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Published in Nebraska Anthropologist Vol. 22 (2007). Copyright © Amanda J. Landon; published by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln AnthroGroup.


Bioprospecting is a popular venture in Latin America due to the regions' high concentration of the world's biodiversity. This activity has an impact on the native peoples living in areas with potentially profitable plants. They can lose access to traditional plants and extraction processes when companies patent indigenous cultivars and knowledge. In many cases, they cannot patent their cultivars and knowledge before others due to cultural and monetary restrictions. In this paper, I examine the legal and cultural context surrounding the battle over Lepidium meyenii (maca) in Peru. Pure World, Inc., a United States pharmaceutical company, patented the extracts derived from the plant. It sells these extracts to treat sexual dysfunction in humans and other animals. The pharmaceutical company also patented the extraction technique. Indigenous peoples in Peru had already known about the extracts, the uses for the plant, and the extraction technique for thousands of years. They are suing to overturn the patents on maca, not to claim patents on the plant for themselves but to return the plant to their cultural domain. They have found a way to solve their problem with biopiracy without sacrificing their cultural values.

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