A pilot to improve genetic resources traceability through blockchain technology launched by the UNDP GEF Global ABS Project

A pilot to improve genetic resources traceability through blockchain technology launched by the UNDP GEF Global ABS Project

24 Feb 2021

Photo: Pete Linforth on Pixabay.

The UNDP-GEF Global ABS Project initiated the design of a pilot project to develop the application of blockchain technology and smart contracts to improve the traceability of the utilization of genetic resources and traditional knowledge around the world, through a system that involves the entire ABS value chains, from the providers of the genetic resources to the final users.

To carry out the ambitious design of this pilot project, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), after a competitive process, has partnered with PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC) Turkey and PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC) India to build in three and a half months period, the methodology and guidelines to implement the Nagoya Protocol utilizing traceability and benefit-sharing through blockchain technology.

The final aim is to improve transparency in the transfer and exchange of genetic resources and facilitate the sharing of the benefits derived from their utilization with provider countries and local communities, thus, contributing to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

A key element of this design phase will be the consultation and involvement of all the different ABS right holders and stakeholders and the mobilization of private sector investment into the implementation of the pilot project.

The research, development and implementation of the project is being conducted in India, one of the most biodiverse countries of the planet and one of the strongest countries in the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol – it has shown the highest number of certificates of compliance -also part of the UNDP-GEF Global ABS Project.

Since its entry into force ten years ago, the Nagoya Protocol – the agreement under the Convention on Biological Diversity that promotes the legal access to genetic resources and the fair share of benefits arising from its use-, has faced many challenges. The number of genetic resources legally accessed around the world is still very limited and even more limited is the number of utilized genetic resources that share benefits with the provider countries and local communities.

One of the key impediments in the broader realization of the Nagoya Protocol is the issue of traceability of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, both non-tangible and quasi non-tangible resources. Regardless current mechanisms to share information and control the use of genetic resources, it has been difficult to enhance transparency and to monitor and trace the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, recognized as an important entry point to scientific research.

“Blockchain technology, provided that it is structured in the proper way, has the potential to create a level playing field between countries, companies, research institutes, and indigenous peoples, because of the anonymity and easy accessibility”.

Alejandro Lago, Manager of the UNDP-GEF Global ABS Project.

“If the model provided by this pilot proves to be successful, it could be extensively implemented, helping to move ABS from exceptional cases to its daily application, ensuring a regular and more predictable flow of benefits back to the provider countries, including a direct flow to the main custodians of biodiversity, the indigenous peoples and local communities”, adds Alejandro Lago. 

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