Botswana was urged to recognise and realise the value of the abundant genetic resources that it is endowed with.
This was echoed during the inception workshop held last week Wednesday by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). The workshop was intended to strengthen human resources, legal frameworks and institutional capacities to implement the Nagoya Protocol which President Ian Khama committed to in 2010 but is yet to be actualised.
The discussions sought to establish the extent to which the country has genetic resources, who they rightfully belong to? Who has access to them? and how they are currently being utilised. “In order to provide guidelines to answering these questions UNDP and DEA starting today are rolling out a programme over the next three years to help Botswana set up the legal framework to protect the country’s genetic resources. This will prevent exploitation of the said resources especially by outsiders,” said UNDP Resident Representative Jacinta Barrins. She further said the legal framework will support the long overdue implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. “The protocol seeks to ensure access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation. It is premised on the Convention on Biological Diversity,” she continued. She said government should be mindful that genetic resources ought to improve the livelihoods of communities in which they grow by roping in both monetary and non monetary benefits. “Monetary in the form of royalty payments and joint ownership of intellectual property, non monetary in the form of research development, training and education as well as transfer of technology,” she said. Barrins said it is therefore important for Botswana to be able to write international agreements with clauses that will protect her genetic resources which should be top priority in the implementation process.
For his part Deputy Permanent Secretary at DEA Thabang Botshoma said it is his department’s responsibility to ensure the sustainable use of genetic resources to create jobs and improve the livelihoods of communities. “We are currently struggling in this area and our success depends on the successful implementation of the Nagoya protocol. Today is the beginning of the worthwhile journey,” said Batshoma. He expressed that the implementation will seek to protect indigenous traditional knowledge which he said has been very difficult. “It will create a guide for the recognition, understanding, integration and promotion of Botswana’s wealth of indigenous knowledge resources. One of the areas of action identified by the programme is the protection of indigenous knowledge, and the holders of such knowledge, against exploitation. This will also include ensuring that communities receive fair and sustained recognition and, where appropriate, financial remuneration for the use of this knowledge. Sadly the bearers of such knowledge like traditional doctors and herbalists are being exploited, I am really looking forward to putting a stop to this,” he said.
Countries have the sovereign right to exploit their own resources, including the right to control and limit access to them. Increasingly, countries regulate access to their genetic resources and impose benefit-sharing obligations on the users of these resources. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Food Agriculture Organisation International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Nagoya Protocol, which is a supplementary agreement to the CBD, address the issue of access and benefit-sharing in varying degrees of detail.