Nagoya Protocol: Namibia needs law on access to genetic resources

 

Windhoek – There is an urgent need for Namibia to endorse a legislation that deals with the benefit-sharing of genetic resources to work hand in hand with the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation, says Environment and Tourism Minister, Uahekua Herunga.

Namibia was one of the main architects behind the 2010 Nagoya Protocol, which secured access and benefit-sharing rights for communities under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The protocol is an international environmental legal instrument that deals with conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the utilisation of genetic resources.

It was adopted on October 29, 2010, in Nagoya, Japan and calls on countries having genetic resources to allow others to access them and the benefits derived from those resources are shared by both the provider and the receiver.

Minister Herunga called for the introduction of a law on genetic resources when addressing the Indigenous and Local Communities Participation workshop on the Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol held in Windhoek this past week.

He said for the Nagoya Protocol to be implemented, Namibia needs to enact a law that will deal with access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources.

“The Nagoya Protocol is, in principle, part of the Namibian law but until the country comes up with its own law and regulations enacted, implementation of the protocol and national law will be impossible,” he said.

He said the legislation will prevent exploitation of indigenous resources, such as devil’s claw, a plant used by San people to treat rheumatism and arthritis, as well as hoodia, which is used for suppressing hunger.

Minister Herunga revealed that a Draft Bill, in response to the national and international obligations regarding access and benefit-sharing, has already gone through second reading in Cabinet’s Committee on Legislations.

The Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) and Related Traditional Knowledge Bill will require that anyone seeking access to traditional knowledge related to genetic resources in rural communities obtain permission from the traditional authority of that area and that access to genetic resources should be done with permission.

Minister Herunga further said this Nagoya Protocol on Access and Equitable Sharing of Benefits to Genetic Resources and its Associated Traditional Knowledge Bill intends to raise awareness and regulate access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as well as the equitable sharing of the benefits derived therefrom.

The first Bill on Access to Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge was first developed in 1998, but was found to be too narrow in scope given the evolving international negotiations around ABS.

The Environment and Tourism Minister emphasised that the Bill has since undergone several substantial changes and already gone through its second reading at the Cabinet’s Committee on Legislations on February 13, 2014.

Namibia has over 4 300 plant species, of which nearly 700 only found in the country. Most of these species are traditionally used for food, medicine, oils and other products with existing or potential commercial market.

It is worth noting that indigenous natural products extracted from tissues of naturally terrestrial plants, or microorganisms contributed around R100 million in 2005, with current growth estimates of indigenous natural products in medium term growth approximately R400 million per year, Minister Herunga noted.

Apart from that, he said there are investors attracted to Namibia by its natural heritage of resources, as well as the rich traditional knowledge attached to the utilisation of these assets.

However, most of these assets are vulnerable to over-exploitation, which has the potential to uproot them with no chance to grow again.

In this regard, the minister added that government is committed to counter this threat by ensuring that biodiversity and the ecological goods and services that it provides are used for the long-term benefit of Namibians, especially the rural communities.

“Investors both national and foreign are welcome, as they have a role to play, on condition they will do so within the laws of the country that is based on the need for economic and ecological sustainability,” he said.

August 2014
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