Consultation: designing a new biocultural heritage indication

How can indigenous people benefit more from their biocultural heritage? A new project wants to hear your feedback on how a labelling scheme for biocultural heritage-based products could work.

Graham Dutfield's picture
Insight by 
Graham Dutfield
Graham Dutfield is professor of international governance at the School of Law, University of Leeds
20 August 2015
Biocultural products of the Potato Park in Peru, an example of the goods and services that can be produced by indigenous peoples to provide income and enhance incentives to sustain biocultural heritage (Photo: ANDES)

Biocultural products of the Potato Park in Peru, an example of the goods and services that can be produced by indigenous peoples to provide income and enhance incentives to sustain biocultural heritage (Photo: ANDES)

Many indigenous peoples are seeking to use elements of their biocultural heritage to generate income. Goods and services, such as traditional foods and drinks, personal care products, crafts and guided tours, can provide a source of income and enhance incentives to sustain biocultural heritage.

Tourists and local people with disposal income are often willing to pay a premium for high quality local products provided they carry a guarantee of origin and authenticity. But such guarantees are often lacking.  

Labelling and certification schemes exist for ecological and fair trade products, but it seems that there is no such scheme that specifically seeks to protect biological and cultural diversity. That is why IIED, the University of Leeds and Asociacion ANDES (Peru) are developing a new labelling or biocultural heritage (BCH) indication scheme for biocultural, heritage-based products.

Existing tools

Some existing intellectual property tools such as collective trademarks and geographical indications can be used to protect collective rights, but they are largely inaccessible to indigenous peoples because they are highly bureaucratic and costly. They also focus on trade promotion objectives, rather than protecting biocultural heritage.

We want to develop a scheme that can be easily used by indigenous peoples around the world. 

We want to find a culturally appropriate approach to marketing that harnesses goodwill towards indigenous peoples and their "traditional lifestyles". The proposed scheme will emphasise and authenticate the way that cultural and spiritual values, local knowledge, innovations and practices, and the local environment including ecosystems, biodiversity and landscapes are all closely linked, giving products a unique character.

Share your views and experience

We are consulting on the design of the scheme, and seeking feedback from indigenous organisations in particular, but also from NGOs, practitioners, researchers, governments and United Nations agencies. We want to ensure the scheme is useful for as many indigenous peoples as possible, and to learn from experience with similar schemes. 

An informal collective trademark developed by the Potato Park in Peru, for example, 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 scheme will aim to ensure that as much of the market value as possible is captured locally, through "full benefit capture", rather than "benefit-sharing" from products developed by others (as in the Biodiversity Convention's benefit-sharing model).

Well-made local goods that are trusted as being authentic or are imbued with positive associations are likely to attract good prices and decent revenues can flow from the sale of quite small volumes.  

The "indication" will be a graphical sign containing the term 'biocultural heritage', accompanied by the name of the relevant indigenous group, community or territory. It could be applied to goods and services that embody or express biocultural heritage, and to goods and services whose sale supports biocultural heritage (or at least does not undermine it).

Key questions

A number of questions need to be addressed to design the scheme. How can the majority of indigenous communities in rural areas access the scheme? Should the application system be internet-based and available in local languages? 

Should the scheme be a label or certification? Certification gives firmer guarantees for consumers, but complying with detailed requirements is likely to be burdensome for small organisations, especially for a range of products. Labelling may be more appropriate, as it places more responsibility on the producers to ensure compliance. 

Should the label be protected using collective trademarks, which are a type of intellectual property right? This would provide a stronger legal basis to prevent unauthorised use of the indication, but trademarks would need to be acquired in each country and renewed at least every seven years.
Another key question is which organisation should manage, monitor and review the scheme and apply for trademarks? It could be an indigenous organisation or one which is trusted by indigenous peoples or which directly involves them (e.g. on a steering committee or board). How can the scheme ensure that it contributes to sustaining biocultural heritage? How to enforce rights and prevent misuse?

The next step will be to design the graphical sign and test it in indigenous communities. How should the graphic sign be designed? What key information should it convey? And where should it be tested?

This consultation document explores options for the design of the new scheme and identifies 19 questions to be addressed.

Please share your thoughts! You can fill in the boxes in the consultation document and email it to: [email protected]. Alternatively, you can fill in the electronic survey. Responses can also be provided by post to Krystyna Swiderska, IIED, 80-86 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8NH, UK, or by phone/Skype to Krystyna Swiderska.

You can also provide comments or questions at the end of this blog, and I will reply directly in the comments section.

Your feedback will be used to develop a proposal for a biocultural heritage indications scheme, and will be highly appreciated. Please respond by 30 December 2015.

Feedback resources

To complete the consultation document, users will need Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader, and may first need to save the document onto their local device. Alternatively, the document can be downloaded and completed by hand, and then returned following the instructions above.

Graham Dutfield ([email protected]) is professor of international governance at the School of Law, University of Leeds.

This initiative to develop a biocultural heritage indication scheme is part of IIED's SIFOR project and the IIED-ANDES Biocultural Heritage Initiative. For more information, see and