Monday, April 21, 2014

Faces of Ethnobiology: Laurent Jean-Pierre

Laurent is founder of the Laurent World Broom Collection at the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology and discovered a new plant species, called Bernardia laurentii, in 1986. I am also a co-founder of the St. Lucia Herbarium, and of the Forestry Medicinal Plant Gardens. These projects played a leading role and/or spearheaded the conservation of biodiversity and genetic resources on the Island.

Although I was born on St Lucia, the gem in the crown of the Antilles, I became an Afro-Caribbean in the Diaspora upon migrated to North America in 1994. I have several years experience working as an environmental anthropologist (Ethnobotanist). During that period, I worked at the St. Lucia National Trust as the curator and research office of the St. Lucia National Herbarium.

I hold an International Diploma in Herbarium Development Techniques (including plant taxonomy) from Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. From Hartwick College, NY, USA, I obtained an undergraduate BA degree in Anthropology with minors in Biology and Religion. My Ethnobotany MSc. (University of Kent at Canterbury, UK) dissertation focused on the sustainable use of Coccothrinax barbadensis a local palm used for broom-making in the Caribbean. I am now known as the “broom-man.”

At present, I work with and represent Local Communities at the CBD level as it relates to biodiversity in the area of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). In addition, I work as a sustainable development consultant, gardener and researcher on Kwéyòl Gardens in the Caribbean, the Coordinator of TRAMIL (Traditional Medicine of the Islands), and the chairperson of the FRC’s (Folk Research Centre) Kwéyòl Language Committee. My ethnobotanical journey encompasses investigation into traditional taxonomic systems, use of plant in the daily lives of local and regional Caribbean communities, including plants used in food, medicine, shelter, rope, arts and crafts, legends, poetry, stories, proverbs, hygiene, dentifrice, dermatology, dyes, music, games, history, hallucinogenics, religion, archeology, shampoos, and so on. Moreover, I am developing and establishing a calabash (Crescentia Cujete) garden and a calabash art collection.

My works with Local Communities, on the island of St. Lucia, and the wider Caribbean has been engaged in facilitating the sustainable development of the Local Communities. In essence, my work bridges the gap or is a conduit between the traditional and conventional knowledge. My work involves food security, sustainability; benefit sharing, plant identification/taxonomy, Traditional Knowledge documentation, translating the importance of conservation of biodiversity in the local Kwéyòl language, including invasive species, medicinal plant research, plants and people relationship, biocultural heritage, and so on. In addition, I have represented the Local Communities and the FRC (Folk Research Centre), TRAMIL (Traditional Medicines of the Islands) and CAPSICUM, St. Lucia, (Caribbean Association for the Plant Science, Industry, Commerce and Use in Medicine). These NGO's are working with the local communities. I am also a farmer and member of the Local Community of Bexon itself.

Sustainability and benefit sharing of the biosphere and ethnosphere is vital for the survival of local communities. Since the demise of the banana industry, local farmers have been asked to diversify the economy by exploiting other local natural resources (biodiversity). Hence, there is more pressure on the natural resources and the need to harness the knowledge associated with them. At present, there is a greater need to revert to traditional knowledge and methods for generating income on the domestic front. The question of benefit sharing for the local trustees of the traditional knowledge (TK) is important to national development. Thus, the role of the NGO’s and my work with the local communities is to facilitate the dialogue between the two bodies of TK and Conventional Knowledge using the Kwéyòl Language in order to foster mutual trust and respect between both groups. In the wider community in general, but in the local communities in particular, livelihoods depend on a healthy environment, sustainable development and equitable access and benefit sharing.

The information gleaned from the upcoming meeting will inform and equip me/us with the appropriate tools to assist the local communities through capacity building and foster free flow of information in their own local language.

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