Really Urgent Message

by | Jan 12, 2002 | Archives

We are in the news with a UN related NGO. Don't miss this important information.

Dear International Friend,

You have read in previous messages how we are working with the first timber company in Ecuador to use the new forest law and are contributing funds to help enforce these laws. You have also read about our recommendations for BIRM. The North South Monitor, a UN related NGO has news about both. You can learn more about this organization at and is the article # SUNS4504 at the address above:

Environment: Andean medicinal plants in danger

Quito, Sep 5 (IPS/Kintto Lucas) — Dozens of medicinal plants from the Andean region were in danger of becoming extinct and some already had disappeared, according to a report by environmentalists.

They blamed the problem on illegal trade in the plants exportation and massive over-harvesting without any replanting.

The report by researchers here formed part of a project to support effective management of medicinal plants in South America,led by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Nature Fund,

The study contained information on the 228 most popular therapeutic plants used in the Andean Community of Nations (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela), where researchers consulted with ethnobotanists, producers of botanical chemicals and vendors.

Those in greatest peril were: “dragon's blood, cat's claw, laurel, walnut, cinnamon, balsam, chuchuhuaso, zaragotana, floripondio, inchi, cascarilla and caimito,” because they were the most commercially valuable, said biologist Ximena Buitron, who headed the investigation.

“Dragon's blood”, found in the Amazon region of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, contained a resin that for centuries has been used to heal wounds and has been coveted by transnational pharmaceutical companies.

The US company Shaman Pharmaceuticals, accused of illegally harvesting the plant in Ecuador for 10 years, was now wanting to patent it and currently was in contract negotiations with Ecuadorean authorities, Buitron said.

Environmental organisations say that such a move would legitimise bio-piracy (the appropriation of biological resources), although the company has assured the indigenous communities involved that they will be taken into account.

According to the US newspaper The Wall Street Journal, Shaman Pharmaceuticals was founded in 1989 on the premise that, the “shamans' knowledge of medicinal plants could help to formulate curative compounds” – and thus earn profits.

Large quantities of the chuchuhuaso plant, which has stimulant and anti-inflammatory properties, also has been illegally shipped abroad, as illustrated in January when 50 kilogrammes were seized at Quito airport.Ecuador's legislation on the protection of these species was obscure, contradictory and incomplete, and it was believed that some plants already had disappeared, said Buitron.

Ecuador had a “Forest Law” which declared that “only products approved by the state can be exported, and bans all extraction, while the Law of Facilitation of Exports establishes that everything is exportable except for 80 species of trees on an official list,” he said.

Last April, five shamans (practitioners of traditional rituals and medicine in indigenous communities) from the Amazon region went to the United States to ask the government of that country to revoke the patent rights for the use of ayahuasca.

This plant, which can produce hallucinogenic effects, is considered “sacred” by indigenous people, because of its curative powers.

The U.S. Patent Office granted a license to the U.S. company Loren Miller to carry out medical experiments with ayahuasca and to sell it commercially, which has angered indigenous Amazonian peoples.

The Amazon region stretches through Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname.

The indigenous Awa community, who inhabit the northern coast of Ecuador and some parts of Colombia, joined forces with the National Cancer Institute of the United States to collect and conduct research into plants that could be used to design drugs for the treatment of cancer and AIDS.

According to the director of herbal studies of the Central University's School of Biology, Carlos Ceron, 50 percent of the country's medicinal plants are native species and the rest have been introduced.

Some were adopted by indigenous people and given new names, like the dulcamara, which last year created a stir in medical circles with reports that it had proved effective in treating AIDS.

Based on the dulcamara plant, Edwin Cevallos, director of the Tumor Institute of the Ecuadorean Atomic Energy Commission, created a substance called a Biological Immune Response Modulator (BIRM) which, while not curing AIDS patients, did does rejuvenate their immune systems.

“The BIRM molecules adhere to the cell walls, stimulating the production of white blood cells and a creating a defense that retards the development of the AIDS virus,” says Cevallos said.

Juan Carlos Castro, a 19-year-old AIDS sufferer, said that when he started to take BIRM, the symptoms of his illness began to disappear and he regained his normal weight.

BIRM is produced only in Ecuador – by hand – but Cevallos said that he has received requests from the United States, Sweden, Japan, Mexico, Spain and Italy, where he regularly sends the medication.

Concerned with taking too many chemical drugs, residents of the Andean nations are increasing their use of medicinal plants and are turning more and more to homeopathic doctors, who are considered bridges between natural and Western medicine.

In Ecuador, the interest sparked by the study of those species has been heightened through the research of Misael Acosta Solis, who died in 1998 aged 95, after dedicating 70 years to the study of biology.

The scientist studied 500 species, which he described in his “Field guide to the medicinal plants of Ecuador,” one of 84 books he published over the years.

His last declarations are more relevant today than ever:

“The government, the universities and their faculties of chemical and pharmaceutical medicine, should take an interest in scientific research into medicinal plants and should better develop medical botany before many species disappear.”

Many years ago, Merri and I working with Dr. Joe Spano and Joe Cox set upa foundation, the Land of the Sun, to help the indigenous people of Ecuador that supports both the protection of endangered plants and preserving the forests. You can learn more about the foundation or at ourupcoming courses in Ecuador. I hope to see you there!

Until next message, let's all work at making the world a better place forour kids!