Número 18 / DICIEMBRE, 2022 (203-212)
Artículo de Reexión
Recibido: (07/02/2022)
Aceptado: (04/03/2022)
Instituto de Posgrado, Universidad Técnica de
Manabí, Portoviejo, Ecuador
Eduardo Fidel Héctor Ardisana
Investigadora independiente, Portoviejo, Ecuador
Bárbara Millet Gaínza
Número 18 / DICIEMBRE, 2022 (203-212) 204
In Latin America, the immense existing biodiversity is associated with the abundance of
enormous practically unknown regions and the presence of indigenous peoples, in some
cases uncontacted. Along with the profusion of life forms that have been preserved over
the years, the danger of genetic erosion caused by indiscriminate exploitation stands out
on the one hand, and on the other the attempts at appropriation by institutions and natural
persons, at the expense of the prejudice of the communities that inhabit those areas, of
their habits of life and of their cultural practices. The purpose of this article is to reect
on these issues, based on the documentary information published by various authors. The
examples presented also demonstrate that the region can take advantage of biodiversity
for its own development, under a bioeconomy model, in which the eorts of science,
education and production institutions coexist, supported by government policies of respect
for the environment, indigenous populations and the legal protection of heritage.
KEYWORDS: Environment, natural resources, economic development
En Latinoamérica, la inmensa biodiversidad existente está asociada a la abundancia
de enormes regiones prácticamente desconocidas y la presencia de pueblos autóctonos,
en algunos casos no contactados. Junto a la profusión de formas de vida que se han
conservado a través de los años, destacan por una parte el peligro de erosión genética
causada por la explotación indiscriminada, y por otra los intentos de apropiación por
parte de instituciones y personas naturales, a costa del perjuicio de las comunidades
que habitan esas áreas, de sus hábitos de vida y de sus prácticas culturales. El propósito
de este artículo es reexionar sobre estos temas, a partir de la información documental
publicada por diversos autores. Los ejemplos presentados demuestran además que la
región puede aprovechar la biodiversidad para su propio desarrollo, bajo un modelo de
bioeconomía, en el que coexistan esfuerzos de instituciones de la ciencia, la educación y
la producción amparadas en políticas gubernamentales de respeto al medio ambiente, las
poblaciones autóctonas y la protección jurídica del patrimonio.
PALABRAS CLAVE: Medio ambiente, recursos naturales, desarrollo económico
Eduardo Fidel Héctor Ardisana - Bárbara Millet Gaínza
CHAKIÑAN. Revista de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades / ISSN 2550 - 6722 205
Biodiversity, its conservation, and its responsible
use occupy a central space in current debates on
politics, science, and economics. At the Rio de
Janeiro Summit, held in 1992, a discussion area
was dedicated to the problems of the planet’s
survival, which resulted in the signing of the
Convention on Biological Diversity.
Of the many denitions of the term biodiversity,
the one adopted at this event is the most
comprehensive, considering it as: “(…) the
variability of living organisms from any source,
including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other
aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes
of which they are part; includes diversity within
species, between species, and of ecosystems”
(Naciones Unidas 1992:3).
Although not much progress has been made in a
general sense in complying with the agreements
of that convention, the issue remains open and is
reviewed periodically, due to the importance it
has for the world and in particular for developing
countries. It is precisely in these countries where
the highest level of biodiversity exists, and also
where it is most threatened. Latin America and
the Caribbean stand out for their exceptional
natural wealth, when compared to other regions
of the planet, and also for the danger of erosion
of these resources (León and Cárdenas, 2020).
The very conception of biodiversity as a set
of resources is misleading: Klier (2016) and
Martínez et al. (2018) agree in stating that
the preservation of biodiversity is assumed in
western policies as the conservation of “the
other”, that is, of animals, plants, and areas
that, due to their characteristics, dier from the
model of what is considered a developed society.
In this way, communities and cultural practices
associated with biodiversity and its responsible
use by the members of these communities are
excluded, and nature is given the connotation of
Developing countries, on the other hand, need to
boost their economy, and most of them cannot
do so if it is not at the expense of the rational use
of that biological diversity that they must also
protect. The concept of bioeconomy has recently
emerged to dene the ecient use of biological
and natural resources, as well as the use of their
waste to reduce the use of fossil energy and
decarbonize the economy (Hodson, Henry &
Trigo 2019).
This article intends to reect on the connections
between Latin American biodiversity and its
possibilities of insertion in the bioeconomy,
without violating the cultural practices of
ancestral peoples.
This is a reective article in which current
information on the state of biodiversity in Latin
America was analyzed, its link to the cultural
practices of indigenous peoples, some examples
of attempts to appropriate these resources by
institutions and individuals, and the need to use
the resources that biodiversity provides based on
a model supported on the bioeconomy.
It is ascribed to the constructivist hermeneutic
paradigm and the type of research is grounded
theory. A review of documents on the topics
addressed was carried out, which was used
to formulate reections on what the authors
consider appropriate for the projection of the
Latin American bioeconomy, through a balanced
interaction between research, educational,
productive and governmental institutions.
The exceptional animal and plant wealth present
in Latin America and the Caribbean is a proven
fact; almost 60% of the terrestrial species that
Número 18 / DICIEMBRE, 2022 (203-212) 206
inhabit the planet are found in this region, in
addition to being characterized by a diverse
marine and freshwater ora and fauna (UNEP
In the particular conditions of Latin America,
where large unexplored areas and communities
that have not come into contact with “modernity”
persist, the vision of biodiversity is polarized in
two directions: on the one hand, the western/
usufructuary, in which everything what exists on
planet Earth can be considered a resource and is
susceptible to massive exploitation; on the other,
the traditional/indigenous, attached to respect
for nature, coexistence with all species, and its
rational use and even worship. Unfortunately,
as pointed by Martínez et al. (2018) although
the properties of a resource are independent of
human being, it is the latter who attributes its
market value to it and who determines the extent
to which it is exploited or conserved.
From this perspective, a concept of biocoloniality
is applied to the management of biodiversity
(Beltrán 2016), on the basis that modern science
is the only one capable of discerning truths and
demonstrating concepts, which results from a
dominant cultural reason projected to starting
from the colonial domination itself that in other
spaces (political, social, religious) modernity
has exercised over the indigenous.
As this author points out:
The point is that Western thought, in its
homogenizing and hegemonic tendency,
has believed that its version is the version of
the meaning of life and existence, without
recognizing that other ways of seeing
humanity and its existence are also valid,
as well as the world it inhabits. (Beltrán
This violence is exercised even from the
epistemological point of view, since the
distinctions made between terms such as
scientic knowledge and traditional knowledge
reveal a supposed relationship of superiority of
the former over the latter (Beltrán 2017).
Research has been used in many cases as an
excuse for the appropriation, by scientic
institutions and private companies, of the
resources that biodiversity oers, for their
use in modern scientic programs and on
some occasions to hold a monopoly on that
biodiversity (Toro 2007). In this way, attempts
have been made to kidnap, with greater or lesser
success, the natural resources of Latin American
biodiversity in order to use them for business
The most biodiverse Latin American regions
are also those in which peoples, tribes and
communities reside with habits, customs and
cultural practices closely associated with that
A primary consequence of the expansion of
agriculture, industry, and urbanism into these
areas has been the disappearance of animal and
plant species that modern science has not even
had time to discover; but that is not the object
of these reections, but the way in which the
appropriation of the components of biodiversity
has neglected the traditions of indigenous
peoples, from a perspective of cultural
Next, three cases will be presented in which it is
shown how the science of developed countries
has used native species, linked to ancestral
practices of indigenous peoples, stripping them
of this connotation and reducing them to that of
a market object.
In the Amazon basin, shamans use a concoction
they call ayahuasca to induce a state of ecstasy in
which visual and auditory hallucinations occur.
Although there are dierent ways to prepare the
drink, it is considered that the most common is
the mixture of two plants (Banisteriopsis caapi
and Psychotria viridis).
The ingestion of ayahuasca has gained popularity
in recent decades, acquiring in some areas
an ethno-tourism interest, and even creating
spiritual movements around its consumption,
such as those called Santo Daime, União do
Vegetal, Barquinha and others (Domínguez et
Eduardo Fidel Héctor Ardisana - Bárbara Millet Gaínza
CHAKIÑAN. Revista de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades / ISSN 2550 - 6722 207
al. 2016).
The cultural connotation of the ayahuasca
ceremony is undeniable, and in its original form
it is considered as a cleansing of the body and
spirit, as well as a connection with astral forces.
Western science has found the explanation
for the hallucinations it produces: Psychotria
viridis contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a
substance with powerful hallucinogenic eects;
under normal conditions, the organism inhibits
the metabolism of this substance in the intestine,
but the β-carbolines contained in Banisteriopsis
caapi in turn counteract this inhibition, with
which DMT reaches the central nervous system
(Escobar 2015). The concoction has shown
antidepressant properties (Sanches et al. 2016;
Bouso & Sánchez 2020).
Although these discoveries of medical value are
relatively recent, ayahuasca aroused commercial
interest long before. In 1986, the US citizen
Loren Miller, then director of the International
Plant Medicine Corporation (IPMC), was
granted a plant patent application by the United
States Patent and Trademark Oce. which he
called De Vine, which he had brought from the
Amazon jungle in 1981, and which was none
other than ayahuasca.
The concession provoked numerous complaints
from indigenous communities and an
international lawsuit led by the Coordinator of
Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin
(COICA). After long years of legal battle, the
patent was withdrawn in 1999, but not as a
direct consequence of the claims of the native
peoples, but on the basis that a specimen of the
plant had already rested in the Chicago Museum
since before the request. Surprisingly, in 2001
Miller presented new documents and obtained
the restitution of the patent until its expiration
in 2003, although without rights beyond the
genome of the plant and its asexual propagules
(Beyer 2008).
Peyote is a cactus native to the arid zones of
Mexico and the southern US. Two species are
included under that common name, Lophophora
williamsii and Lophophora diusa. The rst
of them produces mescaline and the second
produces pellotine, alkaloids with high
psychotropic eects similar to those of lysergic
Possibly these hallucinogenic properties
have transcended much more in the Western
world than its therapeutic action on various
respiratory, rheumatic, and venereal diseases,
which determine its medicinal use by Mexican
indigenous people (Ibarra et al. 2015). In
addition, Lophophora williamsii produces other
alkaloids of pharmaceutical interest such as
anhalidine, lophophorin and anhalonin (Santos
& Camarena 2019).
This is not the only plant that produces mescaline,
since several South American species of the
genus Trichocereus also synthesize this alkaloid
(Cassels & Sáez 2018). However, Lophophora
williamsii is the only one associated with
cultural practices of shamanism, divine rites,
and dream visions among the Mexican peoples
of the Tarahumaras, the Coras and especially the
Huicholes (Clavijo 2018).
Mescaline has aroused interest for its
pharmacological use in the treatment of
headache, depression, obsession, anxiety, and
addiction to some substances such as alcohol,
in particular because the propensity to become
dependent on mescaline is practically non-
existent, and intoxications with this substance
are moderate and not life-threatening (Dinis-
Oliveira, Lança & Dias 2019).
The metabolites obtained from Lophophora
williamsii, like those of many other cacti,
constitute a potential still little exploited in the
pharmaceutical industry (Das et al., 2020), and
have not aroused business desires similar to
those of ayahuasca, possibly due to the results of
the legal conict surrounding the latter.
The frog Epipedobates anthonyi is endemic to
Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador; on its skin there
is a powerful poison that has earned it its name
and that drew the attention of science starting in
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the 1970s. At that time, the chemist John Daly,
of the US National Institute of Health, collected
skins of this amphibian in Ecuador, which
possibly left the country through diplomatic
channels, since there is no evidence that the
Ecuadorian Institute of Forestry and Natural
Areas (INEFAN, later merged into the Ministry
of Environment) has granted a license for the
operation (GRAIN 1998). Laboratory studies
led to the synthesis of a non-opioid alkaloid
(epibatidine) of pharmaceutical interest.
Epibatidine as a medicine did not prosper, because
the threshold between its therapeutic eciency
and its contraindications is narrow; however,
it served as a model for Abbot Laboratories to
synthesize and patent the derivative ABT-594
in 1995, with an analgesic potency 200 times
greater than morphine and without the dangerous
eects of epibatidine (Angerer 2015).
Through INEFAN, Ecuador led a lawsuit
against the patent in 1998, without results; the
reasons given were that no evidence was found
that in Ecuadorian folklore the skin of the frog
was used for medicinal purposes, but rather as
a poison for hunting, and that the synthesis of
ABT-594 was not made directly from the skins
of frogs, but taking their structure as a model
(Jurado 2021). However, under the bioethical
principle of utilitarianism or benecence
(maximum possible benet for a greater number
of people), it is valid to ask why the indigenous
communities where the amphibian lives did not
receive benets (Proto 2019).
The appropriating vocation of a part of the
Western world towards the resources oered
by Latin American biodiversity is not new.
Centuries of colonialism reduced Latin America
to the status of exporter of raw materials for
large industries (food, mining, textiles, and
more recently, chemicals and pharmaceuticals)
of developed countries.
Meanwhile, these consolidated their hegemony
in the manufacture of products made from these
raw materials, so that today the probability of
developing Latin American industries that can
compete in the market with those existing in
Europe, North America or even Asia is negligible.
What Latin American businessman would try to
displace Ford, Toyota, Monsanto, or BASF from
the market, even in his own country? However,
there is no doubt that the region must continue
to grow towards economic development. How to
do it then?
There is a space that the development of the
Latin American economy can occupy, and it
is a paradox that the main resources to do so
are found precisely in biodiversity, which, on
the other hand, is essential to preserve. The
central idea for this projection is based on the
bioeconomy, which is centered on the ecient
use of biological and natural resources and the
recycling of their waste; its use has among its
advantages the reduction of the use of energy
provided by fossil fuels and the reduction of
carbon emissions (Hodson, Henry & Trigo
The application of an economic model built on
the rational use of biodiversity would not only
contribute to the health of terrestrial life, but also
to the preservation of life itself, which, as Philp
(2015) points out, cannot be maintained in the
long term in the unsustainability conditions of
the current model.
A typical example of what is needed to develop
the bioeconomy can be found in Brazil. In
addition to having 15 % of the planet’s species,
Brazil has abundant land, a suitable climate, a low
population per unit area and a large amount of
natural resources; however, it is also an example
of how the export of raw materials diverted
the country from the creation of infrastructure,
policies, and institutions capable of working
from a bioeconomic perspective.
Brazil must “run after lost time” (Valli, Russo
& Bolzani 2018), which is also a reality for
the entire subcontinent. Latin America enters
this race with a disadvantage: between 1981
and 2014, in the pharmaceutical market 1,211
new products were introduced, of which 60
% were obtained from natural substances or
were designed from structures found in nature