ABS: A brief introduction

The term Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) was first introduced in the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) and was later addressed in greater detail under the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol. The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation was adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at its 10th meeting in 2010, and entered into force on the 12th October 2014, 90 days after the 50th instrument of ratification.  It addresses the third objective of the CBD on the ‘fair and equitable  sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies’.  This third objective can only be successfully achieved if it is consistent with the first two objectives on conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components.

The Nagoya Protocol not only applies to genetic resources but also to the use of traditional knowledge associated with these resources.  The creation of greater transparency and legal certainty between users and providers of genetic resources is a fundamental objective of the Nagoya Protocol and it is achieved by establishing more predictable access conditions, while ensuing the benefits associated with the genetic resources are equitably shared.

For further details on the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol, please see the CBD’s website.

Who is who in the ABS context?

Understanding who is who is the ABS context and their roles and responsibilities, is crucial to successful implementation of the Protocol.

Providers of genetic resources:  Provider country, harvester / producer groups, local indigenous communities and traditional knowledge holders.

Users of genetic resources:  Academic institutions/universities, independent research institutes, botanic gardens and industry/private companies working in sectors such as cosmetic, pharmaceutical, functional food & beverage, agriculture and biotechnology among others.

Regulators:  National government departments putting in place national legislation for the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol.  Where a country is not party to the Protocol, there may still be relevant regulations.

The Nagoya Protocol and associated national legislation aim to provide clarity and legal certainty for the providers and users of the genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.  With the establishment of Prior Informed Consent (PIC), Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT) and benefit sharing agreements between providers and users, obligations of the different stakeholders are clarified in a legal context, often in the form of a signed contract.  Benefits can come in various forms and can be both monetary and non-monetary. Non-monetary benefits provide opportunities for transfer of technology, capacity building and sharing of research results, while monetary benefits may arise from the commercial sales of the developed product.

Relevance to PhytoTrade Africa, members, partners and associated stakeholders

Operating in the natural products sector, including active cosmetic ingredients and functional foods, PhytoTrade’s members, partners and industry collaborators are directly impacted by the implications of the Nagoya Protocol.  Industry and consumer interest in natural ingredients that are shown to be safe and efficacious (backed by science) continues to grow and the value chains that PhytoTrade members are operating in are well placed to meet these demands. Southern Africa is a hotspot of biodiversity with many new and innovative raw materials to offer to industry.  With strong ABS best practices and compliance measures in place, true benefits can be shared with those communities providing the materials and/or the traditional knowledge, simultaneously bringing enhanced conservation and protection efforts.

The Nagoya Protocol was not intended to regulate ingredients and products considered as ‘biotrade’, where there is no new research or new uses developed.  However, the line between biotrade and bioprospecting is not always clear and is depended on the view points of national regulators and the relevant regulations.  As such, PhytoTrade takes a best practice approach to ensure compliance is achieved throughout all value chains, encouraging members to operate at the highest standard possible.

How can PhytoTrade support compliance and best practices along the value chain?

PhytoTrade understands that users and providers have different needs in relation to ABS requirements.  To enable a successful and long-term relationship these needs must meet.  Key providers requirements include;

  • Reliable and transparent R&D partners
  • The opportunity to add more value, develop skills and enhance capacity
  • Market access and good commercial partners
  • Business growth and development

In turn, users of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge are looking for assurances of;

  • Legal certainty
  • Robust and transparent supply chains
  • Access to novel and innovative materials and products
  • Consistent high quality of materials
  • Reliable partners for commercialisation processes
  • Creation of realistic expectations around product and market

PhytoTrade Africa’s role in implementing ABS best practices stretches the full length of the value chain, bringing these needs together, from producers and members as the ‘providers’ through to industry as ‘users’ of the biological resource.  This complete vision of the value chain and direct links with regulators and key stakeholders enables PhytoTrade to offer a complete spectrum of services. Examples of these services available from PhytoTrade’s team of experts include:

  • Facilitation of dialogue between relevant stakeholders
  • Negotiate strong and realistic contracts including PIC, MAT and benefit sharing agreements
  • Assist users in navigating provider requirements
  • Assist providers and local SMEs in Africa to set in place clear and equitable agreements with industry
  • Facilitate research with relevant institutions
  • Support local SMEs to develop supply chains and gain market insight
  • Facilitate benefit sharing such as the transfer of technology and value addition steps in provider country
  • Assist in the design of projects which contribute to National Development Plans and long-term industrial development visions.

For further information about our services in relation to ABS and to understand its relevance to you, please contact us on [email protected].

Supporters of PhytoTrade’s ABS activities

It is with thanks to those supporting and partnering with PhytoTrade that these services can be offered.  We are currently supported by, and working in partnership with, AFD (French Agency of Development), FFEM (the French Global Environment Facility), IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development, GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) and SECO (Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs). If you are interested in working with us on ABS issues, please contact us.