Locals must have access to genetic resources

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS

New Delhi : As 190 countries gather in Geneva next month to negotiate the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a London-based think tank has demanded that indigenous communities must have access to genetic resources to fight poverty, preserve biodiversity and adapt to climate change.

Support TwoCircles

In a report released Monday, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) pointed out that nearly 15 years after the CBD came into force, “there is still no international regime for pursuing one of its three main aims: to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from access to genetic resources”.

Governments from around the world are scheduled to negotiate rules to implement the CBD at a meeting in Geneva Feb 21-25.

The IIED report is based on a workshop that involved researchers and indigenous groups from Panama, India, Peru and China.

The report pointed out that there are many industries exploring genetic resources for their potential economic or social value.

“Undiscovered drugs in rainforest plants are alone estimated to be worth billions of dollars,” it said.

In the process, these natural resources were being stripped and sometimes patented without the locals who had been safeguarding them for centuries getting any benefit.

“Industrialised nations are still opposing an international regime on access and benefit sharing (ABS) that is legally binding and recognises the rights of indigenous and local communities,” Krystyna Swiderska, senior researcher at IIED, said in the report.

Many community resources are now held in gene banks, research institutes and botanical gardens. Scientists and private companies can access these resources but communities are usually denied access even to genetic resources collected from their lands.

The report urged the 190 nations that are party to the CBD to ensure that communities can also access these resources to increase their livelihood options and to help fight climate change.

“The current ABS regime does not adequately recognise the customary rights of indigenous and local communities who are the original custodians of many of the world’s genetic resources,” Alejandro Argumedo of Asociación ANDES, an indigenous NGO in Peru, said in the report.

“It continues the one-way flow of genetic resources away from communities by requiring governments to facilitate access to genetic resources – whether from gene banks, national parks or community lands.”

Ruchi Pant of Delhi-based NGO Ecoserve said: “When the CBD was agreed in 1992, developing nations agreed to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity in return for a fair and equitable share of the benefits from the use of genetic resources by industrialised countries, but the rich nations are not keeping their side of the bargain.

“To date, neither local communities nor countries of origin have received much benefit from the use of their genetic resources. An international regime would legally bind countries that use genetic resources to share these benefits derived from commercial and scientific use.

“It should promote benefit-sharing not only with countries of origin of genetic resources but also with the communities of origin to provide an incentive for conservation.”