Mexico Biodiversity Project Cancelled Following NGO Criticism

22 November 2001

Mexico Biodiversity Project Cancelled Following NGO Criticism

The US government on 9 November confirmed that the controversial Maya International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG-Maya) project on drug discovery, medical ethnobiology, biodiversity inventory, and sustainable development among the Maya of Highland Chiapas, Mexico, has been cancelled. The project, one of a series co-sponsored by three United States federal agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), began in 1998 and was scheduled to last for five years.

Organisations who had been strongly campaigning against the project -- including the locally-based Council of Indigenous Traditional Midwives and Healers of Chiapas (COMPITCH) and the Canadian NGO Rural Advancement Foundation International (now called ETC), who proceeded to launch an international campaign to stop the project -- enthusiastically welcomed the decision. "The definitive cancellation of the ICBG-Maya project is important for all indigenous peoples in Mexico," said Antonio Perez Mendez of COMPITCH. "Indigenous communities are asking for a moratorium on all biopiracy projects in Mexico," he added. "We want to insure that no one can patent these resources and that the benefits are shared by all."

The consortium running the project, consisting of the University of Georgia-Athens, Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), and Molecular Nature (a British biotech firm), claimed to have secured permission from 50 communities in 15 municipalities to carry out the project's activities, and to have received requests from eight Maya communities to help them set up medicinal plant gardens. The drug discovery element of the project, however, had attracted significant controversy, and the consortium found itself faced with intense criticism for alledgedly committing biopiracy, failing to secure the prior informed consent of the Highland Maya to the satisfaction of these groups, and for violating the Convention on Biodiversity and International Labour Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (both of which Mexico is a party to) as well as Mexican law, the leader of the project.

Additional Resources

For further information, see the ECOSUR website.

"US Government"s $2.5 Million Biopiracy Project in Mexico Cancelled Victory for Indigenous Groups in Chiapas", ETC GROUP, 9 November 2001,; "Maya-ICBG Cancelled", GLOBAL EXCHANGE CHIAPAS, 15 November 2001; "A Maya ICBG Fact Sheet", Brent Berlin, University of Athens-Georgia, Jan. 2001.

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