This letter was sent in an email to a conference organiser, but it looks like it could be read by anyone interested in these matters:
One of the projects that I am fiddling with here (on the side of my PhD) concerns a network of community-based botanical gardens in the Napo-Ucayali corridor.
As you might be aware, Correa, Lula and Chavez (for instance an oil pipeline to Argentina), as well as of course the Peruvian state, have great plans for “corredores inter-oceanicos” which will essentially, finally, cut the Amazon apart in order to bring cheap consumer goods, in the short term, to the Brasilian cities, and in the long term to all of the continent, of course, –and the last trees and oil and other natural resources back to China, so that they can produce the plastics to come here….
One of the main corredores is likely, if Lula and Correa get’s it sorted, to be the Manta-Coca-Iquitos-Manaus-Belem corridor and includes an “hidrovia” (concrete, dykes, dams etc.) for the Napo, currently researched by German foreign aid agency. Lula is prepared to finance part of the Ecuadorian side of things. Two corridors, then, including a road from Paita, will then arrive in Iquitos *at some point* according to plan.
For those reasons – in addition to all the other good reasons for supporting the creation of a strong regional part of global civil society in the Amazon – I am particularly interested in making links with and between communities along the Napo and Ucayali rivers who are interested in exchange about approaches to conservation and preservation of their land, culture and knowledge – in the form of building gardens or claiming land (as some communities that we work with in Pastaza, Ecuador, are doing close to Peru’s border; and as the Sarayaku have done; some tribes in Peru, too). I hope that we can get to sow the seeds for a cultural corridor of exchange and mutual aid before it becomes a capitalist highway, to smoothen, just a bit, the impact, which could otherwise be devastating.
One of the first things that we will be working on is to exchange Ayahusaca and companion plant seeds (and the plants themselves) and recipes between Pucallpa area and here, and to build an Ayahuasca garden here around Tena.
A friend in Pucallpa – young student activist- who is working to create a botanical garden in his native community, is building ties with the forming pharmacology department at the Pucallpa Inter-Cultural University – and we’re working with some Cubans at the State University of Amazonia in Pastaza, also pharmacologists, who has brought essential oil machinery from Cuba in order to find and produce oils (together with indigenous communities) of plants that are not yet in the “guia terapeutica internacional” – and so on.
Work along these lines have been given a useful term by globally connected indigenous researchers – “Collective Bio-Cultural Heritage” and connects indigenous knowledge to practices (not just intangible ideas that can simply be circumscribed by patents and copyright (not that those legal fields aren’t mined in themselves)) and through the practices, of course, knowledge is tied to the land itself: without, at least, some untouched pockets of the forest, how can a shaman spend time learning as they used to do? Roaming in the wild – perform hunting rituals and the hunt itself?
These are all obviousnesses once you behold them in a spiritual or radically political or environmental manner, – but to international law, to state sovereignty and natural resource extractors these arguments and their associated practices around the world, represent if not a threat than at least a serious challenge. Certainly it has an impact on academic and public policy debates about knowledge and property, which began in cyberspace around freedom of information and access to knowledge, because these debates are now converging with debates about protecting indigenous knowledge, which comes in great part from Amazonian studies, and thereby shedding new light on the “fact” that knowledge is embedded, always, in the physical world – even the sage in the cave has to eat and drink -at some point- and remove his excrements -at some point- if he is to carry on contemplating infinity. This might have profound implications, by way of its argumentative consequences, in the philosophy of law and property. The latter area is related to my own thesis; and certainly relevant for a critical reflection on the socalled Latin American revolutions’ environmental conscience (or lack of) and the predominant perspective on indigenous peoples’ realities. For instance, Chavez recently forcefully deported a range of tribes on behalf of a multi-national coal crporation. But the main issue I wanted to alert you to is the creation of a wider cultural exchange in the Napo-Ucayali corridor, where many aspects of a Collective Bio-Cultural Heritage are shared.
Just wanted to let you know what we’re up to, in advance of the conference, in case you come across something, someone or other with related interests.
With Best Wishes,