1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · Research

Biopiracy in Peru: Tracing Biopiracies, Theft, Loss & Traditional Knowledge (PhD Thesis)

Jodie Chapell

Start date


Affiliated staff

Paul Oldham, Rebecca Ellis (LEC)


In a context of intense international debate over the use of biodiversity, the role of ‘traditional’ or ‘indigenous peoples’ knowledge in providing contributions to the bioeconomy, and in sustainability and conservation, is increasingly visible. This research seeks indigenous peoples own perspectives on the use of traditional knowledge and stresses the importance of connection, mobility, representation and taxonomy in the creation of ‘traditional’ knowledge and other artefacts of biopiracy. It engages with contemporary debates within the subjects of Biopiracy; BioProperty; comparative legal systems; incommensurability in legal and non-legal discourses; and the relationship between property, identity and commodities. The project forms part of a wider CESAGen initiative ‘Indigenous Peoples and Globalization of Genomics Knowledge in Amazonia’ which is concerned with:

  • analysis of indigenous perspectives on genomics on the local level
  • analysis of key networks through which Amazonian peoples represent their perspectives on genomics
  • exploration of the possible emergence of shared discourses on genomics among Amazonian peoples in a context of globalisation


The research was conducted in a participatory manner, engaging directly with Indigenous Peoples at a grass-roots level. Project outputs will also contribute to debates surrounding access to genetic resources and benefit sharing under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The research aims are fourfold: to provide an analysis of the mobility and movement of biopiracy in Peru; to assess the implementation of Peruvian national legislation relating to traditional knowledge registers; to analyse local (Indigenous) communities’ perspectives on the commercialisation of knowledge and biopiracy; and to provide quantitative data on the extent of the use of specific plants and animals in patent documents worldwide.


Empirical research is derived from ethnographic fieldwork conducted with The Peruvian Institute for the Defence of Intellectual Property and Competition (INDECOPI), non-governmental organisations and with indigenous Amazonian communities in Brail and in Peru. The research assesses the implementation of sui generis Peruvian legislation (developed in conjunction with Decision 391 of the Andean Community) relating to Indigenous Peoples knowledge and genetic resources in the context of Biopiracy through an application of Tsing’s (2005) concept of ‘Friction’. The thesis pioneered the use of innovative quantitative methodology to carry out an analysis of worldwide patent data, whilst synchronically generating a qualitative critical analysis of the field.


The thesis identifies hybrid, multiple and contested meanings of ‘biopiracy’ in Peru. It produces a typology of ‘Biopiracies’ through an application of Tsing’s (2005) concept of ‘Friction’ in four different locations (INDECOPI, international patent systems, and two Amazonian communities). In addition it provides an analysis of ‘biopiracy’ as an empirical subject of enquiry in the International Patent System and produces quantitative data on the extent of patenting relating to biodiversity. The research highlights the generation of hybrid knowledge relating to biopiracy, and corollary fears, priorities, and expectations that characterise the trajectories of biopiracy in-the-world. The research findings highlight the possible contribution of quantitative global research and qualitative local research in aiding the continued development of a sui generis system of traditional knowledge protection in Peru, as well as considering the potential implications of the Peruvian case for other Amazonian/Andean countries.


In Progress:

Legislative proposal (for submission to Peruvian Congress), ‘Protection of Indigenous names: sui generis recognition of geographical indicators and collective marks’ (In progress with Alejandro Argumedo and Asociaciónón Andes, Peru).

‘Biocultural Protocols - Building Mechanisms for ABS based on Customary Quechua Norms: Access and Benefit Sharing among the Communities of the Potato Park: The Potato Park Case Study’ (In progress with Asociación ANDES, Peru & The International Institute for Environment & Development)


Chapell, J (2011) ‘Traditional knowledge and histories of loss’ [Journal]

Chapell, J (2011) ‘Traditional Knowledge in Peru: Patents and Shamans’ [Journal]

Chapell, J (2011) ‘Preservation, protection, promises and the plant Bioeconomy of Peru: Selected examples’ [Journal]

Chapell, J (2011) ‘If you own it they will come: Traditional Knowledge, registers, risk and expectation’ [Journal]

Further information

For further information, please contact