Rooting out biopiracy

biopiracy by commercial enterprises in recent years has robbed the indigenous Venezuelan communities in the Amazonian forests of their traditional medicinal resources. To counter this imminent threat faced by these communities, the Venezuelan authorities have devised a unique scheme. Titled the BioZulua project, the scheme will document data about medicinal plants and food crops provided by the 24 ethnic groups living in Venezuelan part of the Amazonian jungle.

Under the project, information collected by field researchers will be stored in a database, which will be administered from Caracas by the Foundation for Development of Mathematics and Physical and Natural Sciences. The BioZulua database can be searched by species, geographical locations, ethnic groups or even by ailments. For example companies interested in developing new herbal headache remedies could look at all the plants used by indigenous groups throughout the Venezuelan Amazon. The contents of the database will remain the intellectual property of the individual indigenous groups.

The Venezuelan government also hopes to explore the possibility of raising money for the communities by charging the international pharmaceutical companies for accessing the database. According to the foundation's director general, Ramiro Royero the project is generating considerable international interest. The authorities also hope that the BioZulua database will encourage interested companies to contact the project's administrators rather than approaching indigenous groups directly. They also expect that the documentation would lead to the discovery of important new drugs, whose development would financially benefit the communities.