March 19, 2001

Bracing for 'El Nuña'

Andean Groups Hopping Mad About Popping-Bean Patent

Tales from a Tribunal: 'The nuña bean is part of the Andean heritage. It is our treasure. For a company to patent a nuña cross, claiming the 'bean-nut popping bean' as an 'invention' with absolute world novelty is immoral and violates the rights of all indigenous groups,' said Elias Carreno, Coordinator of the 'Stop Biopiracy in the Andes' Campaign of the Associaci n Kechua-Aymara for Sustainable Livelihoods, ANDES (translated from Spanish).

Indigenous elders from six Andean communities that grow nuna beans met in late February for a traditional Quechua 'tribunal' to deliberate on US Patent No. 6,040,503 on the 'bean-nut popping bean' awarded to a US food processor, Appropriate Engineering and Manufacturing. The popping bean trait is found only in the Andean nuna bean, which the inventors claim in their patent. After hearing testimony from expert witnesses, the tribunal rendered their decision. Their verdict was unflinching in its criticism of intellectual property monopolies that are predatory on the knowledge, rights and resources of indigenous people.

'Ayahuasca, quinoa, and now nuña,' said Carreno, referring to controversial US patent claims on traditional Andean medicinal plants and food crops. (The ayahuasca and quinoa patents were subsequently overturned or abandoned due to the protests of indigenous peoples). 'These plants represent the collective heritage and knowledge of our people, and we won't sit back and allow our popping-bean to be appropriated by a monopoly patent.'

The tribunal issued a strongly worded public declaration promising to fight the popping bean patent, and demanded that CIAT - The International Center for Tropical Agriculture based in Cali, Colombia - uphold its obligation under a United Nations 'trust agreement' to keep farmer-bred bean varieties in the public domain and off-limits to intellectual property.


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