The Ecuadorian ministry charged with protecting intellectual property, the Instituto de Propiedad Intelectual (IEPI), is working with the national assembly to prepare legislation that would protect traditional medicinal plant knowledge used by Amazonian tribes such as the Tsachilas and Shuar.
The institute is also training the tribespeople to be aware of ownership rights of their traditions to help protect against “biopiracy”, the appropriation by corporations of indigenous knowledge without permission. In the past, biological knowledge has been taken without authorization, according to the institute, for commercial purposes, particularly the development of pharmaceuticals.
Lilian Carrera, the director of this division of the IEPI, says they have carried out consultations about the bill and are working on a review of the existing laws that could be relevant to the protections of traditional plant knowledge.
“When researchers arrive and show an interest in the genetic material related to traditional medicine and want to remove samples, indigenous communities can set the conditions,” Carrera says.
The biodiversity convention establishes that a mutual agreement must be reached before access to resources is granted. The indigenous people must give their consent and a fair and just remuneration must be decided on by the community.
According to sponsors, the bill hopes to avoid another case like what happened in the 1970s when epibatidine was discovered. Epibatidine is an alkaloid found on the skin of the endangered Ecuadorian poison dart frog, Epipedobates tricolor. Epibatidine is a potent non-opioid analgesic.
“Two U.S. investigators took samples of this poisonous Andes frog, and discovered the pharmaceutical applications of this compound, which has 200 times the potency of morphine,” said Santiago Ron, a biologist at the Universidad Católica’s zoology museum.
Ron and Carrera say there’s no effective way to control or avoid the removal of genetic samples from the country, even though there is currently a permit process managed by the Ministry of the Environment.
“It’s very hard to control this at the airports. One could go to the Yasuní national park and collect samples that are so small yet contain the full genome of a plant, and these are easy to remove from the country.”
Ecuador wants its Spanish expats back
In an ironic sign of the times, Ecuador is actively trying to lure its citizens home from Spain. As many as 500,000 Ecuadorians live in Spain, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, at 27%.
Many of thse Ecuadorian expats left Ecuador in the 1990s looking for employment, when options in their home country were limited. Today, Ecuador is looking for skilled labor to fuel a growing economy while Spain endures an economic crisis with no end in sight.
The Ecuadorian government has announced an offer of 20,000 jobs reserved specifically for its citizens who have emigrated to Spain. The agreement is part of the "Welcome Home Plan," spearheaded by Lorena Escudero, the country's minister for migration policies.
The initiative is one of many by the South American nation of 15 million to improve access to employment and provide training for migrants who want to come back. Ecuadorians can register on an online portal called "Red Socio Empleo" (Socio-job Network), under the heading for "Spain Migrants", fill a questionnaire and opt for one of 20,000 vacancies.
The Spanish Government will cooperate with Ecuador by issuing certificates to verify the migrant's skills and expertise. The Ecuadorian Ministry of Labor Relations will help facilitate access to selection processes in private and public institutions in Ecuador.
According to Telecinco, 40,000 Ecuadorians have already returned home due to the Plan. Ecuador hopes to bring home another 50,000.
Photo capions: Shuar people in the Ecuadorian Amazon.