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.
Ms ‘Ofa Ma’asi-Kaisamy is the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Project Legal Adviser at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
‘Ofa works in a team of three to undertake this project at SPREP with support from the full SPREP team. Other team members are Mr Rahul Chand, ABS Capacity Development Officer, and Mr James Faiumu, Technical and Finance Assistant.
The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits is an international agreement which aims to achieve fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The Nagoya Protocol was adopted in 2010 to provide guidelines for countries in their efforts to establishing more predictable conditions for access and utilisation of their genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. Nine countries from the Pacific are Parties to the Nagoya Protocol.
The SPREP regional ABS Project is a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) implemented project, which helps Pacific island members ratify the Nagoya Protocol and ensure fair and equitable benefit-sharing when genetic resources leave the country providing those resources. It is executed in the Pacific by SPREP in collaboration with key partners and Pacific governments.
Q: What is an environmental challenge that you work to address?
A: My work is focused on the protection of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits (ABS) arising from the utilisation of those resources and traditional knowledge. As interest in these precious genetic resources continues to increase, members of the Pacific countries have identified the need to implement strong legal frameworks regulating access and utilisation of their national assets. SPREP provides that support through strengthening the capacity of the countries to regulate access to, and utilisation of their resources, as well as ensuring compliance with domestic legislation and regulatory requirements of the country providing resources and traditional knowledge. I also support countries in negotiating, developing, and drafting intellectual property clauses and ABS contracts.
Q: How do you work with our Members to address this?
A: We work according to the project document because it was drafted based on the needs and priorities of our 14 Pacific island countries. We identify key people to work with at the national level and look at the degree of interest they will have for our work. We look at international and regional partners that can assist us technically and financially, because of the limited funding and human capacity. We map out government documents and strategies to see where we can add value to, but most importantly, where we can really make a positive difference. We visit and speak to focal points and stakeholders in person and facilitate capacity building and training both at the national and regional level. In addition, we also provide legal analysis, legal drafting services as well as providing general advice on the issues around ABS.
Q: What are your three biggest achievements with SPREP for our Members?
A: Firstly is the number of new ratifications from the Pacific: Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Tonga has also signed the instrument of ratification and it will be made official soon. I am now working with the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue and Papua Guinea on getting all the necessary documents together and ready for submission to their respective Cabinets. Secondly is the formulating of five legal drafting instructions on how to draft ABS laws for Cook Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Palau and Tonga. And my third achievement is being the legal drafter of the first standalone ABS law and regulations in the Pacific.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I am currently working on the final draft of the ABS regulations for Palau, as well as the request I received to draft the ABS policy for the Federated States of Micronesia which I will work on as soon as I complete the work with Palau.
Q: What are one or two of your highlights from working at SPREP?
A: One of the highlights for me are the values that SPREP uses to guide all aspects of our work. With these values, I have learned to appreciate more my family, the people that I work with at SPREP, our Member countries, NGO’s, local communities and our Partners. It is comforting to know that they support you, they appreciate your work and they are willing to work together with you. The nature of this job has challenged me to grow further beyond my current skill set, both as a professional and as a person.
Q: Where have you seen your work make a positive difference?
A: The number of countries who have ratified the Protocol and the number of frameworks developed for the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. It is humbling for me to see this momentum coming from the countries.
Q: What words of advice do you have for people to make our environment a better one?
A: With the increasing impacts of climate change and loss of biodiversity, we need to do what we can, NOW, NOT LATER.
Q: What words of advice do you have for people that would like to work at SPREP?
A: Be truly enthusiastic about protecting the environment!