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 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
NameAshaninka community against Tawaya biopiracy, Acre, Brazil
SiteMarechal 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 CommoditiesBiological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn 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
Potential Affected Population800
Start Date01/07/1996
End Date23/05/2013
Company Names or State EnterprisesTawaya 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 actorsFederal Public Ministry

Acrean Federal Court
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAssociação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia
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
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
OtherCommunities 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
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (undecided)
Development of AlternativesAllow community to remain in control over the commercial use of its traditional knowledge.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

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


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.


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]

6. Blog Marikaa-Kambui (2010): Murumuru e a patente. 16.04.2010. (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]

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]

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]

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]

Other Documents

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

Denunciation (PDF, 2007)
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorMax Stoisser
Last update09/11/2018