Samoa Takes the Lead in the Region in the Protection of Genetic Resources
26 Nov 2019
Apia, 22nd November 2019 – Samoa has become the first Pacific nation to implement a key safeguard to protect the legal use of genetic resources and traditional knowledge through its patent system. This step has been implemented as the country advances the development of broad laws to protect the use of Samoan genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.
Samoa is also the first country in the region to host its own National Access and Benefits Sharing Workshop under the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Programme Global Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) project, held on November 18th-20th 2019 at the Sheraton Hotel in Apia.
These are significant steps in the protection of Samoa’s genetic resources.
“Huge thanks and congratulations to the Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment (MNRE), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Scientific Research Organization of Samoa (SROS), and all relevant stakeholders for taking up such a mammoth task of protecting and securing Samoa’s genetic resources,” said Mr. Jorn Sorensen, UNDP’s Resident Representative during his opening remarks at the workshop.
“Samoa is known to have one of the most diverse flora in Polynesia thus making it a point of interest for research organizations and pharmaceutical companies. The ABS Tool can provide the Government with the means to protect these genetic resources of local communities.”
The Global ABS Project began in 2017 to assist 23 countries, including Samoa, to develop and strengthen their national ABS frameworks, human resources and administrative capabilities to implement the Nagoya Protocol, of which Samoa has been a Party to since 2014. While the Global Project will end in December 2020, the national implementations such as Samoa’s, are gradually coming to an end.
Organized by the Division of Conservation and Environment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE-DEC) the workshop, presented by the acting ACEO Mr. Alimuamua Setoa Apo, targeted a wide audience of experts and state actors as well as researchers from SROS, SPREP, NUS, the Samoan branch of the University of the South Pacific and development partners such as UNDP, FAO and UNESCO.
“The purpose of this workshop is to showcase and discuss the project accomplishments and priorities of Samoa on its conservation of biological diversity, its sustainable use, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits,” said Ms. Czarina Iese Stowers, Principal of Terrestrial Conservation Officer and also Project Coordinator, Division of Conservation and Environment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE-DEC).
Samoa’s flora consists of 500 species of native flowering plants and about 220 species of ferns, making it one of the most diverse flora in the Polynesia. Since the country became a party of the Nagoya Protocol of the Convention of Biodiversity, MNRE-DEC, implementing partner of this project, has been working with support from UNDP as the implementing Agency with funds from GEF to provide greater legal certainties, clarity and transparency for both providers and users of genetic resources.
“The implementation of the Nagoya Protocol will ensure that access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, comply and seek prior informed consent under mutual agreed terms supervised by the Government of Samoa,” said Mr Alejandro Lago, ABS Global Project Manager.
He added that “the workshop is an excellent venue to exchange experiences, best practices, and learnings on implementing the Global ABS Project in Samoa, as well as to present a relevant Samoan policy brief to MNRE’s CEO and ACEO for their consideration during the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC serving as the ‘meeting of the Parties’ to the Kyoto Protocol in 2020.”
Mr Anthony Foronda, Regional Technical Advisor, added that “this is a unique opportunity to bring together a team of national and international experts to provide mechanisms and share valuable inputs that are unique to the Samoan context” adding that “monetary or non-monetary benefits that may arise from the use of these genetic resources, has to be equally shared with the resource owner, or the local communities.”
The “Biocultural Community Protocols” prepared by Traditional Knowledge expert, Mr. Alphonse Kambu for the villages of Faleseela and Aopo are unique to each village and give them a great sense of pride in the ownership, adding that “Samoa possesses useful traditional knowledge that is already contributing positively to numerous sectors including agriculture, fisheries, healthcare or medicine and climate change and adaptation sectors” adding that is a positive step that MNRE is working with UNDP and other international and regional development partners to establish enabling environments and strengthen existing mechanisms to develop the potential of traditional knowledge and preserve it for use by future generations in Samoa.
Mr. Toleafoa Chris Brown, the IT expert that developed the ABS Clearing House database explained: “There is a challenge of monitoring and compliance with access permits to genetic resources and this database adds value to Samoa’s assets by providing a legal certainty on any export of species while safeguarding the wealth of Traditional Knowledge and associated genetic resources acquired by our ancestors for the well-being of future generations.”
Mr. Geoff Burton from the United Nations University in Australia, whose work focuses on biodiscovery, that is, the scientific research on the genetic or biochemical make-up of a plant, animal, fungus or microbe with the purpose of developing a product or process that has commercial or other value hopes that “our work can lead to the discovery and commercialization of new products or processes in the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, cosmetic, agricultural or other sectors.”
Through this project’s available resources and valuable support from key implementing partners, UNDP is helping to propel Samoa towards successfully implementing the Nagoya Protocol on ABS, which supports the priorities of the country and local communities.
UNDP’s comparative advantage lies in its global network of country offices, its experience in integrated policy development, human resources development, institutional strengthening, and non-governmental and community participation. UNDP assists countries in designing and implementing activities consistent with both the GEF mandate and national sustainable development plans, the perfect combination to integrate ABS as a key instrument for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
UNDP is working with governments and stakeholders in developing countries that already have a policy framework in place for ABS to facilitate ethical biodiscovery projects between users and providers of genetic resources. In this context, UNDP is also supporting indigenous and local communities in the development of payment and benefit-sharing mechanisms and bio-cultural community protocols. UNDP’s mandate on ABS is underscored by UNDP’s Biodiversity and Ecosystems Global Framework (2012-2020) and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
For further information, please contact:
Ms. Czarina Iese Stowers, Principal of Terrestrial Conservation Officer, Coordinator, Division of Conservation and Environment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE-DEC).
Ms. Jeffery Leung Wai, Programme Analyst – Environment and Climate Change Unit, United Nations Development Programme
About the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in more than 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.