Selected Publications - Abstract

Soleri, Daniela and David A. Cleveland, with Donald Eriacho, Fred Bowannie Jr., Andrew Laahty, and the Zuni Community (1994) Gifts from the Creator: Intellectual Property Rights and Folk Crop Varieties. In Intellectual Property Rights for Indigenous Peoples, A Sourcebook. Tom Greaves, editor. Pp. 21-40. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Society for Applied Anthropology.

Like many other indigenous farmers around the world, Zunis regard their folk crop varieties (FVs, also known as landraces or traditional varieties) as sacred gifts from the Creator. While the loss of FVs and their replacement through selection is part of the ongoing change of indigenous farming systems, there has been a dramatic decrease in FVs being grown by farmers. Complex and heated debates have enveloped questions of natural resources, such as rights to certain quantities and quality of water and air, that we all thought of as freely available to all. The same is happening with FVs. Farmers' intellectual property rights (IPRs) to grow and to control their remaining FV seeds and food products is increasingly threatened by rapidly changing markets, laws, and biotechnologies largely controlled by industrial nations and corporations that also want to use FVs for their own purposes. IPRs in FVs include rights to the information encoded in their DNA as a result of selection by farmers and their farming systems, as well as knowledge about production and use of FVs.

How do indigenous farmers' want to define IPRs in their FVs, and how can they protect these rights in an age of gigantic multinational seed companies, genetic engineering in plant breeding, patents on plants and crop varieties, and a global marketplace hungry for exotic foods? This is the question we begin to answer in this chapter, using Zuni as an example.

Developing policy options for dealing with IPR in FVs is a very complicated task. Zuni farmers, like most farmers, have traditionally shared seeds freely with each other and with their neighbors. The increasing private control and manipulation of seeds by companies for profit has changed this situation. Many indigenous peoples like the Zuni are becoming reluctant to freely share their FVs. Lack of formal policies concerning these issues does not mean that these communities are unaware or unconcerned about them. Indigenous groups must learn more about the issues and their options, so that they can at least decide whether they want to do anything or not. Otherwise, those with the most influence in the government, the courts, and the market place will dominate the scene for their own interests. These interests are not likely to be those of indigenous groups.

One of the main ways in which the Zuni Folk Varieties Project is documenting Zuni opinions about issues involving IPRs is by asking people's opinions about four fictitious scenarios. Each scenario is followed by three to four responses by fictitious farmers, and we ask interviewees to choose the best response and comment on it, or give their own response if different. We interviewed members of the Zuni Tribal Council, the Zuni Cultural Resources Advisory Team, and the Zuni Irrigation Association. Among the three groups interviewed it was not uncommon to find an ideal position that Zuni FVs are only for Zuni people and should not be given, sold to, or used by outsiders. However, many people, including those who hold this position, believe that it is either too late or unrealistic to enforce this ideal, and that therefore Zuni FVs could be given or sold to or used by outsiders, within limits. None of the four alternative approaches that we presented to Zuni people in our interview scenarios is an easy and satisfactory strategy.

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