Glossary of Terms

Glossary of terms related to traditional ecological knowledge

Agrobiotechnology (agribiotech or agbiotech): The research on and development of agricultural products such as crop varieties and crop protection products by modifying genes to confer desirable properties such as pest resistance or improved nutritional profiles.

Bio Piracy: The unauthorized use of genetic resources and the knowledge associated with these genetic resources held by the communities living in the locality from biodiversity rich countries in the south, by industrial enterprises in the developed world, mainly by pharmaceutical companies, is often referred to as bio-piracy.

Biological Diversity (Also referred to as Biodiversity) : Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines the term, “biological diversity” to mean the “variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

Biotechnology: Article 2 of the CBD defines the term “biotechnology” to mean “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.”

Civil Society: Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organisations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organisations, community groups, women’s organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, trades unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy group. (LSE)

Community Knowledge: Knowledge held by communities, characterized by common or communal ownership.

Cultural diversity: variety or multiformity of human social structures, belief systems, and strategies for adapting to situations in different parts of the world.

Cultural Heritage: Having at one time referred exclusively to the monumental remains of cultures, heritage as a concept has gradually come to include new categories such as the intangible, ethnographic or industrial heritage. A noteworthy effort was subsequently made to extend the conceptualization and description of the intangible heritage. This is due to the fact that closer attention is now being paid to humankind, the dramatic arts, languages and traditional music, as well as to the informational, spiritual and philosophical systems upon which creations are based.(UNESCO)

Cultural industries: This term applies to those industries that combine the creation, production and commercialization of contents which are intangible and cultural in nature. These contents are typically protected by copyright and they can take the form of goods or services. Depending on the context, cultural industries may also be referred to as “creative industries”, sunrise or “future oriented industries” in the economic jargon, or content industries in the technological jargon. (UNESCO)

Customary Law: Law that is customary There have been requests that customary law may be given some recognition in the protection of traditional knowledge. (See, WIPO document, WIPO/GRTKF/K/16)

Domestic biodiversity: the genetic variation existing among the species, breeds, cultivars and individuals of animal, plant and microbial species that have been domesticated, often including their immediate wild relatives.

Environmental Non-Governmental Organization (ENGO): See NGO, A non-profit making, voluntary, Environment organization organization, either for the benefit of members (a grassroots organization) or of other members of the population (an agency).

Expressions of Folklore: Folklore is a component of the broader term ‘traditional knowledge’. ‘Expressions of folklore’ is often used in association with the system of copyright and related rights.

Ex-situ conservation: the conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats, often in a laboratory, collection, botanical garden, zoo, or aquarium.

Farmers’ rights: rights arising from the past, present and future contributions of farmers in conserving, improving and making available plant or animal genetic resources

Gene: the basic unit of heredity transmitted from generation to generation; the part of the DNA molecule that encodes a single enzyme or structural protein unit.

Genetic Material: Article 2 of the CBD defines the term, “genetic material” to mean “any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity.”

Genetic Resources: Article 2 of the CBD defines the term, “genetic resources” to mean “genetic material of actual or potential value

in-situ: in the original location. (Opposite: ex-situ)

in-situ conditions: The conditions where genetic resources exist within ecosystems and natural habitats; in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties.

Intangible Heritage: The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage as the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills, that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.

Indigenous Knowledge: This term refers to knowledge held by communities and peoples that are indigenous. In comparison, traditional knowledge is a broader term as some traditional knowledge may not have the characteristic of indigenous knowledge.

Indigenous peoples: people whose ancestors inhabited a place or country when persons

from another culture or ethnic background arrived on the scene and dominated them through conquest, settlement, or other means and who today live more in conformity with their own social, economic, and cultural customs and traditions than with those of the country of which they now form a part.

Intergenerational equity: a core proposition is that future generations have a right to an inheritance (capital bequest) sufficient to allow them to generate a level of well-being no less than that of the current generation. Also refers to fairness in the treatment of different members of the same generation.

Landrace: a crop cultivar or animal breed that evolved with and has been genetically improved by traditional agriculturalists, but has not been influenced by modern breeding practices.

Natural Law: Laws of the natural world that can not be broken, for example pollute the water and the water is not useable – humans can not pay a fine to fix the problem like in human laws.

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO): A non-profit making, voluntary, service-oriented/development oriented organization, either for the benefit of members (a grassroots organization) or of other members of the population (an agency). (World Bank). A non-profit group or association organized outside of institutionalized political structures to realize particular social objectives (such as environmental protection) or serve particular constituencies (such as indigenous peoples). NGO activities range from research, information distribution, training, local organization, and community service to legal advocacy, lobbying for legislative change, and civil disobedience. NGO’s range in size from small groups within a particular community to huge membership groups with a national or international scope. [UNEP]

Original Instructions: All of creation was given original instructions by the Creator at the beginning of time, such as humans’ instructions were to keep things pure, like the air, water and land.  Humans have broken these instructions, by polluting the natural world.

Prior Informed Consent: Consent that is required for accessing genetic resources or the associated knowledge held by communities living in the locality; requires communities to be informed of all consequence of grant of such permission.

Public Domain: Public Domain refers to the knowledge that is freely available, commonly shared throughout the world without any access restrictions. In the context of Intellectual Property this term refers to knowledge that is beyond the realm of protection of IP rights.

Seven Generations: making decisions today for the sustainable and healthy future for seven generations to come.

Sui Generis: Sui generis is a Latin phrase meaning “of its own kind”. A sui generis legal system, for example, is a legal system specifically designed to address the needs and concerns of a particular issue. Plant Breeders Rights in the UPOV Convention and the IP protection of integrated circuits as reflected in the Treaty on Intellectual Property in respect of Integrated circuits, 1989 (“The Washington Treaty”) are often cited as examples of sui generis regimes. In the context of Traditional Knowledge (TK) it refers to the unsuitability of existing IP regime for protecting TK and the demand in some quarters of framing a specific legal regime for its protection.

Sustainable Development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. [Earth Summit +5]. Indigenous Peoples see sustainable development as holistic (economic, cultural, social, and spiritual) as well as healthy – a healthy environment means healthy people.

TK Holders: Refers to persons who create or develop and practice traditional knowledge.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Traditional knowledge relating to ecological systems acquired by communities living in close contact.

Traditional Knowledge Innovations: Traditional Knowledge strict sense refers to knowledge in public domain. TK innovations refer to knowledge that is not in public domain.

Traditional medicine: refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being. (WHO)

Traditional Resource Rights: A broad usage which include intellectual property rights, but denotes broader ‘bundles of rights’ including for example, human rights, land rights, religious rights, and cultural property.


Belgian Clearing House Mechanism (,,

WIPO (,,,,

Italicized terms by Simon Brascoupé

Commonly Found Abbreviations:

TK- Traditional Knowledge

TEK- Traditional Ecological Knowledge

GR- Genetic Resources

PGR – Plant Genetic Resources

PGRFA- Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

TM- Traditional Medicine

CBD – Convention on Biological diversity

UNEP- United Nations Environment Program

WIPO- World Intellectual Property Organisation

IGC- Inter- Governmental Committee (Set up by WIPO to discuss Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Folklore)

WHO- World Health Organisation

FAO- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

GM-Genetically Modified