05 Dec 2016 Story Ecosystems

Genetic resources for the benefit of all

​The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization came into effect in 2014 under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It aims to create legal certainty for users and providers of genetic resources.

“It provides a mechanism to ensure that monetary and non-monetary benefits from the utilization of genetic resources are shared in a fair and equitable way, to support continued resource conservation and sustainable use,” says UN Environment expert Makiko Yashiro.

The aim of the Protocol and the application of “access and benefit-sharing” (ABS) principles is to encourage research and product development, for example among pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies. The Protocol sets out guidelines for the use of genetic resources, while ensuring fair benefits for the providers of such resources.

The UN Environment-led Support for Ratification and Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing in ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Countries project has been supporting the three Southeast Asian countries to ensure that contractual agreements used for international collaboration with research institutions and companies include ABS principles.

Lao PDR uses new agreements 

Thanks to the project, the Biotechnology and Ecology Institute (BEI) of Lao’s Ministry of Science and Technology  now incorporates ABS principles in “Material Transfer Agreements”. Such agreements are used, for example, when plant specimens and samples are transferred between institutions or individuals.

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They include information on the provider and recipient, the purpose of the transfer, the duration of the agreement, and information on intellectual property. A recent example of the use of such an agreement was for the transfer of dried plant specimens between BEI and a research institute in Scotland.

“The enhanced Material Transfer Agreement has been utilized in collaborative initiatives with foreign institutions that involve exchange of genetic resources, fully in line with ABS principles”, says Kongchay Phimmakong, a senior official in the Biotechnology and Ecology Institute of Lao’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Preventing misappropriation of genetic resources in Myanmar

Currently there are no mechanisms to track whether genetic plant resources taken out of Myanmar are further utilized for product development.

To overcome the above challenge, the project supported the Ministry of Education’s Biotechnology Research Department (BRD) to incorporate ABS principles in formal agreements with foreign research institutions.

These agreements require the parties to provide the necessary information about access to genetic resources, benefit-sharing mechanisms, traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, the monitoring and utilization of genetic resources, and technology transfer.

The new system will help conserve Myanmar’s biological and genetic resources, particularly those of indigenous micro-organisms of interest to bioprospectors.

“The template helps institutions dealing with genetic resources to conserve indigenous biological resources and prevent their misappropriation. The support provided through the project is timely and will help institutions in Myanmar have fruitful collaborative research initiatives with foreign institutions, in line with ABS principles,” says Nay Nwe Nyein Chan, an assistant professor at the Molecular Genetics Laboratory in BRD.

Identifying community needs in Viet Nam

In Vietnam, the project has benefited the Dao ethnic group in Sapa, Lao Cai province. The Dao have traditional knowledge of forests and medicinal plants used in the health and well-being industry.

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Sapa Napro, a local company, which uses the medicinal plants in its products, now also supports conservation efforts to ensure the sustainable harvesting of these plants.

Through the ABS mechanism, the Dao people and other local stakeholders are beginning to benefit from the utilization of their genetic resources.

The project, however, found that more needs to be done to give the community a better understanding of their ownership of traditional knowledge associated with these genetic resources.

“The project will help Sapa Napro to be fully compliant with the Government Decree on ABS which will be enacted soon,” says Tu Nguyen, an official in the Biodiversity Conservation Agency.

About the project

The Support for Ratification and Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing in ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Countries project began in 2015 and is being implemented jointly by UN Environment, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, and the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center, with technical support from the CBD Secretariat.

It is funded to the tune of US$ 300,000 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People's Republic of China, through the China Trust Fund.

For more information, please contact: Makiko Yashiro: Makiko.Yashiro [at] unep.org