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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
Name of conflict:Dragons Blood tree: biopiracy & shaman pharmaceuticals in the Amazon, Ecuador
State or province:Pastaza
Location of conflict:Puyo
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 commodities:Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The 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.

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Level of Investment for the conflictive projectUS$3.000 in 7 years
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:300 000 indigenous inhabitants
Start of the conflict:1992
Company names or state enterprises:Shaman Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Relevant government actors:The Ecuadorian National Institute for Forests, Nature and Wildlife., The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Organizacin 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)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of mobilization:Official 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-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Withdrawal of company/investment
The company abandoned the project as it was in bankruptcy.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Convention on Biological Diversity.

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

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.

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.

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.

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Meta information
Contributor:Sara Latorre
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:884
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