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Reimagining Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) Systems and Mechanisms in the Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognizes three fundamental objectives, one of which is Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) – the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. The Nagoya Protocol on ABS was adopted at the Conference of the Parties’ tenth meeting, creating a framework that balances access to genetic resources with benefit-sharing, contributing to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. This article explores the significance of ABS, the challenges faced by actors in its implementation, and India’s pioneering experience in operationalizing ABS provisions.

Benefit Sharing

What are Genetic Resources?

Genetic resources refer to genetic material found in all living organisms, including plants, animals, and microbes, that hold potential usefulness to humans. These resources can be sourced from natural environments (in-situ) or human-made collections (ex-situ) such as botanical gardens, gene banks, seed banks, and microbial culture collections.

Importance of Genetic Resources

Accessing and utilizing genetic resources offer substantial benefits, including a better understanding of the natural world and the development of various products and services for human welfare. This includes medicines, cosmetics, agricultural practices, and environmental techniques. However, equitable distribution of these resources is crucial, as they are not evenly distributed, and their usage should incentivize conservation and sustainable practices.

The Significance of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS)

ABS refers to the process of accessing genetic resources and fairly sharing the benefits resulting from their use between resource users and providers. The Nagoya Protocol lays down rules to facilitate access to genetic resources and ensure equitable benefit-sharing, fostering cooperation and trust between the involved parties.

Key Challenges Faced by ABS Actors

Various stakeholders face challenges in implementing ABS effectively:

  1. Users: Lack of awareness about the Biological Diversity Act (BD Act), complex procedures, and uncertainty regarding mutually agreed terms.
  2. Regulators (SBB/NBA): Limited technical expertise, ambiguity in determining ABS components, and difficulties in dealing with resources from outside the state.
  3. Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC): Inadequate capacity for BD Act implementation, challenges in benefiting communities, and non-cooperation from other village development committees.
  4. Providers: Lack of awareness about the BD Act, low income, and limited scientific knowledge.

Core Processes within the ABS Mechanism

The ABS Management Tool aids stakeholders in building trust and confidence. Core processes involve:

  1. Access: Informed consultation and mutually agreed terms between users and providers.
  2. Benefit Sharing: Ensuring equitable sharing of economic, environmental, scientific, social, or cultural benefits.
  3. Compliance: Meeting national ABS legislative requirements and obligations.
  4. Knowledge Associated with Biological Resources: Recognition and respect for traditional knowledge.
  5. Conservation + Sustainable Use: Practices to maintain biological diversity and components.

Key Factors for Effective ABS Implementation

Access, Benefit Sharing, and Compliance require actors to consider critical factors:

  1. Access: Consultation with local bodies, simplified processes, and traceability of resources.
  2. Benefit Sharing: Specific guidelines, innovative models, and transparency in sharing benefits.
  3. Compliance: Clarity on requirements, voluntary disclosures, and harmonization with related laws.
  4. Knowledge Associated with Biological Resources: Participation of traditional knowledge holders, documentation of traditional knowledge, and acknowledgment of contributions.
  5. Conservation + Sustainable Use: Sustainable harvesting, certification of resources, and development of collection management plans.
  6. Technology / Knowledge Transfer: Encouragement of partnerships, sustainability practices, and mainstreaming ABS with Bio-Trade principles.

India’s ABS Experience

India has made significant strides in ABS implementation. Notably, the case of the Kani tribe’s traditional knowledge on Arogyapacha plant usage resulted in rewarding local communities for their contribution to the development of an anti-fatigue drug called ‘Jeevani.’ India’s experience offers valuable lessons for other countries seeking to embrace ABS as a financing mechanism for conservation and sustainable biodiversity use.

Also read – The Connection Between Environment and Human Health

Conclusion

Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) is a pivotal aspect of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s objectives. By addressing challenges and implementing effective ABS mechanisms, stakeholders can foster cooperation, trust, and equitable benefit-sharing. India’s pioneering experience in ABS inspires other nations to operationalize ABS provisions and promote biodiversity conservation. Policymakers, DSI practitioners, and Networks must work together to ensure a thoughtful, informed compromise for advancing science and sustainable development.

Ravi S. Behera
Ravi S. Behera
Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera, PGDAEM, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad is an independent freelance Consultant and Author based in Bhubaneswar. He is an Honorary Advisor to grassroots Voluntary Organizations on Food Security, Forest and Environment, Natural Resource Management, Climate Change and Social Development issues. Ravi has lived and worked in various states of India and was associated with international donors and NGOs over the last twenty three years including ActionAid, DanChurchAid, Embassy of Sweden/Sida, Aide et Action, Sightsavers, UNICEF, Agragamee, DAPTA and Practical Action. He has a keen interest in indigenous communities and food policy issues.
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