Marine biodiversity potential is still largely untapped. Photo: UNDP Madagascar

Biodiversity is much more than a list of species of microbes, fauna and flora, it is the colourful image we have of our landscapes, the inspiration for our spiritual and cultural heritage, the cornerstone of functioning ecosystems that provide the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, the saviour that protect us from floods and landslides.

If you zoom-in on genetic or biochemical composition, biodiversity also becomes a source of innovation for medical breakthroughs or biotech products, saving people’s lives while fostering economies and sustaining livelihoods. 

This still largely untapped potential is now taken into account in an increasing number of development strategies, making an even stronger case for an Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) regime under the Nagoya Protocol. Rooted and anchored in the 2030 development agenda, the regime boosts countries’ research capabilities, stimulates biodiscovery partnerships with biotech companies, creates jobs and fosters economic growth while preserving natural assets. This is the case of Rwanda’s 2050 vision which recognizes biotechnology among those technological innovations that will increase productivity and competitiveness while providing jobs, and of in Seychelles’ blue economy strategic roadmap, where innovation and technology in the areas of biotechnology and genetics were identified as critical drivers of sustainable growth.

So, could genetic resources be a new currency for sustainable development, help preserve countries’ unique natural resources and create additional revenues to lift people out of poverty? 

This is exactly what we are trying to achieve by supporting more than 40 countries to harness the untapped potential of their genetic resources. This includes the UNDP-GEF Global ABS project which supports 24 countries to build trust between users and providers of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

First evidence from a growing number of countries shows that through the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, promising contributions were made towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal numbers 1, 2, 8, 9 13 and obviously 15.

In Colombia (PDF), the Jagua fruit is used to produce a natural blue dye that could be used in food and beverages, cosmetics and personal care industries. While monetary benefits are derived from supply agreements between communities and marketers, additional benefits are now being generated through the genetic resource access agreement between Ecoflora Cares and the Colombian state.

In Bhutan, pilot partnerships were initiated to prototype products for domestic and international markets based on low altitude medicinal plants.

In Mexico, an R&D project will explore potential cosmetic applications of traditional plants to guarantee a fair supply chain for those found to have cosmetic uses.

In Cameroon, after Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT) to explore the potential utilizations of Echinops giganteus roots in the flavor and fragrance sectors, efforts are now ongoing to conclude an ABS agreement for the utilization of Mondia whitei. 

In the islands of Comoros, where Ylang-Ylang, vanilla and cloves account for 80 % of the exports and employ 45 % of the workforce, the true potential of the archipelago’s biodiversity is still mostly untapped, especially its marine resources.

Similar bio-discovery agreements are being explored with a number of partners specialized in natural products based on the country’s iconic biodiversity. Follow us on this journey as we endeavour to build trust and balance between users and providers to develop products derived from genetic resources and its associated traditional knowledge.

About the author
Fouad Bergigui is Regional Project Specialist (Africa), UNDP-GEF Global ABS Project. Follow him on Twitter: @Jbalrif

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