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Workshop on the Local Management of Agricultural Biodiversity
9 - 19 May, Rio Branco-Acre, Brazil



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Thursday - May 16, 2002

For two days the Workshop is being opened up to the wider public in Rio Branco, Acre. This seminar has been organised by PESACRE and GTA (Grupo de Tralbalho Amazônico – Acre) for the local population and indigenous people here in Acre to exchange their experiences and discuss agricultural biodiversity issues at the state, national and international level.

(Foto: Alcantara)

Edgard de Deus

A range of important local names were involved in the opening of the seminar, including Jorge Viana (Acre State Governor), Mary Alegretti (Ministry of the Environment), Dr Bráulio Dias (Director of Biodiversity at the Ministry of the Environment), a representative from PROBEM and Edgar de Deus from the Acre Environment Institute (IMAC). The press was very much in evidence too, reflecting what Jorge Viana called a “the first ever encounter in Acre of this type”. The Acre government, through the Environment Ministry, has been very supportive of the GD workshop and seminar, a manifestation of the government’s willingness to support projects and initiatives in Acre to protect biodiversity and the environment. Acre is only one of two states in Brazil to have such “progressive” policies (Rio Grande do Sul is the other state). Jorge Viana described how “…thirty years ago the forest was a problem – the faster we could clear that forest, the quicker the solution”. The clearing of the rainforest was a part of the development programme of the national Brazilian government of the time (click here for more information). With the Partido Trabalhista (PT) in power in Acre and with Marina Silva as senator the government, Viana claimed, has started “building an alternative vision”.

Jeanne Zoundjihékpon Edgard de Deus and
Maria Alegretti / Brazil

Mary Alegretti talked about the extraction reserves of Acre (such as the Chico Mendes reserve) and their communities which are based on the central importance of the indigenous people and those who have used traditional practices there for many years. These people, over two million spread over the entire Amazon area, are sparsely populated, which provides a means to protect the forests. She described how Acre government provides funds for civil society organisations working on the protection of the environment. However, the most important policy in Acre was the establishment of territories or reserves; Brazil currently has 16 reserves, populated by 20,000 people and covering an area of 3.8 million hectares. This will increase to an additional 20 reserves with 3.3 million hectares. Braulio Digo talked about the National policy on Biodiversity in Brazil and how it has been organised regionally. He also talked of Brazil having “mega biodiversity” and “mega cultural diversity”.

A representative from PROBEM described the national government initiatives on access and benefit sharing. He believed that such sharing was best protected through the markets by finding and selling (with its consequent benefits for the local population) plant and genetic products. This could also include genes for use in genetically engineered plants and medicines. To this, it would be important to link together academics, governments, companies and farmers. Edgar de Deus from IMAC described that only 10% of the rainforest in Acre had been destroyed, and of the remaining 16 million hectares of forest, 35% was protected by law.

Henk Hobbelink

To further stimulate debate, Henk Hobbelink (coordinator of GRAIN) provided an overview of the international treaties which affected biodiversity. This was followed by a discussion amongst the participants who questioned the panel.


In the afternoon Carlos Vicente of GRAIN gave a presentation on intellectual property and biodiversity from an international perspective. This was followed by Bob Brac from BEDE who talked about the Organisation of African Unity Model Law on the protection of the rights of local communities, farmers and breeders, and for the regulation of access to biological resources.

Carlos Vicente
Bob Brac
Maria Alice
Jeanne Zoundjihékpon Carlos Vicente

Jeanne Zoundjihékpon then talked about the cases of biopiracy in Western Africa and Maria Alice did the same for the Brazilian Amazon. Maria Alice also mentioned that they used to share their knowledge with everybody about medicinal plants. However, since a Japanese company attempted to patent the commonly used Copaiba oil, the community is now more discrete about its knowledge.

A discussion then followed about biopiracy. Martine Touao gave the example of a research project which may potentially be thwarted by a patent on a specific plant.

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