Big step for bio­cul­tural rights

The Nagoya Pro­to­col pro­motes com­mu­nity stew­ard­ship of ge­netic re­sources. In­dia needs to foster this

Down to Earth - - COLUMN - LATHA JISHNU

AS THE 12th meet­ing of the Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties to the Con­ven­tion on Biological Di­ver­sity (cbd) got un­der way in Pyeongchang in the Repub­lic of Korea it had a mo­men­tous achieve­ment to cel­e­brate.cbd’s top decision-mak­ing body kicked off its meet­ing on Oc­to­ber 6,just days ahead of the Nagoya Pro­to­col com­ing into force on Oc­to­ber 12.

This pro­to­col was agreed upon by cbd mem­bers in the Ja­panese city of Nagoya in 2010, and it has taken all of four years for it to be rat­i­fied by the re­quired num­ber of mem­bers be­fore it could be­come op­er­a­tional. The Nagoya Pro­to­col on Ac­cess to Ge­netic Re­sources and the Fair and Eq­ui­table Shar­ing of Ben­e­fits Aris­ing from their Util­i­sa­tion— to give its full and self-ex­plana­tory ti­tle—comes none too soon. The world is grap­pling with a deep­en­ing cri­sis of bio­di­ver­sity loss. Forests are be­ing plun­dered for their nat­u­ral re­sources, habi­tats of en­dan­gered species of flora and fauna are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure, wet­lands make way for ur­ban set­tle­ments and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are ousted from their age-old set­tle­ments. Cou­pled with all this is the ris­ing in­stances of biopiracy of ge­netic re­sources. Biopiracy is the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of bio-re­sources and tra­di­tional knowl­edge by com­pa­nies or in­sti­tu­tions that use it to man­u­fac­ture prod­ucts which are then mar­keted with pro­tec­tion of the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights (iprs) of the usurpers.

Ad­mit­tedly, the Nagoya Pro­to­col is not the per­fect bul­wark against th­ese depre­da­tions. For one, it fails to pro­vide clear text on how the cbd should deal with in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and biopiracy al­low­ing de­vel­oped coun­tries to raise ob­jec­tions in other fo­rums such as wipo about mea­sures call­ing for the dis­clo­sure of ori­gin of ge­netic re­sources.

Yet, the Nagoya Pro­to­col is quite a tri­umph in the con­tin­u­ing strug­gle of in­dige­nous peo­ples and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to as­sert their rights over nat­u­ral re­sources since it en­joins mem­bers to “take into con­sid­er­a­tion in­dige­nous and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties’ cus­tom­ary laws, com­mu­nity pro­to­cols and pro­ce­dures … with re­spect to tra­di­tional knowl­edge as­so­ci­ated with ge­netic re­sources.”

Africa is show­ing the way in a spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion— and In­dia needs to learn from the trend­set­ting ex­per­i­ments that are un­der way there. One ex­am­ple: In June this year, around 6,700 Khoe peo­ple who live in Namibia’s Bwab­wata Na­tional Park and in the Ka­vango and Zam­bezi re­gions, came to­gether to de­velop a bio­cul­tural com­mu­nity pro­to­col of the Khoe com­mu­nity who are pri­mar­ily hunter-gath­er­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Namib­ian, the Khoe de­vel­oped the pro­to­col with the help of the Namib­ian Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and Tourism and Nat­u­ral Jus­tice, an in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tive of en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyers.

The pro­to­col, says San­jay Kabir Bavikatte, co-founder of Nat­u­ral Jus­tice who has rep­re­sented in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in their strug­gle to se­cure their rights to their ways of life and ter­ri­to­ries, seeks to “ar­tic­u­late the Khoe’s val­ues, pri­or­i­ties, and pro­ce­dures for decision-mak­ing around their re­sources, as well as set out their rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der cus­tom­ary, state and in­ter­na­tional law.” The pro­to­col will be the ba­sis for deal­ing with gov­ern­ment, com­pa­nies, aca­demics, and ngos who want to use the tra­di­tional and ge­netic re­sources of the Khoe for re­search, com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion and con­ser­va­tion.

In In­dia, on the other hand, the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment is seek­ing to wa­ter down the For­est Rights Act to take away what­ever lit­tle com­mu­nity rights it con­fers on the for­est dwellers. Modi and his Min­is­ter for En­vi­ron­ment and Forests should look to­wards Africa to learn a thing or two about em­pow­er­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. That is as­sum­ing they care at all for such con­cepts.

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