioned above, local communities have conducted their own harvest studies, which have produced valuable information on environmental impact and seasonal changes in wildlife patterns (Poole, 1989; see also Chapter 9).

This approach requires that research managers make important changes in the nature of incentives for researchers. Typically, researchers are rewarded mainly for presenting their work in scientific publications or conferences. These criteria do not ensure any link to rural practices. Research institutes should reward time and effort dedicated to:

• involving rural people in the research process;
• including them as co-contributors to published results;
• publishing abstracts in local-language and adapting techniques locally.

Research with community partners might explore a broader range of subsistence issues and strategies, multiple-use management, development of new marketable products, and market research (Nair, 1995). See Chapter 9 for more on research.


• Sustainable forest yield can be improved through:

(a) better harvest planning and operations - including selective weeding, selective felling, improved inventory and planning for integrated harvests of non-wood and wood products;

(b) reduction of harvest and post-harvest losses - through better knowledge of species biology and available equipment and technologies;

(c) enrichment planting - based on species amenability (for example, tolerance of shade);

(d) better market linkages - including scheduling of harvests to coincide with market or processing demand, more efficient transport and storage arrangements, and provisions for an environmental premium to be paid to producers to support forest management.

• When wild sources of a product need to be supplemented with cultivated supply to meet demand, ensure that a selection and breeding program accounts for farmer- and market - preferred traits. Agroforestry species should be chosen to provide relatively quick returns to farmers; activities can start with community or private nurseries. Plan to conserve the genetic variation of wild populations through in situ and ex situ measures.

• For wildlife management, considerations include the effects on other domesticated species, the effect of domestic breeding on wild populations and equitable sharing of benefits.

• Explore innovative approaches and new areas of resource management. Promising areas include commercial development of traditional/natural medicines, ethnobotanical research and prospecting for bioactive compounds.

(a) Commercial processing of traditional medicine requires quality control and cooperation with local healers regarding the standards and dosage;

(b) Ethnobotanical research involves inventory of traditionally used medicines, scientific study of physical and chemical properties, and close collaboration between local healers and professionally trained. ethnobotanists; and respect by the researchers of certain obligations to the local healers;

(c) Prospecting for bioactive materials generally requires more centralized coordination and more resources for long-term study, but offers potential for improving the technological capacity of the source country.

• For ecotourism to improve long-term forest management, there should be strong political commitment for creating a working model and enforcing codes needed to ensure its proper functioning.


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For further reading

Anon. 1993. Ethics, ethnobiological research and biodiversity. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, D.C.

Forestry/Fuelwood Research and Development Project. 1994. Growing multipurpose trees on small farms (2nd ed.). Winrock International, Bangkok. Write to: MPTS Research Network, P.O. Box 1038, Kasetsart Post Office, Bangkok 10900, Thailand.

Greaves, T., ed. 1994. Intellectual property rights for indigenous peoples: a source book. Society for Applied Anthropology, P.O. Box 24083, Oklahoma City, OK 73124, USA. People and Plants Initiative. Forthcoming. People and Plants Handbook: sources of information on the management of biological resources, conservation and community development. UNESCO, Paris.

Reid, W.V. Laird, S.A. Meyer, C.A, Gamez, R., Sittenfeld, A. Janzez, D.H., Gollin, M.A. and Juma, C. eds. 1993. Biodiversity prospecting using genetic resources for sustainable development. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.