Regions want traditional authorities consulted on ABS and TK issues

Namibia's Bill on Access to Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge should make sure that for anyone seeking access to traditional knowledge related to genetic resources (in rural areas) should get permission to the traditional area of the chief of that area.
This is one of the views that came out of six regional consultation workshops on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) held for all 13 regions held since March this year.
The results of what came out of these gatherings was presented at the last national consultative workshop on ABS and the Draft Bill on ABS, held in Windhoek on Wednesday last week.
Presenting the results, Aina Kambala, said communities wants the law to makes make provision that benefit sharing measures shall be included in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to be endorsed by the Competent National Authorities (CAN) and traditional authorities.
Owners of land in communal areas in which Genetic Resources (GR) and Traditional Knowledge (TK) is found, should get a fair percentage of any benefits and that a trust must be developed to promote and make benefit sharing accessible to communities as well.
Kambala said it was also raised that the bill must make provision to protect intellectual property right rights (whether documented or not) and that there should be patent registration on TK and GR where appropriate.
State, said the communities, should ensure through the law that local communities have the right to exercise their inalienable right to access, use change or genetic resources.
The presentations results focused on ABS, Genetic Resources and Intellectual Property Rights, Capacity Building, Awareness Raising, Institutional Arrangement and Compliance Measures.
Communities have further called on the State to support communities in negotiating ABS agreements, support communities to develop their own bio-cultural protocols to regulate access, sensitize communities on ABS issues on TK with particular focus on the value of natural resources and the need for sustainable use.
Communities also want the ABS bill to be translated in local language and that there should also be a version of the lay man.
An ABS help desk accessible to indigenous and local communities, to provide information such as advice on prices, standards condition and industry standards) should also established.
For years, big pharmaceutical companies from the developed world have been unethically and illegally taking away Africa's genetic resources and their related traditional knowledge use (to make medicine out of them), without any benefits to communities in which these resources were taken from.
These companies will then claim ownership of the medicinal power found in such a genetic resources, without making any reference to the traditional knowledge towards the use of such genetic resources.
At the 10th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity held last October on Nagoya, Japan, Parties adopted the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS), that allow rural people to get access and equitably derives benefits from genetic resources found in their natural environments.
This is an effort towards achieving the Convention's third objective that calls for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.
Biodiversity is defined as the variability among living organisms from all sources, including land ecosystems and aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part and this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.
At the moment, Namibia is busy drafting a Bill on Access to Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge.
In the absent of the law, over the years, access to genetic resources and the benefit sharing in Namibia has been regulated by the Interim Bio-Prospecting Committee (IBPC), established by cabinet in 2007 and the first Bill on Access to Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge was developed in 1998.
However, the bill was found to be too narrow in scope given the evolving international negotiations around ABS. As result, it was agreed that to take a more pro-active approach. Since then, the bill has undergone several substantial changes.
The Nagoya Protocol, has brought about international consensus around ABS issues, regarding definitions, concepts and definitions that give effect to Article 15 of CDB that recognizes the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources that the authority to determine access to genetic resources, rests with the national governments and is subject to national legislation.
Namibia is an active Party to the UNCBD and has so far submitted four National Communications to the Convention.
Although a dry country, Namibia is rich in biodiversity and some its plant species such as Hoodia goordonii and Devil's Claws are of medicinal value, making them potentially interesting to the world pharmaceutical companies. In her speech delivered by her Deputy Uahekua Herunga, Environment and Tourism Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said the ABS Bill was key part of her Ministry’s ongoing attempts to reform and draft new environmental legislation, which seeks to service the needs of communities and contribute to the sustainable development of the country.
She said during the course of the regional consultations, her staff heard about well-known experiences with natural resources such as Hoodia, Devil's Claw, !Nara melons and marura fruits, but also of so many other plant an resources that offers so much potential.
“From traditional tooth-brushes to natural bubble gum trees in Caprivi to crushed egg remedies for children’s diseases such as colic, it is really remarkable, the resources and knowledge we have within our communities, she said.
She said while ABS offers existing opportunities to fill in some of the missing links for us to develop these resources through technology transfer, value addition and capacity building, it is us, the Namibian people, who first need to change our mindset and attitudes.
Chief Seth Koitjie of the Topnaar community said the ABS Bill was has been long awaited by various traditional communities in Namibia.
Our people have suffered for so long from exploitation in terms of simply granting access to our resources and knowledge while receiving so few benefits, he said.
He called on the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to involve traditional leaders in giving inputs into the regulations and implementation of the bill.
Giving an introduction to ABS, Kauna Schroder, the National Co-ordinator of the Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Management project in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, explained that ABS refers to the way in which genetic resources may be accessed and how the benefits that results from their use are shared between the people or communities using the resources (users) and the people or communities that provide them (producers).
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has announced that agreements have been made for Minister of Foreign Affairs, Utoni Nujoma, to sign the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity on 20 September 2011, in New York.