Bio-cultural protocol of the traditional healers of snake bite, Sri Lanka

Association of Traditional Healers for Treatment of Venom Bites and Nirmanee Development Foundation

The bio-cultural protocol of the Native Healers of the Kegalle District in the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka is a comprehensive document covering the intergenerational heritage, traditional medicinal knowledge, their acquaintance with serpents and other animals, and extraordinary treatment methods and varieties of medicine. It describes the unity of nature and the culture, beliefs, values and lifestyles affecting the protection of biodiversity, as well as challenges currently faced by traditional healers, as described in the short, edited excerpt below.

The challenges we face

  • Difficulty in obtaining required medicine.
  • Impact on the registration of a native healer due to the laws introduced during the colonial era.
  • Destruction of medicinal plants due to the expansion of commercial plantations.
  • Restrictions imposed on entering a forest area. ɐ The ban imposed on planting essential medicinal plants; for example, kansa.
  • Demeaning of the native practitioners due to pressure exerted by western medical authorities.
  • No recognition of native medicines within our education system.
  • The addition of chemicals to the medicinal plants is affecting the quality of the medicine.
  • The manipulation of genes of trees is affecting the quality of medicinal plants.

Threats from multi-national companies 

  • Indigenous medical practice is being suppressed by an authoritative market controlled by the western medical system.
  • Programmes are made to undermine the native medical system, labelling it as primitive.
  • Preferential government assistance is given to Indian Ayurveda, Chinese acupuncture and homeopathy systems.
  • The government has minimum concern for protecting the native medical system, and the benefits are not being passed on to the lowest level.

The Integration Process of Social Protocols

We are bound to follow the main principle in the conservation of our biological diversity and medicinal plants. At the same time, the right of the citizen who uses the biological assets is also to be protected. In development of local knowledge, and in giving benefits to locals, we expect to work in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Biodiversity Secretariat, educational institutes and other relevant associations.

Our requests

In accordance with the Treaty (CBD), we request assistance from the government to:

  • Utilise folk treaties on the equitable and fair sharing of the benefits accrued from genetic assets and traditional activities;
  • Not complicate co-operation agreements;
  • Formulate model agreements for sharing benefits.

Our main requirements 

  • Be educated on finding markets for our products.
  • Be educated on finding technology for new production processes.
  • Implementation of development programmes for managing bio-assets.

Sri Lanka’s national biodiversity strategies and action plans recognise community biocultural protocols as a conservation tool, and the government is in the process of legally recognising these protocols within a national process towards the adoption and operationalisation of the Nagoya Protocol.

Exploring a labelling scheme for biocultural heritage-based products

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the University of Leeds and the Asociación ANDES from Peru are exploring the development of a new labelling or indication scheme for “biocultural, heritage-based products”. An informal collective trademark developed by the Potato Park in Peru (described under Target 13) increased revenues and strengthened social cohesion and environmental stewardship, but the communities were not able to register formal trademarks for their products due to bureaucratic difficulties. The proposed scheme will emphasise and authenticate the way that cultural and spiritual values, local knowledge, innovations and practices, and the local environment are all linked closely together, giving products a unique character. The scheme aims to ensure that as much of the market value as possible is captured locally, through “full benefit capture”, rather than through the benefit-sharing approach developed by others (the access and benefit-sharing (ABS) model). Consultations on the design of the scheme and investigation into similar schemes are currently taking place. A number of key design questions around issues including accessibility, local language, certification versus labelling, and enforcement still need to be addressed. However, concrete initiatives like this hold the potential to promote continued and enhanced sustainable community-based agriculture, forestry and aquaculture while providing a source of income and incentives to sustain these practices.1

Children of the water: Plan de Vida (Life Plan) of the Misak people, Colombia

We, the Misak, are located in the Southwest of the Republic of Colombia, and have a population of approximately 25,000 inhabitants, with ancestral and autonomous authorities managing and regulating the territory.

We created the “Plan de Vida” (Plan of Life), which is a political strategy to ensure the existence of community life and spirituality linked to Mother Nature and countervailing the country’s own laws and regulations. The “Plan de Vida” is Mother Earth’s path to a comprehensive life with the mission of preserving moors, water resources and wetlands, all of which are alive and enjoy their own natural rights with no economic attributions. But we humans cannot see them as living beings. The Plan of Life is ancient and was passed on through oral tradition until it was systemised in 1992.

We, the Misak People, based on our Plan de Vida, protect life in our territory. We safeguard the moors, which are sacred places, and plant trees to safeguard water sources, manage watersheds and riverbanks and avoid their contamination. Similarly, we restrict research activity and the collection of resources within our territories. We, the Misak, are a people consisting physically of individuals, but we have a collective mind and conscience. This collectiveness gives us the necessary measures to protect Mother Earth and its biological diversity. We, the Misak, we have lived with Mother Nature wisely without looking at economic, commercial or industrial benefits, with the conviction that exercising the right to live is not only a human right but also the fundamental right of our Mother Earth. Only then can we live well. We are not against what the Western world call “development”. But we are against dispossession, a model of extractive development, mining, or any kind of human action that threatens the life of our Mother. We support a minga2 for the life of our Mother; we want to work as brothers with all the peoples who work to protect environmental rights. We want to unify our physical and spiritual strengths to protect a sustainable life. This is the only way to stop the illness of the economic and political models that fail to ensure the life of the planet and humanity.

Story from the Northern Territory, Australia: Dabboh and Smoke Money: Burning the Bush for People and Country

“The Balngarra Clan is an indigenous Nawurrk2 tribe from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Our homeland covers around 250 km2 of savanna, escarpment and wetlands. The Balngarra Clan’s ‘ownership’, ‘connection’ or ‘belonging’ to this land has never been broken. The Balngarra Clan use many types of fire to look after people and Country.2 Fire is used for hunting and gathering, cooking, keeping plants and animals healthy, and clearing paths for walking and is important for ceremony. In the cool part of the dry season, somewhere between April and August, in our language3 we call it marluwurru. When we see spear grass, gardaykkah4 flowering, when we are touched by that wind feeling, cold weather is coming up – gabekbek. That means it is time to go and burn, to ‘smoke up’ the Country. We never leave fuel load to build up because we know that the next season coming will be warlirr (hot weather) and more fuel of dry grass, leaves and branches will build up on the ground and we get unmanaged wildfires.

Our fire is like a treasure. When we do traditional fire management we always get rewarded; our Country gives us back animals, bush tucker5, and we can collect spears from the jungle. Our Old People looked after it the proper way. Burning at the right time is not dangerous.

Then one time, these Balanda6 scientists were watching Bi7 burning Country. They realised that our traditional fire management was not only good for biodiversity, but also reduced the greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide that gets put into the atmosphere by unmanaged wildfires.8910 Bi started to make partnerships with fire scientists and worked together to measure all the trees and collect data from the monitoring sites. In the late 1990s we started the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project.1112  Today, we are negotiating agreements with all of the indigenous ranger groups in Arnhem Land to join the Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project (ALFA). This will cover an area of around 120,000 km2, including hundreds of indigenous clan groups. Every year we bring all the rangers, scientists and knowledge holders together to plan for burning at the right time.13 ALFA has a board that watches over the project and we use a formula to split the income equally. However, boundaries do not worry us. We want to manage that country without lines. Because when you put lines, draw boundaries on a map, that is the Balanda way.

As soon as the fire projects started to grow, all the rangers received training from ‘accredited trainers’. They taught us how to fight fire. All the smoke money that we were creating was going back into rangers fighting fires. One time I was watching Traditional Owners using fire to do hunting and gathering on their Country. The rangers started to worry that this Traditional Owner fire might grow into a wildfire. So they got a helicopter, flew over and put it out. That is wrong. In Bi culture we never fight fire. That is not the way of Nawurrk tribes. We just make fire, not put him out. So this made me stop and think. Look back to that Country and to the Traditional Owners.

Bi did not work closely with scientists on developing the carbon accounting methodology. We only did field work with scientists. Just recording and measuring, and guiding scientists to different places. We did not get proper pay. All the science work we did out in the field, carrying all the equipment and tools with scientists, we only got CDEP14 money. Scientists and politicians set up the carbon accounting methodology and gave us this rule saying we can only burn every year in May, June and July. The 1st of August is the deadline to stop burning or we will get a penalty.15.

Today, we are making some good money from fire work. We are making satellite ranger bases on each of the clan estates in the Arafura Swamp region in Arnhem Land. These satellite bases are not getting any funding from any government organisation. They are running on bushfire smoke money. Traditional Owners are being paid a salary and have equipment to support burning. This means that we can make sure that rangers are not acting like heroes by going and fighting fires, but that Traditional Owners are taking the lead in looking after their Country.

It is really important for Traditional Owners to have jobs on Country. Country is not a place for weekends, it is our home. The towns that the governments are trying to make us live in, ‘growth towns’16 are making our people and our Country sick. They are overcrowded with lots of different clans, which creates social problems. It makes us worry. But the good news is that from smoke money some of our families are getting back to Country. Not only do carbon projects help us to stop global warming, if they include Traditional Owners properly, they can help us look after our health, our language, our ceremony, the biodiversity that lives with us on Country, and provide good jobs for our people.”