‘Aopo village in Savai’i, Samoa, is one step closer to securing fair access and benefit sharing of the community’s genetic resources.
Access and Benefit Sharing, also known as ABS, refers to the way in which genetic resources may be accessed, and how the benefits that result from their use are shared between the people or countries using the resources and the people or countries that provide them. For example, if a pharmaceutical company develops a medicine that uses the genetic resources from plants or animals owned by a Pacific community then the benefits made from this medicine will be shared with the community once they have agreed to the use of those resources.
The Nagoya Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global agreement, was adopted in 2010 to ensure that communities and people across the planet have ABS legislation and other implementation mechanisms in place to protect the rights of genetic resource owners. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is currently implementing a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded Regional ABS Project to help Pacific island Members to ratify the Nagoya Protocol to properly manage use of their genetic resources. UNDP is also implementing a GEF Global ABS Project in Samoa.
‘Aopo village chief councillors met in March this year with the Samoa UNDP-GEF Global ABS Project and the SPREP Regional GEF ABS Project to present a draft ‘Aopo Community Biocultural Protocol for the village council’s review and feedback.
"The Nagoya protocol, which Samoa ratified in October 2014, is helping communities to address inequalities in bargaining power – the power of influence parties have over one another. If both parties are on an equal footing in a debate, then they will have equal bargaining power, ensuring indigenous and local communities are not taken advantage of,” said Ms ‘Ofa Kaisamy, Legal Adviser of the ABS Project at SPREP.
“We are excited to be able to support the ‘Aopo Community, as well as Samoa, in ensuring their natural resources and traditional knowledge are protected and used in a way that can benefit everyone."
Biocultural Community Protocols set out clear terms and conditions for governments and non-profit sectors in how to engage with Indigenous and Local Communities (ILCs) in order to access local genetic resources and knowledge, while also ensuring the protection of ILCs and their resources.
The ‘Aopo Community Biocultural Protocol sets out to protect the rights of the ‘Aopo community over their genetic resources and traditional knowledge, in accordance with the Village Fono Act, Customary Laws and Practices 1990.
Through this law, the village chief councillors have the power to use customary laws and practices to enforce laws according to customs, such as the ‘Aopo Biocultural Community Protocol, to ensure the protection of ‘Aopo’s cultural heritage, customs, belief, traditional knowledge and practices.
The ‘Aopo Community Protocol is one of the two biocultural protocols in Samoa that can be used as a model for developing effective community protocols for communities and Pacific island countries on how to appropriately access genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and how to ensure benefits are equitably shared.
The Protocol is being embedded in the traditional values, ethical norms, customary uses, and cultural and spiritual practices associated with the biocultural resources of the ‘Aopo Community. It still under review by the ‘Aopo village chief councillors and Samoa UNDP-GEF Global ABS Project, with assistance from the SPREP Regional ABS Project.
The SPREP Regional ABS Project is a three-year project providing a foundation for further equality-driven access and benefit sharing of Pacific resources. The project is funded by the Global Environment Facility, implemented by the United Nations Environment Program, and executed by SPREP in collaboration with key partners and Pacific governments.
The objective of the SPREP Regional ABS Project is to support Pacific Island countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol and to implement key measures to make the Protocol operational in this region. The project will empower Pacific island countries to facilitate access to their genetic resources and secure benefit-sharing in a fair and equitable way in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol.