Fieldworkers should discuss and negotiate the ways in which their research might benefit the people involved in the study, either as individuals, as a community, or both. Any commercial objectives and expected profits should be clearly stated at the beginning of the negotiations with the community and informants (Alexiades 1996). Benefits are not necessarily limited to direct monetary compensation, though this often may be a just and important component (Cunningham 1996).
The question of compensation is particularly complex in ethnobotany because ethnobotany has direct and indirect links with specific commercial and political interests (Balandrin et al. 1985, Brockway 1979, Juma 1989, Kloppenburg 1988). The potential financial gain from the development of some plant products, especially those with medicinal properties, is commonly reported to be enormous. In an ideal academic world, there would be a free flow of knowledge for the good of all.
However, in the development of natural products and in ‘chemical prospecting’, research knowledge is often patented before it is made public ensuring a flow of benefits only to the patenting country or company (Cunningham 1996). This has led to an interest in developing a broad-based agreement system with all participants, in the hope that the imbalance does not lead to countries refusing to allow outside research and thus missing the financial benefits which their biodiversity holds (Cunningham 1996, Swanson 1995).
It is important in the context of property rights that ethnobotany does not become a kind of neo-colonialism (Given & Harris 1994). To this end of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio ‘Earth summit’), in 1992, requires in the convention on biological diversity (CBD), which is designed to ensure the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources (UN 1993).
Compensation, including what constitutes a fair amount, who should receive it, and the mechanism by which it should be channelled, is a complex and controversial subject (Barton 1994, Greaves 1994, Patel 1996, Cunningham 1996). Informants and communities can be compensated formally and informally. In most cases, it is appropriate to compensate individual informants directly for their time. Direct money payment in exchange for time or information is one possibility, but in some circumstances it may raise difficulties.
Some informants may be tempted to provide ‘information’ as a way of acquiring compensation, especially if it is provided in proportion to the amount of time given or information provided. In some cases, restricting compensation to informants alone may create resentment and conflicts with other members of the community. These difficulties do not negate the value of direct payments as an option for compensation; rather they serve to forewarn researchers of potential pitfalls (Alexiades 1996). Another way is to compensate informants through gifts and services. In some cases, this manner of compensation may be more akin to local modes of exchange and reciprocity.
As with other ethical issues, compensation has to be dealt with on a case by case basis. According to Alexiades (1996).
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