The following is a Q & A series on SPREP Staff. In this series, we will be introducing you to members of our SPREP team, giving you the chance to learn more about what we do.
Mr Rahul Arvind Chand, Capacity Building Officer of the Global Environment Facility funded and UN Environment Programme implemented Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Project at SPREP. The ABS project is a three-year project that supports Pacific islands in ratifying and meeting the commitments of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Nagoya Protocol is an international agreement which aims at the equitable sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.
The ABS project conducts scoping studies to identify any gaps in existing laws and regulations at the national level, undertakes analyses of implications of ratification, public awareness of the Protocol, facilitation of workshops targeting parliamentarians and other decision-makers, and increasing understanding of the importance of genetic resources as a source of innovation or driver for benefit-sharing in the national economies of 14 Pacific island countries.
The project has three full time staff, who support project activities including the drafting of national laws, regulations and policy frameworks, as well as other important documentation required for ratification of the Protocol.
Q: What is an environmental challenge that you work to address?
A: Limited capacities and knowledge on the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol which supports the third objective of the Convention of Biological Diversity. During national consultations and capacity building workshops, we have informally been shared many examples of cases regarding misappropriation of biological resources, biopiracy and illegal access to genetic resources and lacking abilities to implementing measures for stopping such issues. Examples include misuse of kava, herbal medicines and traditional preparation methods being taken out of the region without the process of prior informed consent by the owners of these resources.
Q: How do you work with our Members to address this?
A: This is multifold. We remotely hold meetings using technologies such as Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams and emails to touch base with countries. Besides this we have also conducted face to face meetings, workshops, and special briefing sessions in all the 14 countries, consulting country stakeholders as part of networking and strengthening national implementation. We have also developed an online portal to provide technical assistance and facilitate requests using the ABS Roster of Experts, which is made through the dedicated ABS page on the SPREP website. Using the baseline information on ABS implementation in all the countries that we collected during the early phase of project implementation, we have developed specialized training and capacity building workshops and continue to identify critical areas where we can provide support to each member country. Furthermore, we work with national focal points of each country to develop communication and awareness materials usually translated in local languages.
Q: What are your three biggest achievements with SPREP for our Members?
A: The biggest achievements to date are ratification to the Nagoya Protocol from countries within the region. Once a country ratifies the Nagoya Protocol it means that they have taken the legal obligations to fulfil its commitment under international law and to implement the provisions of the Protocol for access and benefit sharing. Ratification of the Protocol is also an indication of the impact of the ongoing support and capacity building on ABS matters to convince Pacific island countries (PICs) on the importance of ABS and its implementation in the region.
Our collaboration with technical experts to develop specialized training for PICs is another milestone for us. Since the project began in 2017 we have undertaken three specific tailor made trainings for the Pacific with collaboration from training agencies such as the International Law Development Organization (IDLO), ABS Initiative, University of New South Wales and Secretariat of the Convention of Biological Diversity.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I am currently preparing a webinar for the Pacific island countries on biodiscovery in the Pacific which will be a precursor to a workshop to be held in Australia later this year. The webinar is a solution based on the current situation facing the world with COVID 19 crisis. Apart from this I am looking at each country and preparing a special report on capacity building needs and challenges from the baseline information we have been collecting since the project began in 2017. This report will be very useful for resource mobilization post 2020. I am also developing communication materials and awareness materials for the countries especially those that can be translated for each member country into its local language.
Q: What are one or two of your highlights from working at SPREP?
A: My biggest highlight working for SPREP was being nominated by the Government of Tuvalu to the Informal Advisory Committee of the Capacity Building on the Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. Tuvalu is a small island country with very limited resources to implement Nagoya Protocol and since they had ratified the Protocol in 2018, they were keen to participate in the committee and nominated me to help them further. My nomination meant that I represented Tuvalu but had the opportunity to raise issues of the Pacific. I was elected Chair of the Committee, which gave the Pacific a further advantage in Post-2020 consultations on capacity building.
Q: Where have you seen your work make a positive difference?
A: Our work has had a lot of impact with government ministries especially those who manage natural resources and traditional affairs. Many are proactively collaborating and taking measures to protect their natural resources and traditional knowledge from misappropriation and biopiracy. We have seen how governments are now implementing fair and equitable ways to seek compensation for the use of biological resources and traditional knowledge and adopt various monitoring mechanisms. Working closely with the ABS Legal Advisor, we have developed drafting instructions and policies (including legislation) for some countries on Access and Benefit Sharing that outlines the processes for access to genetic resources, compensation and other critical areas in benefit sharing.
The positive difference therefore at the end of the day is on the lives of our Pacific people, the community at large and in particular, indigenous communities.
Q: What words of advice do you have for people to make our environment a better one?
A: If we have good legislation and enforcement, we can protect our natural resources and environment. If we conserve our natural environment we will continue to be blessed with diverse forms of flora and fauna around us. Healthy environment and flourishing biodiversity can help remove poverty by helping to create livelihoods for our people in the Pacific. The Access and Benefit Sharing model acts as an incentive for conservation. If we conserve our resources, we will have much more for future generations to use and be able to seek financial benefits from its sustainable use in the future.
Q: What words of advice do you have for people that would like to work at SPREP?
A: The organization is a great employer and you feel very privileged to be working for SPREP. However, there are many responsibilities and challenges while working for SPREP. One does not only need a qualification and experience but the passion and interest to save the environment to enjoy the work we are doing. It requires us to be role models and to practice what we preach such as plastic-free environment, waste management, energy consumption, biodiversity conservation. All these are not just part of our work but have to become part of our life-long journey. Anyone who wishes to work in the area of Access and Benefit Sharing must have the interest of indigenous people, local communities and scientific communities who undertake research and understand government process to be successful.