Dragons Blood tree: biopiracy & shaman pharmaceuticals in the Amazon, Ecuador


Dragons blood latex (Sangre de Drago) is obtained from a variety of species from an Amazonian tree Croton lechleri. Due to its anti-inflammatory and cicatrizing properties, it has been used since ancient times by indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin. In 1991 the pharmaceutical company Shaman Pharmaceuticals Inc. arrived at the province of Pastaza (located in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon) with the intention of carrying out ethno-botanic research about dragons blood. Its final objective was to obtain some active ingredient that could be first patented, and then commercialized. In exchange, indigenous communities and peoples who collaborated would be compensated. Due to past experiences regarding patenting and bio-prospecting activities, Ecuadorian indigenous organizations refused to participate. They said that indigenous knowledge is shared by all the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin and therefore could not be patented by any company. As a result, the company sought the support from the communities that were not affiliated to the main indigenous organizations. It could then begin with its activities in the Pastaza region. This triggered a conflict between the company and the indigenous organizations

Basic Data
NameDragons Blood tree: biopiracy & shaman pharmaceuticals in the Amazon, Ecuador
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Biopiracy and bio-prospection
Specific CommoditiesBiological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe aim of Shaman Pharmaceuticals was to establish agreements with indigenous communities in order to exploit the dragons blood tree. In 1993 eleven indigenous communities committed themselves to provide the pharmaceutical with the latex. The company agreed to pay them 22 US$ per gallon of latex.

Level of Investment (in USD)US$3.000 in 7 years
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population300 000 indigenous inhabitants
Start Date1992
Company Names or State EnterprisesShaman Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Relevant government actorsThe Ecuadorian National Institute for Forests, Nature and Wildlife., The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersOrganizacin del Pueblo Indgena de Pastaza-OPIP (the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza), Confederacin de Nacionalidades de Indgenas del Ecuador-CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), Confederacin de Nacionalidades Indgenas de la Amazona Ecuatoriana-CONFENIAE (The Confederation of Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of MobilizationOfficial complaint letters and petitions
Representatives of CONAIE went to US in order to meet with Shaman Pharmaceuticals Incs directives. Indigenous leaders demanded them to abandon its activities in Ecuador.
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseWithdrawal of company/investment
The company abandoned the project as it was in bankruptcy.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The company did not have success commercializing two medical products derived from the dragons blood tree. As a result it declared bankruptcy. It is difficult to know what would have happened regarding royalties or compensations to the Kichwa communities if Shaman Pharmaceuticals had had economic success.
Sources and Materials

Convention on Biological Diversity.


BRAVO, Elizabeth, 1997, La bioprospeccion en el Ecuador, en VAREA, Ana Mara, Comp., Biodiversidad, bioprospeccin y bioseguridad, ILDIS, Abya-Yala ediciones, Instituto de Estudios Ecologistas del Tercer Mundo, Proyecto FTPP-FAO, Quito.

BUITRN, Ximena, 1999, Ecuador: uso y comercio de plantas medicinales, situacion actual y aspectos importantes para su conservacion, Traffic Internacional, Cambridge, Reino Unido.

DORSEY, Michael, 2005, Commercialization of biodiversity: processes, actors and contestation in Ecuador. A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Natural resources and environmental in the University of Michigan.

Pohlenz de Tavira, Ana. 2009. Conflictos por acceso biotecnolgico de los recursos genticos y conocimientos tradicionales en la regin andino-amaznica: los casos de patentes de la maca, el yacn y la sangre de drago. Mater thesis. Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) - sede Ecuador. Programa de Estudios Socioambientales.


[click to view]

[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorSara Latorre
Last update08/04/2014