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In quite a large number of Parties, ABS measures are not yet operational, and many Parties have not yet granted any or only very few ABS permits.

Many policymakers might still be unaware of the potential implications ABS measures may have for the use and exchange of genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Raising awareness among relevant stakeholders as well as capacity building seem particularly important.

A recent assessment of the effectiveness of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization discussed during the third meeting of the Parties to the Protocol, presents a mixed picture. While, as of 28 February 2018, 71% of the Parties to the Protocol had adopted access and benefit-sharing (ABS) measures, and even 98% of Parties had designated National Focal Points (NFPs) for ABS, few Parties (27%) had designated so-called checkpoints although these are essential to monitor the utilization of genetic resources and ensure compliance.

Two other results from the assessment leap to the eye.

  • Only 11% of Parties published ABS permits or their equivalents in the ABS Clearing-House. In fact, as of 20 November 2018, not more than 299 ABS permits or their equivalents had been registered with the ABS Clearing-House, the vast majority of them by India.
  • Only 46% of the Parties confirmed that they had taken into account, in the development or implementation of their ABS measures, the importance of genetic resources for food and agriculture (GRFA) and their special role for food security.

One may conclude from the assessment that in quite a large number of Parties ABS measures are not yet operational and that many Parties have not yet granted any or only very few permits. The fact that less than half of the Parties considered the importance of GRFA in the development of their ABS measures suggests that many policymakers might still be unaware of the potential implications ABS measures may have for the use and exchange of genetic resources for food and agriculture.

No doubt, the assessment came at a very early stage, only four years after the Protocol’s entry into force. It came definitely too early to allow an answer to the most important question: whether and how the Protocol actually meets its key objective, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits, including by appropriate access to genetic resources.

However, the assessment makes it very clear that sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. In fact, during their third meeting, taking place this week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, Parties to the Nagoya Protocol agreed that further work is needed, and urge Parties that have not yet done so to, inter alia, develop ABS measures, including on compliance, and to take steps to support the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the implementation of the Protocol and to raise awareness among relevant stakeholders and encourage their participation in the implementation of the Protocol.

Raising awareness among relevant stakeholders as well as capacity building seem particularly important. In most sectors, including the food and agriculture sector, ABS agreements have not become routine yet, as evidenced by a recent scientific publication on nitrogen fixation in a landrace of maize. The research team as well as media outlets saw the need to specifically stress in their communication that benefits from this research would be shared with the community in the Sierra Mixe region of Oaxaca, Mexico, where the landrace of maize grown in nitrogen-depleted soils was obtained. ABS agreements of this sort might still be the exception, rather than the rule.

SDG target 2.5 and SGD target 15.6 both call for the promotion of access to, and fair and equitable sharing of, benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed. In particular, SDG target 2.5 underlines the strong link between ABS and food security.

Back in 2015, the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) developed ‘ABS Elements’ that aim to assist governments considering developing, adapting or implementing ABS measures to take into account the importance of GRFA, their special role for food security and the distinctive features of the different subsectors of GRFA.

In the course of 2018, the Commission devoted further time and efforts to raising awareness on ABS among its 179 members and relevant stakeholders. In collaboration with the Secretariats of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), it convened an international workshop to assist countries to raise awareness of the distinctive features and specific practices of the different subsectors of GRFA. Based on the outcome of the workshop, the Commission’s intergovernmental technical working groups on animal, aquatic, forest and plant genetic resources, its expert group on micro-organism and invertebrate genetic resources and its ABS Expert Team developed “non-prescriptive draft explanatory notes describing, within the context of the ABS Elements, the distinctive features and specific practices of different subsectors of GRFA, to complement the ABS Elements.”

The draft explanatory notes provide further context for the application of ABS measures to the food and agriculture sector, and indicate where and how ABS measures could accommodate the specificities of the different subsectors of GRFA, such as biological control agents, to facilitate both access to GRFA and the sharing of benefits derived from their utilization. The Commission will consider ABS, including the draft explanatory notes, at its 17th regular session in February of next year.

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This article was written by Dan Leskien, Senior Liaison Officer at the Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department, CGRFA Secretariat.


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