The UK signed up to show it’s support for the The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing yesterday (25 June 2011). Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, added her signature to that of 11 other European countries who signed yesterday. In total 36 countries have now signed leaving only 14 signatures required for the international treaty to be ratified.
On signing the agreement Spelman said: “This agreement heralds a better deal for developing countries blessed with rich ecosystems and could pave the way for exciting, new medicinal and genetic innovations. We fought hard for a fair deal at Nagoya and we’ll shortly outline how to meet our international commitments at home through the England Biodiversity Strategy.”
The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing is an attempt to ensure that countries – particularly developing countries – who still have a wide range of biodiversity get a fair share of the profits from products that use genetic material of their natural resources. The Protocol is opened for signatories until 1st February 2012 but it is thought that it will be ratified long before the closure of the deadline for signing up.
Nagoya Protocol offers benefits for both sides.
The Nagoya Protocol benefits both developing and developed nations. The developing nations get access to a fairer share of the financial rewards of their natural resources and they also benefit from increased knowledge and technological transfer. The developed nations in return get access to the genetic material of the developing nations territories. [pullquote]This agreement heralds a better deal for developing countries blessed with rich ecosystems and could pave the way for exciting, new medicinal and genetic innovations.[/pullquote]
Health and medicines are the two most obvious things that comes to mind where natural resources are concerned. New drugs are certainly the most high profile aspect of ‘bio prospecting’ . Tropical plants and animals have played a major role in helping to combat some of our most debilitating and deadly diseases. This is going to become much more important in the future so an agreement that benefits both developing nations and big corporations is urgently needed.
Rewarding local communities for their natural resources.
One country that is set to reap the benefits of the Nagoya Protocol is Namibia. It has a number of plants that can greatly improve the quality of lives of people in the developed world.
- hoodia – as obesity gets ever more prevalent in developed countries such as the UK, researchers are looking at this plant as a way to suppress the appetite of obese people. Health companies already promote it as a dietary aid. If researchers can develop a drug from this plant, which has been used for centuries by local people, then it could become a major source of income for the country.
- devil’s claw – as the population ages so disease associated with older bodies start to become much more widespread. The devil’s claw plant is providing relief to thousands of people suffering from arthritis. Allowing local communities to benefit from plants such as devil’s claw will help encourage a wise and sustainable use of the local ecosystem.
Finding new genetic resources to boost farming.
It’s not just the medical properties of resources in developing nations that provides value and potential income to governments and communities. The planet’s climate is changing and with that comes the need to develop food crops (pdf) which will withstand changing rainfall patterns. There’s other pressures on farmers as well. With a greater population to support we need to produce more food for each hectare of land. Then there’s the increasing prices of petro-chemcials such as fertilisers and pesticides.
Palm oil has a bad reputation but is actually a very environmentally sound plant. Despite it’s association with the destruction of Asian forests and habitats the palm oil is a native of Africa. It’s one of the most productive food plants there is – producing five times more oil per hectare than any other oil bearing crop – and needs substantially less chemical care and fertilisers than any of the other major food crops.
Putting aside for a moment the impacts of where oil palm plantations are planted we need to be looking for other high yielding and low maintenance versions of crop plants. Increasing the productivity of our crops is the best way to reduce the amount of forest land encroached upon for farming. If we can find the genetic resources to boost crop productivity the impacts can be quite substantial.
It’s estimated that by 2020 the worlds demand for vegetable oil will increase by 28 million tonnes due to population growth and improving quality of lives. For that to be met with soy plantations an area equivalent to 42 million hectares of land would have to be found. Meeting the need though palm oil would use just 6.3 million hectares.
Sharing fairly the wealth of the natural world.
Being able to boost the productivity of crops while at the same time reducing their demand for artificial fertilizers and pesticides will require biotechnology advances and a substantial genetic bank on which to call. New disease need to be tackled and plants and other organisms provide the building block on which we build new cures and treatments. New industrial products such as adhesives are built around inspiration and foundations of natural organisms
It essential that those countries which have the genetic banks are rewarded adequately for ensuring that the resource is maintained for future generations. The Nagoya Protocol is a major step forward to ensuring fair treatment.