Caribbean Biodiversity Stakeholders host successful Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Week in Trinidad

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Caribbean Biodiversity Stakeholders host successful Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Week in Trinidad

The IUCN, GEF and UN Environment host three-days of activities to raise awareness on biodiversity protection and the Nagoya Protocol

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 — The OECS Commission is working with its partners to raise awareness on the preservation and economic value of the region’s rich genetic resources and centuries of traditional knowledge which was the goal of a recent week of activities held in Trinidad and Tobago.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment, hosted the first Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Week at the Trinidad Hilton and Conference Centre from January 29-31, 2019.

The week focused on three main days of events, which featured multi-stakeholder workshops, cultural presentations, a highly anticipated school debating competition and a three-day biodiversity exposition.

The overarching agenda of ABS Week was the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol within the Caribbean region. An agreement that seeks to provide “fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.”

Ms. Maria Pia Hernandez, IUCN Coordinator for the Biodiversity and Rights Unit, and her team have been working very closely with governments, regional organisations such as the OECS, academic institutions, civil society organisations and IUCN members in Caribbean countries to support their agenda for the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources.

“This is a work that we have been undertaking at a regional level with Advancing the Nagoya Protocol in Countries of the Caribbean Region Project, which is funded by the GEF and implemented by IUCN. We are working with regional organisations, such as CARICOM and OECS, as well as with eight governments to adopt the agenda.”

“It is not only about ratifying the protocol, it is also about creating the capacity to implement the protocol,” explained Ms. Hernandez.

Mrs. Joan John-Norville, Biodiversity and Ecosystems Management Coordinator at the OECS Commission, stressed the need to increase public sensitisation on the value of the region’s biological resources and traditional knowledge in an effort to sustainably manage, and benefit, from these areas.

“Many of us may not be aware that in the Caribbean persons have been coming from outside the region and taking our biological resources and creating products with them and we have no access or we do not get any benefits from the use of these genetic resources.”

“There have also been cases of exploitation of our traditional knowledge, to know what is good, what plants work best for certain illnesses etc. These persons have taken this knowledge and used it to manufacture many products that they have put onto the wider market. The state does not get any benefit, because no agreements were entered into beforehand.”

“This is loss of revenue for us, this is loss of knowledge for us and we thought it important that this be put in place, especially for OECS Member States,” noted Mrs. John-Norville.

Access and Benefit Sharing methods ensure that:

  1. Access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge is done in a formal way to ensure that countries are not on the losing end; and
  2. Any benefits that may be derived from the use of these genetic resources are shared, as these profits can be used to fund many initiatives within the respective countries.

IUCN Coordinator for Advancing the Nagoya Protocol in Countries of the Caribbean Region Project, Mrs. Melesha Banhan, was pleased with the turnout during the three-day event and highlighted the importance of public participation along with international stakeholders in knowledge-sharing sessions and cultural exchanges.

“It is reassuring to see the number of people that have shown an interest in protecting genetic resources. It is important they know there is a protocol in place and an agreement in place that protects the traditional knowledge of the people.”

Banhan added,

“In the Caribbean we have always looked at the over exploitation of resources, but this is one of those areas that also has under exploitation. If we explore how we can sustainably manage these resources, how we can have partnerships with international organisations; research facilities; pharmaceutical companies; and cosmetic companies, we can build on our legacy and benefit economically from this in a sustainable way.”

“I think that ABS, accessing genetic resources and sharing in the benefits that are derived from them, can be a new way of looking at economic viability for the countries.”

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