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Andean biopirates strike again!

Indigenous peoples' and farmers' organizations from the Andes and the Amazon gathered at the offices of the Ecological Forum in Lima, Peru on 28 June 2002 to formally denounce US patents on maca, the high-altitude Andean plant (of the Cruciferae [mustard] family) that has been grown for centuries by indigenous peoples in the Puna highlands of Peru, both as a staple food crop and for medicinal purposes. Today, maca-based products are commonly promoted as natural enhancers of sexual function and fertility, and demand for maca is growing in the US, Europe and Japan. While maca exports have the potential to create new markets and income for Peruvian farmers, recent US patents related to maca may actually foreclose opportunity for the true innovators of the Andean crop.

"The Andean region is becoming known as the 'biopiracy capital' of the world. We are deeply offended by monopoly patents on our food crops and medicinal plants," said Efraín Zúñiga Molina of the Association of Maca Producers of Valle del Mantaro. "We've seen patents on ayahuasca, quinoa, yacon, the nuña popping bean, and now maca, " said Molina.

"These patents claim novel inventions, but everyone knows they are based on the traditional knowledge and resources of indigenous peoples," said Gladis Vila Pihue, a representative of the maca growers association, Department of Huancavelica (Peru).

The farmers are calling on two US companies to abandon their patents related to maca, and they are asking the Peruvian government and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to investigate and condemn monopoly claims related to maca that appropriate indigenous knowledge of farming communities. (The Geneva-based WIPO promotes intellectual property as a means of protecting indigenous knowledge.)

The coalition is also requesting that the Lima-based International Potato Center (CIP), as promoter and protector of maca seed, take action to prohibit intellectual property claims - not just on seeds and genetic material held in its gene bank, but also on traditional knowledge of indigenous communities. The groups are asking CIP to declare a moratorium on the patenting of all Andean crop germplasm and their genetic components, and indigenous knowledge related to these genetic materials.

CIP is one of 16 international research centers under the umbrella of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the public plant breeding network responsible for safeguarding crop genetic diversity. "We want to send a strong message that patenting indigenous knowledge is morally wrong and unacceptable," said Pedro Rivera Cea, Director of the CHIRAPAQ-RAAA (Red Alternativa de agricultura Agroecológica), an indigenous peoples' network based in Ayacucho (Peru). | alca | Plan Puebla-Panamá |