Press Release - 24 October 2010 Nagoya, Japan - Indigenous knowledge should be protected and communities which possess it must be adequately compensated if such knowledge is used for commercial purposes.

How much compensation, however, is one of the issues under the microscope in Nagoya as Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meet to review the progress of the convention.

Samoa is a party to the convention. Its delegation which includes the CEO of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Taule'ale'ausumai La'avasa Malua and Tony Tipama'a has been actively taking part in the discussions.

One of the working groups at COP 10 is negotiating a protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS).

Why is a protocol necessary?

Valerie Normand, an ABS Programme Officer for the CBD, said the reasons are twofold.

"The first is that providers [of genetic resource(s)] have been very concerned about the misappropriation of their resources," she told the world media invited to Nagoya for COP 10.

"And this is due to in part to the fact it is very difficult to know what happens to a genetic resource once it leaves the provider country. So the Protocol aims to develop measures which will assist providers in ensuring the sharing of benefits from the use of their resources once they have left the provider country."

Users of such resources and knowledge have also been complaining, she said.

"They have been very frustrated over the years with the absence of proper measures at the national level when they seek to obtain access to genetic resources," said Ms Normand.

"So they want clear ABS procedures set up in countries so when they wish to set up ABS to genetic resources in a foreign country, they know who is the competent national authority and what exactly the procedures are they need to follow."

Setting up ABS procedures though is a complex issue because it involves a number of actors at different levels, she said. There are also issues such as the scope of application and derivatives from genetic resources.

Genetic resources are used by various sectors for various purposes such as pharmaceuticals which use plants to develop treatment for diseases.

"These sectors add to complexity of ABS because each sector has different ways of going about the use of these genetic resources and the potential benefit to be shared from their use.

"The research community has also emphasised the need to facilitate access to genetic resources in order to be able to continue to understand better what are found in the natural world."

The important link between genetic resources and traditional knowledge needs to be emphasised, she said.

"Traditional knowledge has been held by indigenous communities for centuries and often this traditional knowledge provides important links to identifying which resources actually have particular properties which can be useful to human well being.

A Protocol on ABS will facilitate the sharing of benefits between providers and users.

"In exchange for access to genetic resources, users of these resources are meant to share the benefits arising from their use. And this is set out in the Convention for Biological Diversity.

"Access to the genetic resources is subject to the prior informed consent of the provider country.

"A user must first seek consent of a country a resource is found in. A user can't just go into a country, pick a plant and carry out research. They first have to obtain the approval of that country and they also need to negotiate mutually agreed terms and that agreement will include a number of requirements and conditions for access, and also most importantly the terms of benefit sharing."

Benefits could monetary and non-monetary, she said.

"Monetary benefit arises when a product is developed on the basis of a genetic resource," she explained. "The agreement between the user and the provider will say the royalties from this product will be shared with the provider.

"In the case that involves access to traditional knowledge associated with the genetic resource, the Convention also provides that the consent of the communities which hold that knowledge must be sought before they can obtain access to the knowledge.

"If this traditional knowledge is used and they eventually develop a product based on the knowledge provided, then they shall also share benefits with the indigenous and local communities.

"These are the principles the protocol will aim to further implement."

Ms Normand said the protocol will ensure biodiversity rich countries obtain their fair share of benefits for the use of their resources through a fair and transparent legal framework.

According to the CBD, access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their utilization: The Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources in areas within their jurisdiction.

Parties to the Convention therefore have the authority to determine access to genetic resources in areas within their jurisdiction.
Parties also have the obligation to take appropriate measures with the aim of sharing the benefits derived from their use.

Genetic resources, whether from plants, animals or micro-organisms, may be used for different purposes.

Users of genetic resources can include research institutes, universities and private companies operating in various sectors such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, agriculture, horticulture and biotechnology.

Benefits derived from genetic resources may include the result of research and development carried out on genetic resources, the transfer of technologies which make use of those resources, participation in biotechnological research activities, or monetary benefits arising from the commercialization of products based on genetic resources.