Seed World

Biodiversity Summit Could Bring Change

An adoption of the instrument on access and benefit-sharing could change how the seed industry does business.

Attending the United Nations’ biodiversity summit in Japan may not be on your fall agenda, but the decisions arising from these meetings may seriously affect how agriculture, in general, and the seed industry, in particular, conducts business.

Ten thousand participants are expected to attend the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the Convention on Biological Diversity from October 18 to 29 in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. These meetings could end the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity with a fizzle or a bang: the parties would like to wrap up the summit with an adoption of an instrument on access and benefit-sharing—a legally binding protocol to ensure fair and equitable access to, and sharing of, the benefits arising from the world’s genetic resources thus promoting biodiversity conservation. But the proposed ABS protocol is nothing if not controversial, and the hopes of the parties to adopt the draft protocol text at the historic summit may be thwarted.

Still the CBD is optimistic: “While much remains to be done, we are more confident than ever that the ABS protocol will be adopted in Nagoya next October,” stated a press release after intense negotiations on a draft text in Montreal in July. Meanwhile, seed industry experts following the negotiations are less confident of an agreement due to serious gaps that need to be bridged between negotiating parties before the protocol is adopted.

“At this point, the parties remain far apart in negotiations. In Montreal this past July we did not see agreement on the negotiations, so it is unlikely there will be a conclusion in Nagoya,” says Denise Dewar, executive director of plant biotechnology at CropLife International. “However, with each discussion there continues to be the building of knowledge, understanding and awareness, which is critical to moving towards an agreement.”

The Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into force in 1993, is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits from utilization of genetic resources. The Conference of the Parties is the governing body of the CBD and typically meets every two years. With 193 parties, the CBD has near universal participation among countries committed to preserving life on Earth.

In 2002, at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, world leaders agreed on the need for an international regime on access and benefit-sharing. Since then, the Working Group on ABS has been negotiating and preparing the text of a legally binding protocol on access to, and sharing of, the benefits from genetic resources.

According to the CBD, access and benefit-sharing refers to the way in which genetic resources may be accessed, and how the benefits that result from their use are shared between the people or countries using the resources and the people or countries that provide them. ABS is based on prior informed consent being granted by a provider to a user and negotiations between both parties to develop mutually agreed terms.

Agriculture relies heavily on genetic resources and Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the CBD, recognizes the importance of such material to the industry as well as the need for access.

“New genetic resources are one of the main engines of innovation in both the agricultural industry at large and the seed industry, in particular. Hence, increasing the efficiency of access and processing when it comes to genetic resources would significantly benefit these industries—and it is just such benefits that the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing is expected to provide,” says Djoghlaf.

Referring to the 2009 report for policymakers entitled, “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity,” under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Economy Initiative, Djoghlaf points out the value of genetic resources is currently being dampened by the high costs and long time lags involved in the development and commercialization of final goods and is also being affected by the inefficiencies in systems for accessing and using genetic resources.

The report explains that the protocol on ABS would likely improve this situation by facilitating capacity-building and the transfer of resources to improve efficiency in genetic resource management, says Djoghlaf. “The protocol will contribute to the establishment of clear regulatory frameworks for access to genetic resources and will provide incentives for countries and holders of such resources to facilitate access to their genetic resources in exchange for a fair share of the benefits arising out of their utilization,” he says. “The benefits may include the sharing of the results of research, the training of local scientists and technology transfer, which will contribute to development of capacity in the provider countries and provide incentives for the conservation of biodiversity.”

[readon1 url=”index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=45&Itemid=112″]To read more please subscribe.[/readon1]