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Synergetic Press and MAPS Form Copublishing Partnership

Synergetic Press and MAPS Form Copublishing Partnership

Synergetic Press and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science (MAPS) are pleased to announce they have entered into a copublishing relationship effective May 1, 2021 which will greatly expand the availability of education about psychedelics and psychedelic therapy. 

Since MAPS began their mission to open pathways for legal, cultural, and medical contexts for people to benefit from psychedelics in 1986, they have published many pioneers in the psychedelic movement including Stanislav Grof, Albert Hofmann, Myron Stolaroff, Claudio Naranjo, Torsten Passie, Beatriz Cauiby Labate, Phil Wolfson, and Annie Oak. As with MAPS, Synergetic Press has been a leading publisher of cutting-edge books in the field of psychedelics and consciousness. The collaboration rests in the mutually held value to make these authors’ knowledge more accessible to a broader world-market. This newly formed alliance, along with Synergetic Press’ other copublishing partner, Transform Press, places Synergetic Press as the leading publisher in the field of psychedelics.

“Now that the psychedelic renaissance has overcome political and financial obstacles to research, public education is the most important need,” says Rick Doblin, Ph.D., founder and executive director of MAPS. “MAPS is delighted to partner with Synergetic Press to expand the reach of our publications so that people all over the world will be better prepared as psychedelics move into the mainstream.” 

The first title to be published under the copublishing arrangement is Psyche Unbound: Essays in Honor of Stanislav Grof, to be released in October 2021. Edited by Rick Tarnas and Sean Kelly, Psyche Unbound honors the life and legacy of Grof, a founder of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering figurehead in the practice of psychedelic therapy. Included are essays from a vast array of notable thinkers including Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Fritjof Capra, Frances Vaughan, Thomas Riedlinger, John Buchanan, Jenny Wade, Ralph Metzner, Paul Grof and Arlene Fox, William Keepin, Jorge Ferrer, Gerry Goddard, Ervin Laszlo, Christopher M. Bache, Tom Purton, Gregg Lahood, Jeffrey Kripal, Michael Mithoefer, and Charles Grob.

“I have watched Rick Doblin over three decades take on what seemed impossible, that is, to change people’s minds about psychedelics and pave a path to decriminalization, regulation, and medical research,” shared Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO at Synergetic Press. “Today, he and his team have succeeded at getting very far down that road. The MAPS imprint has curated the leading voices of the industry, funding and publishing pioneering work in the field. We are proud to bring the groundbreaking books from MAPS into our catalog.”

With this agreement, the MAPS backlist and new titles will be distributed to the trade through Synergetic Press and their distributor, Publishers Group West, part of Ingram Publisher Services.

A Year of Transformation

A Year of Transformation

A Year of Challenge and Transformation

As we welcome in a new year, we look back on 2020 with a desire to digest and transform challenges we faced as a species. We have seen people come together to support those in need, voices for justice raised, and calls to act in ways that are for the common good. We hope you will find the landscape of ideas presented by our authors books will nourish your minds and inspire you in your pursuit of happiness and wholeness.

A Look at the Books Ahead

Last July, we signed a co-publishing agreement with the pioneering publishing company, Transform Press,  founded in 1991 by the renowned biochemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin with his wife, Ann Shulgin, to publish books that focus on pharmacology, psychedelic medicine, and states of consciousness. The Shulgin classics, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation, are cornerstone books in these fields. 

Our first co-published title with Transform Press is The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact. Volume One (of three) is transcribed from the course Dr. Shulgin taught at San Francisco State University in the mid-eighties. Forthcoming in May, it will be the first Shulgin book released since 2011.

In June, we are proud to introduce the wise work of Dr. Kile Ortigo in Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration. Ortigo’s book presents a framework for understanding and experiencing psychedelic-assisted therapy including foundational therapeutic approaches, the psychospiritual aspects of the psychedelic journey, and integration of the insights gained. He answers questions regarding legal access to care, ongoing criminalization, and medical restrictions which limit the therapies available.

In August we have Psychedelic Justice, an anthology of writings from the Chacruna Institute, highlighting the Institutes’ ongoing work promoting diversity and inclusion by prominently featuring voices that have been long marginalized in Western psychedelic culture: women, queer people, people of color, and indigenous people. The essays examine both historical and current issues within psychedelics that are not well known, and orient around policy, reciprocity, diversity and inclusion, sex and power, colonialism, and indigenous concerns. 

In the Fall, we look forward to The Mind of Plants, a collection of essays, narratives, and poetry on plants and their interaction with humans edited by Monica Gagliano, John Charles Ryan, and Patricia Viera. Contributors include Alex Gearin, Luis Eduardo Luna, Jeremy Narby, Robin Wall Kimmerer, to name a few. From the ubiquitous rose to the ugly hornwort, from the Amazonian ayahuasca to tobacco, the texts reflect the multifarious interactions between humans and flora. These personal narratives, filled with anecdotes, experiences, and musings, offer cutting-edge insights into the different meanings and dimensions of “the mind of plants.”

Learning How to Live-In in 2020 

While the world stayed-at-home last year, we have also been working from home to bring out thought provoking books on human evolution, the rights of Nature and how to live sealed up with seven other people for two years in a glass house! The last one came out by coincidence as we all learned how to live in our own bubbles and pods. These titles continue to be highly relevant to the heart of the challenges facing people and planet.  

Claudio Naranjo was a Chilean-born psychotherapist, medical doctor, and pioneer in the areas of transpersonal psychology, psychedelic therapy, and hThe Revolution We Expected book coveruman development. The Revolution We Expected, his last written work before he died, speaks to the issues of our age in a penetrating way, suggesting that the current crisis of humanity is a crisis of awareness. 

At present, we seek superficial remedies for the problems of our world. However, Naranjo warns us that “even the most complete treatment of the symptoms of an illness will fail if not enough attention is paid to the root.” 

And that is precisely what Vandana’s Shiva book Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Wisdom, and the Rights of Mother Earth encourages us to do, looking at one of the multiple roots of our human crisis. Namely, Reclaiming the Commons presents details on the specific attempts made by corporations to secure patents on nature, and the legal action taken against them. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and Intellectual Property Rights. 

Arguing in favor of nature as common property, Shiva emphasizes the importance of gradually tracing our way back into a future that embraces the “liminality and inseparability between the communities and their common resources. Between us and our environment.”

Similarly, Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship Learned from Two Years in Biosphere 2  hones in on the imperative need to see the Earth as a closed ecological system where everything must be recycled. Crew members, Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone tell the story of their two remarkable years living inside the structure. From the struggles of growing their own food, to learning how to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere, we are 

offered a rare glimpse into how a group of dedicated researchers managed to surprise the world and fulfill their dream. As well, a feature-length documentary, Spaceship Earth, was released unravelling the compelling tale behind the Biosphere 2 experiment. 

Thanks to You, Our Readers, We are Growing!

In a climate of collective hardship, we feel so grateful for our vibrant community of allies and readers that have enabled us to expand our publishing operations. We’ve gone from publishing a single book a year to being able to publish several thanks to your continued support! This growth has enabled us to expand our team over the past couple of years. Meet the people who form our synergetic whole.  

Thanksgiving 2020: Cultivating Gratitude and Resilience in Times of Hardship

Thanksgiving 2020: Cultivating Gratitude and Resilience in Times of Hardship

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the close of a year that continues to test our resilience. As the common adage says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Being limited in our ability to travel and many of us working from home, this time has been ripe with opportunities for personal insight, time to cultivate our gardens, care for our family and homes, and reflect more deeply on the meaning that we want to engender within our lives. For this, we are grateful.

We are honored to work with authors and editors producing some of the most pioneering works in the fields of consciousness and biospherics. Our aim at Synergetic Press is to provoke critical, independent thought. However, it is up to us as individuals to integrate ideas from the books and articles we read, turning inspiration into real-world action, and ultimately change.

Over the past several years, the slogan “Be the change you want to see in the world” has guided our selection of books to publish and the events to produce. We aim to uplift and fuel the new generation of thought leaders and planetary stewards putting forward new models with the intention of making the ways that are no longer serving our planet obsolete.

As we learn to live in an economy that competes for our attention with a constant stream of things to occupy it, how do we resist losing sight of what is important? In our latest book, The Revolution We Expected, Claudio Naranjo writes “If we wish to intervene collectively to achieve a better world, then, self-awareness is very important.” Achieving a better world relies on our present trajectory and our capacity to increase our awareness, return to our wilderness selves, reconnect to our love for nature, relish the sounds of silence that we have lost contact with in our commodified age. 

To some degree, this year has pushed us ever closer to the precipice; the critical juncture at which we are impelled to take action. Collectively at a tipping point, the converging crises of our planet have become unavoidable as we are forced to acknowledge and work through the hard reality of climate change, living through a global pandemic, and the socio-economic chaos it has activated.

Even so, at Synergetic Press we remain optimists, maintaining faith in the power of human connection and creativity, and their ability to redefine topographies. The winds of change fill our sails, and even in this time of difficulty, we are embracing them as opportunities to chart the important conversations of our time together with our authors and readers.

As Stanislav and Christina Grof highlight in their timeless classic Spiritual Emergency, crisis contains within it an inherent danger, as well as the seeds of transformation. It is our hope that in this liminal space that we build resilience, and share tools and insights to evolve a balanced, healthy future. 

We have a growing team of dedicated people working at Synergetic Press to help us do that. You can meet us all at  https://www.synergeticpress.com/our-team/

Giving Thanks to Our Readers

Finally, we are grateful to our readers. Thank you for your curious minds and for sharing our books with others. We are offering a 40% discount on all titles through January 4th. Use the coupon code “GIVETHANKS40” when you check out.

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Synergetic Press is excited to announce that we have very recently signed a co-publishing deal with Transform Press, and are set to publish a new series of Transform Press titles by Alexander and Ann Shulgin, in continuation of the Shulgin legacy. Transform Press books are now distributed through Publishers Group West, effective July 1, 2020

Transform Press LogoSynergetic Press Logo

Since 1984, we at Synergetic Press have published in the areas of ecology, ethnobotany, anthropology as well as psychedelic history and research. Transform Press was founded in 1991 by renowned biochemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin and his wife and co-author, Ann Shulgin, to publish their groundbreaking classic, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and has specialized in works on psychopharmacology, psychedelic drug research, and other material relating to psychoactive compounds, states of consciousness, and society.

“Over the past three decades, both Synergetic Press and Transform Press have been publishing pivotal books in specialized topics of plant medicine and psychedelic psychotherapy, each cultivating important hubs for scholarship and public discourse through events and symposiums,” said Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO of Synergetic Press.

“We are honored to work together with Wendy Tucker, Publisher, and CEO of Transform Press, her mother Ann Shulgin, and their team to bring out more of the pioneering work by the Shulgins’.”

“Transform Press has many projects in the pipeline. We’re very happy to be able to work with the team at Synergetic Press to broaden our reach to the public and to contribute to the ever-expanding field of psychedelic research and its history,” said Wendy Tucker.

“This is an exciting time, as information about psychedelic drugs is not being demonized as it was before,” Tucker added. “Instead it is being seen more through a lens of curiosity as to the potentials for healing and growth.”


Our First Co-published Book:
The Nature of Drugs The Nature of Drugs Cover - The Shulgin Legacy

The first co-published title, to be released in Spring 2021, will be The Nature of Drugs: A Course on Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, Societal Responses, and Social Impact based on a lecture series that Sasha Shulgin taught (by the same name) at San Francisco State University (SFSU). 

The full text was transcribed from the original lecture tapes recorded at SFSU in 1987 and will be published in two consecutive volumes. Volume I covers the first third of the course and presents Sasha’s views on the origin of drugs, the history of U.S. drug law enforcement, human anatomy, the nervous system, the range of drug administrations, varieties of drug actions, memory and states of consciousness, and research methods. The discussions in The Nature of Drugs lay the groundwork for Sasha’s philosophy on psychopharmacology and society, what defines a drug, the nature of a person’s relationship with a given compound, and for extensive examinations of dozens of compounds in Volumes II. The book chronicles the story of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances from the perspective of a master psychopharmacologist and will enthrall anyone intrigued by this subject.

“For those of us who were not fortunate enough to attend Sasha’s classes, this book is a fantastic second chance to learn from a brilliant, principled, courageous, idealistic psychedelic chemist whose creations were molecules for psychotherapy, spirituality, and celebration, to help humanity wake up and save ourselves.” — Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) 

Beyond this, there are plans for three additional books carrying on the Shulgin legacy, including a second volume of The Nature of Drugs, a book of letters from the Shulgin archive, and a third volume of work joining the PiHKAL-TiHKAL series.

Sasha Shulgin in his labAlexander Shulgin, The Most Prolific Psychedelic Chemist in History

The late Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering chemists of this century. Completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1955, Shulgin went on to get a job at the Dow Chemical Company, where he invented a highly lucrative, world’s first biodegradable pesticide by the name of Zectran (mexacarbate). 

Whilst working at Dow in 1960, Shulgin had his first mind-altering experience. He ingested mescaline, a psychedelic compound that is naturally found in the peyote cactus, finding it so astounding that he dedicated the rest of his career to exploring psychedelic chemistry. 

“I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s,” Shulgin said in a 1995 interview. “Three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me.”

Dow, pleased with his work, and the high profits generated by Zectran, gave him the freedom to pursue his own research program, and thus his experimentation with synthesizing psychoactive substances began. 

Shulgin left Dow in 1966, supporting himself thereafter by becoming a scientific consultant as well as a lecturer and teacher. Setting up a home-based laboratory on his ranch in Lafayette, California, he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychoactive compounds. Perhaps ironically, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) gave him permission to do so, even calling on Shulgin to serve as an expert witness in drug trials.

A bold explorer of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Shulgin tested the majority of the substances he synthesized on himself, his wife and co-researcher Ann, and a small circle of trusted friends. He and his friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays. 

Wanting to ensure that his life’s work researching psychoactive compounds did not disappear with him, he and his wife Ann, co-authored the psychonautic tome, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story in 1991. ‘PiHKAL’ is an abbreviation for  “Phenethylamines I have known and loved.” Phenethylamines are a class of natural and synthetic compounds, some with powerful psychoactive properties, including the naturally occurring mescaline, and the synthetic methylenedioxymethamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. 

PiHKAL, jointly written by Sasha and Ann Shulgin, is the fictionalized autobiography that blends the personal history of their falling in love with carefully detailed descriptions for how to synthesize 179 psychoactive compounds.

In 1996, the Shulgin’s published TiHKAL, a sequel to PiHKAL, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Tryptamines include well-known psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT, and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Similar to PiHKAL, TiHKAL is divided into two parts and is a blend of personal history and chemical recipes. 

Shulgin is most often remembered for his re-discovery and synthesis of a chemical called 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. MDMA was originally synthesized by German chemist Anton Köllisch in 1912, however, when Shulgin resynthesized the chemical, he discovered that it had potent psychoactive properties. 

Discovering its effects, Shulgin suggested that MDMA would be a powerful aid in therapy, and by the late 1970s, some of his colleagues were evaluating the drug’s use in therapeutic settings. However, MDMA soon escaped the therapeutic setting, rising to popularity amongst young partygoers where MDMA’s euphoric effects were soon rebranded by dealers as “ecstasy” and MDMA was reclassified as a Schedule I drug in 1985.

Shulgin lamented the reckless recreational use and ensuing prohibition of psychedelics in that it hindered the possibility of their legitimate use in psychotherapy. 

“Use them [psychedelics] with care, and use them with respect as to the transformations they can achieve, and you have an extraordinary research tool. Go banging about with a psychedelic drug for a Saturday night turn-on, and you can get into a really bad place, psychologically. Know what you’re using, decide just why you’re using it, and you can have a rich experience. They’re not addictive, and they’re certainly not escapist, either, but they’re exceptionally valuable tools for understanding the human mind, and how it works.” ― Alexander Shulgin, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story 

These books, combined with Shulgin’s association with MDMA were responsible for his rapid rise to popularity, and his becoming a celebrated chemist world over.


Exploring the Shulgin’s Chemical Legacy

A new Netflix documentary series The Business of Drugs set out to investigate the economics of six illicit substances, including synthetic drugs like MDMA. The second episode, entitled “Synthetics” is devoted to exploring the chemical legacy that Alexander Shulgin left in his wake. 

“The century of the synthetic drug begins but doesn’t end in the shadow of the late Alexander Shulgin. In the 1960s, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a renegade chemist reimagined the study of drugs, and by extension human consciousness. He is recognized as the “spiritual father of psychedelics”, creating over two hundred substances from scratch, but he also, however, inadvertently set off the billion-dollar race to control the synthetics market.”

The episode navigates the dangers of synthetics, but continually circles back to the fact Shulgin saw breakthrough therapeutic potential in MDMA, the synthetic drug that brought him his fame. Shulgin never suspected that MDMA and other substances that he synthesized would become popular amongst young partygoers. Rather, he saw them as revolutionary psychotherapeutic tools that the “War on Drugs” wrongly forced underground.

Image: Ann Shulgin with daughter, Wendy Tucker, Publisher at Transform Press (Photo by Audrey Tucker, 2020)

Lessons from Claudio Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author

Lessons from Claudio Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author

Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author: The Revolution We Expected

Ours is a time of immense upheaval, transformation, and crisis characterized by the unraveling of social, psychological, and spiritual paradigms of authority. As we look around our world, we find the rapacious destruction of our environment, the troubles that come from the void of meaninglessness, and a society that displays brutal and hostile tendencies toward itself and its surroundings. However, in the dismantling of our troubled world lies the keys to a renewed vision, one that carries the tenets for life after the revolution we are living through.

The Revolution We Expected, soon to be released by Synergetic Press is Claudio Naranjo’s last work as an author, and was completed at the end of his long and pioneering life. Rich with the insight, wisdom and clarity characteristic of his work, the book is an expression of his unrelenting love for humanity as well as his deep understanding of our condition, but more than that, it is also a socio-political statement created to assist in the ongoing transformation and reconfiguration of our holistic existence. Naranjo goes well beyond his incisive diagnosis of humanity’s current crises and offers a path forward grounded on the understanding that, as he says, “only in waking from our blind somnambulism can we evolve.”

Our Sinking Ship: Patriarchal Civilization in Decline

Naranjo describes the foremost problem we face as an acute lack of awareness for ourselves, others, and our environment; a problem linked to the patriarchal domination of our collective consciousness. Our world is in fact not even aware of the blindness from which we so helplessly suffer. The catastrophes, the toils, and the evils in our world are a manifestation of our ignorance, and the increasing severity of this problem is evident in our inability to respond and offer solutions. In the 21st century, this ignorance is prevalent regardless of the contemporary obsession with information and the abundance of data available to us. Beyond these vast resources (touted as impressive harbingers for a future filled with progress), we are beset by the utter scarcity of real wisdom.

Many of the great spiritual traditions from around the world have referred to our collective condition as a kind of unawareness which Naranjo identifies in his wide-ranging survey as the root of our most critical failings. He describes the origins of our crisis as stemming from what he calls “a degradation of awareness and a process of dehumanization that has accompanied our civilization process.” Furthermore, he associates our patterns of violence, insensitivity, and greed  with the neglect of “maternal empathy and bodily, animal wisdom.” By imposing a tyrannical authority over the maternal (love) and the filial (instinct) aspects of our world, the paternal figure has prevented the integration of our consciousness which in turn has produced hostile and vindictive behavior.

Re-humanization through Self-Awareness

The processes of education are an important thread running through the content of Naranjo’s work. But education for Naranjo is more than a critical component in the causes of our society’s ills, it is also a way for us to reformulate our consciousness.

In a powerful passage, Naranjo describes how “nothing strikes (him) as more important in the pursuit of rehumanizing society than rehumanizing education.” He goes on to explain lucidly how although there have been recent trends that speak gratuitously of the importance of “emotional education”, a true examination of the patriarchal principles which dominate our conception of education has not yet taken place within today’s educational institutions.

The reluctance of these institutions to accept the role of the psychological and emotional components in a human’s development have been even more detrimental due to the absence of concepts like empathy, care, and love in their discourse. Naranjo believes that there is a fundamental conflict within our society because it establishes a hegemony based on the patriarchal mind which prevents us from being more loving. In order to develop this characteristic “…we must first learn to love ourselves and to do so, in turn, we must understand the extent to which we reject, disdain, push, and mistreat ourselves, without knowing it.”

Toward a Global Consciousness

Despite the circumstances of utmost difficulty which we find ourselves in, we are undergoing what Naranjo characterizes as a “revolution of consciousness”; a renewal of awareness. Although the world of politics, economics, and media is filled with examples of humanity’s challenges, there is movement beneath the surface of our society. The expanding interest in modalities through which we might reclaim our responsibility for ourselves and our world can lead to a society “richer in love”, aware of the need for individual human development. Naranjo’s book – as well as his generous catalog of work – is filled with an energy that invites us to awaken our own zeal for a better world, one that heals the blatant dysfunction and illness that permeates our present.

 


The Revolution We Expected book cover

More About the Book: The Revolution We Expected: Cultivating a New Politics of Consciousness

Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.

Learn more

 

 

Photo Credit: Marco

Biopiracy: When Corporations Patent Nature

Biopiracy: When Corporations Patent Nature

Since the early 20th century, multinational corporations have repeatedly claimed ownership of nature and indigenous knowledge systems from developing countries by means of patents, turning the biodiversity of the commons into private, commercialized property. This appropriation of indigenous resources for financial gain, with scarcely any recognition or compensation, is just one of the latest forms of colonialism, the centuries-old practice of affluent, technologically advanced nations exerting economic dominance over poorer, resource-rich countries. 

In the upcoming Synergetic Press title Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth, environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva lays out in great detail the legal struggle to defend biodiversity against biopiracy and biocolonialism. 

Vandana Shiva at a 1993 rally protesting GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in Bangalore

What is biopiracy? 

Biopiracy is when a corporation patents seeds and/or indigenous knowledge, gaining exclusive control over those materials. 

Through intellectual property laws created by Western nations, they can legally lay claim on plants and traditional applications of knowledge, despite the fact they have not innovated or invented anything. The burden of proof then lies on the affected community, which often does not possess the resources or legal knowledge to contest the claims. 

One glaring example of biopiracy the case of the neem tree, which has been an invaluable, “cure-all” resource in India for centuries, and can be sourced back to a number of ancient texts. One of its applications was agricultural – a potent insecticide, neem was fed to livestock to increase soil fertility. 

In the 20th century, the general American public became increasingly skeptical towards synthetic pesticides. Naturally, this sparked a corporate interest in neem, with the industry seeing lucrative potential in its natural appeal for American consumers. Since 1985, over a dozen US patents have been taken out on neem-based solutions and emulsions. As a result, prices skyrocketed, depriving local farmers of access to their traditional plant material, and making them dependent on the company owning the patent. 

Another example of biopiracy: a poster by Navdanya, an Indian-based non-governmental organization that promotes biodiversity conservation cofounded by Vandana Shiva, protesting corporations’ patent of rice.

Effects of biopiracy

Thanks to Western intellectual property right systems (IPRs), corporations (mostly pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies) have been able to scour biodiversity-rich countries for their resources and traditional knowledge, and gain exclusive monopoly rights to anything with commercial value via patent laws. This effectively restricts those communities from access to biological resources that have been part of their cultural heritage for centuries. 

Biopiracy has drastically affected the livelihood of farmers, who are cut off from the seeds they’ve relied on for centuries. Farmers are no longer allowed to exchange seed as they used to since that is now a crime under intellectual property laws. They are forced to buy seed from these corporations, rather than saving it, and generate profits for them. According to Shiva, most of the 300,000 farmer suicides in India happened as a result of Monsanto’s falsely claiming patents on cotton, and trapping farmers in debt through cotton royalties. 

It also has a destructive effect on the environment. Often, the biodiversity of the affected regions become eroded due to practices like monocropping, the practice of growing large amounts of a single crop on the same land. While this may be economically fruitful, it does not provide the diversity needed for a healthy diet or ecosystem. 

Hierarchy of knowledge systems

Throughout the long history of colonialism, and into the present day, Westerners have regarded indigenous knowledge systems of medicine and agriculture as primitive and inferior. Hundreds of years of rich and diverse traditional medicine systems, like Ayurveda, homeopathy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, are dismissed as unscientific – unless, of course, their knowledge is found to be useful, in which case they are appropriated and legitimized without credit. 

There also exists a fundamental tension between Western and indigenous ideas around ownership. Private property is a keystone of Western society. Traditional IPRs, which are shaped by major Western nations, reflect this individualistic value system and work in favor of corporations that seek to monopolize and control any resource that turns a profit. In contrast, indigenous perspectives are more communally oriented, recognizing the land and water to be a sacred heritage shared by everyone. 

The national sovereignty and basic needs of these regions are compromised in the name of free trade and commerce. The World Trade Organization, an intergovernmental organization that regulates international trade, has created systems of law that benefit the multinational corporations, and harm small communities. 

In this 2003 Guardian article, Shiva writes: 

The trade-related intellectual property rights (Trips) agreement is the most far-reaching of all the WTO agreements and threatens to hurt us most. It has changed the law related to patents, copyright, design, and trademarks from national to global levels and redefined vital issues of farmers’ rights to seeds and citizens’ rights to medicine as trade issues. It has also expanded patentability to cover life forms, even though living organisms are not invention. For the US, which forced the changes through, these were matters of commerce. For us, intellectual property rights are matters of national sovereignty and basic needs.

Defending against biopiracy 

There have been some positive steps made towards defending against biopiracy. 

The Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty signed in 1993, was created with the goal of “conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.” 

Since then, there have been two supplementary agreements made to the convention. One is the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, effective 2003, which “aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity.” The other is the Nagoya Protocol, effective 2014, which “aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way.”

There have also been legal cases between corporations and indigenous people in which the latter were ruled in favor. 

In 2019, PepsiCo sued 4 farmers for 10 million rupees each for growing a variety of potatoes registered by the company. They claimed their intellectual property rights were being infringed upon under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001. However, according to the actual details of the act, the farmers were well within their rights to harvest the seed. Pepsico used false claims and intimidation tactics to nearly ruin the lives of farmers who earned a fraction of what they were being sued for annually. 

Reclaiming the Commons

Dr. Vandana Shiva has dedicated her life to protecting biodiversity, farmers, and small communities. Since the mid-90s, she has promoted traditional knowledge and livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity conservation. She is the founder of Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers that provide training in sustainable agriculture. 

Reclaiming the Commons is the latest in over 20 books authored by Shiva on biopiracy and environmental justice. It presents details on the specific attempts made by corporations to secure patents on nature, and the legal action taken against them. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and international property rights. 

Learn more about Reclaiming the Commons


Sources

The neem tree – a case history of biopiracy
by Vandana Shiva
https://twn.my/title/pir-ch.htm

Points of Law in the Pepsico Potato Case

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/points-of-law-in-the-pepsico-potato-case/article27060326.ece#

Biocolonialism: Examining Biopiracy, Inequality, and Power
by Ashleigh Breske

https://spectrajournal.org/articles/10.21061/spectra.v6i2.a.6/

Living on the Frontline
by Vandana Shiva

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2003/sep/08/wto.fairtrade8

The Convention on Biological Diversity

https://www.cbd.int/convention/

Seeds of Sustenance & Freedom vs Seeds of Suicide & Surveillance 

https://www.navdanya.org/bija-refelections/2019/09/07/seed-of-sustenance-freedom-vs-seeds-of-suicide-surveillance/

Protect or Plunder: Understanding Intellectual Property Rights by Vandana Shiva
https://www.amazon.com/Protect-Plunder-Understanding-Intellectual-Property/dp/1842771094

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