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Ashaninka community against Tawaya biopiracy, Acre, Brazil

What was started as an empowerment project for the local indigenous community, turned into a legal dispute about the commercial use of traditional indigenous knowledge that left the community without much economic benefit or recognition.


While most of the Ashaninka indigenous group lives in Peru, there is also a larger community along the Amônia river, located in the isolated Southwest of the Brazilian State Acre, in proximity to the Peruvian border and amid dense tropical rain forest. In their main village Apiwxta (their local name for "union"), the Ashaninka of the Rio Amônia have developed a vivid community structure that allows them to uphold indigenous traditions while taking up a proactive role in local civil society to encounter a number of socio-ecological challenges in the region, particularly the persisting conflicts around illegal logging and drug trafficking in their territory. Self-organization is however also a response to their historical struggles against colonists, rubber tappers, loggers, oil companies, and, in the case of the Peruvian Ashaninka, guerrilla groups violently invading their land [1][2][3]. Confronted with these historic challenges and renewed destructive developments in the region, they formed the Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia - Apiwtxa to take up the struggle for a more self-determined and sustainable future and with the objective to empower the Ashaninka community as a whole [2].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Ashaninka community against Tawaya biopiracy, Acre, Brazil
State or province:Acre
Location of conflict:Marechal Thaumaturgo
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Biopiracy and bio-prospection
Specific commodities:Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In the 1990s the Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia started to raise funds to launch a project to prospect their forest resources and local knowledge and identify new livelihood opportunities. A researcher was hired and carried out field work accompanied and supported by community members over a period of three years, collecting information about traditional techniques and uses of plants and resource management. However, in 1996, he set off to start his own cosmetic company, Tawaya, which he positioned as a pioneer in the fabrication of murumuru forest soaps.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:800
Start of the conflict:01/07/1996
End of the conflict:23/05/2013
Company names or state enterprises:Tawaya Sabonetes from Brazil - was condemned for biopiracy
Natura Cosméticos from Brazil - was accused of biopiracy but discharged
Chemyunion Química Ltd from Brazil - was accused of biopiracy but discharged
Relevant government actors:Federal Public Ministry
Acrean Federal Court
Instituto Nacional de Propriedade Intelectual - INPI
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsCommunities disempowered: almost no economic benefit or cultural recognition - after conducting research project and fighting the lawsuit for years on the property rights on Murumuru (Astrocaryum ulei Burret) is a palm fruit traditionally used by Ashaninka people living along the Amônia river.
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (undecided)
Proposal and development of alternatives:Allow community to remain in control over the commercial use of its traditional knowledge.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The development of this case has shown that traditional knowledge is situated in a legal limbo, making it difficult for indigenous groups to obtain intellectual property rights or an equivalent compensation for their local knowledge as this implies an issue for companies’ research profitability. Despite the ultimately granted small compensation of the community by Tawaya, this conflict exemplifies the diverging interests between an industry whose profits are fueled by the commodification of traditional knowledge and the indigenous hope to remain in active charge of it, using it as a potential pathway for empowerment and self-determination. The unequal benefit sharing also reveals existing asymmetries in power as traditional knowledge remains undervalued and indigenous communities become constructed as passive suppliers of a raw material while cosmetic companies market themselves in conformity with a sustainability discourse of the green economy.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Civic lawsuit Nb. 2007.30.00.002117-3 (Federal Court of Acre)

Lei 13.123/2015 - Law that ensures that anyone who exploits traditional knowledge and genetic heritage must share the benefits of that access with the communities that own it.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

3. Porro, N.; Neto, J.; Porro, R. (2015): Traditional Communities as “Subjects of Rights” and the Commodification of Knowledge in Brazil. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 6/2, Article 8.

6. Blog Marikaa-Kambui (2010): Murumuru e a patente. 16.04.2010. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)
[click to view]

5. Machado, A. (2013): Justiça Federal inocenta Natura da acusação de biopirataria no Acre. Portal Amazônia, 23.05.2013. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)
[click to view]

4. Folha de S.Paolo (2013): Natura é inocentada de acusação de biopirataria na Amazônia, 24.05.2013. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)
[click to view]

7. Zanini, F. (2009): Índios atacam exploração apoiada por Marina Silva. Folha de S. Paulo, 01.09.2009. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)
[click to view]

2. APIWTXA (2008): Aldeia Apiwtxa, Terra Indígena Kampa do Rio Amônea, 12 de agosto de 2008. Public letter. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)
[click to view]

1. Fellet, J. (2012): Na fronteira Brasil-Peru, índios se mobilizam contra obras binacionais. BBC Brasil, 23.04.2012. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)
[click to view]

8. FUNAI (2019): Empresa deve pagar R$ 5 mi em multa por uso indevido do conhecimento tradicional do povo Ashaninka. 10.10.2019.

Other documents

Denunciation - Federal Public Ministry (PDF, 2007)
[click to view]

Denunciation (PDF, 2007)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Max Stoisser
Last update07/09/2020
Conflict ID:3798
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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