Reflection of the Community-to-Community Exchange in India


Shared by the World Indigenous Network (WIN) 

Upon return to Bangalore, the three groups reconvened and welcomed new participants from across India, including traditional healers, researchers, Ayurvedic doctors, and policymakers. After reporting on field trip visit learnings, participants participated in a variety of lectures and panel discussions around ABS and traditional knowledge over the course of the next three days.

Day 5
Field Trip Experience Sharing
Documentation and Assessment of Traditional Knowledge
In situ and ex situ conservation

Day 6
Intercultural Methods in Research and Innovation
Enterprise Development
Tangible and Intangible Property Rights
ABS Experience in African countries

Day 7
Policy and Practice
Way Forward

For detailed summaries of these three days see here. 


There is a need to understand differences between Access and Benefits Sharing and a more general valuation of community empowerment/equitable distribution of profits across supply chains. Both of these are important and should be developed in complementary manners.

It is important to note that many of the organizations that workshop participants visited on field do not engage in Access and Benefit Sharing in the strict sense. Many of the initiatives support biodiversity conservation and community empowerment through mechanisms such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), facilitating better supply chain access through farmer companies, or equitable pay for farmers tasked with cultivating medicinal plants for major Indian botanical companies. These are all important dimensions of the broader focus of the CBD on biodiversity conservation and community empowerment, however, they are not examples of Access and Benefit Sharing sensu strictu. Examples of this would be, most stereotypically, an agreement between pharmaceutical company and a community that designates a share of profits be returned to the community for the development of a drug based on traditional medicinal formulations. In this case, the company would share the benefits it reaps from access to traditional knowledge and local biological diversity – such as in the case of the Kani. Another example could be the development of a perfume from a plant endemic to an indigenous territory – such as had occurred in the community of one of the Cameroonian representatives.

Both Access and Benefit Sharing in the strict sense, and a broader approach to biodiversity conservation and equitable sourcing, will be important as communities, governments, and international bodies work to reduce poverty and conserve biodiversity. Furthermore, lessons can be taken from innovative examples of CSR or livelihood enrichment through equitable sourcing as to how ABS benefits can be designed to best serve communities. However, it is important to distinguish between the two to have a clear understanding of ABS and the purpose national ABS policies should serve.

Passion and confidence in the work and the ABS process make a huge difference.

The organizations participants visited all shared a passion for creating innovative approaches to conserve biodiversity and improve community well-being. Their excitement for finding the best way to develop Access and Benefit Sharing in their communities – and around the world – provides a huge contrast to what is often a dry discussion of the problems and issues of current ABS implementation. It is this spirit we need to channel to develop truly effective ABS policies and practices around the world.

The core intention driving ABS is good living.

At its heart, Access and Benefit Sharing is about supporting communities to live well. Behind ABS lies a desire for an integrated approach that insures that local resources are sustainably managed and that communities are able to meet and exceed their basic needs. Oftentimes this is not about monetary benefits. This can be accomplished by providing key elements of technology that enhance community skills and income, by empowering communities to become food secure, or by ensuring that communities have communal funds or other safety nets to fall back on in hard years. It is easy assume that monetary benefits sharing will solve problems, but this may not always be the most effective way to conserve biodiversity or raise communities out of poverty. To truly promote good living, Access and Benefit Sharing policies will also have to encourage both monetary and non-monetary benefits sharing that is creatively designed to empower communities and support them to live well.

ABS policy is not stand-alone.

To be successful in a given country, ABS policy must be tied to other relevant policies, such as traditional knowledge policies, entrepreneurial policies, climate change policies, and biodiversity and conservation policies, among others. ABS is inherently interdisciplinary, so any policy must be designed to function together with pre-existing policies in relevant areas. Without this synchronization, ABS policies will be unwieldy and difficult to operate with in practice. This is a particularly important point because dysfunctional ABS policies can harm the very communities they intend to benefit by making it too difficult for researchers, companies, and NGOs to obtain the necessary permits and clearance work with local communities.

Enhance decentralized cooperation.

Many countries, such as Cameroon, have small-scale examples of successful ABS projects and governments that support the creation of national ABS policies. However, they lack the knowledge of how to scale up their programs and push to new legislative levels to develop a comprehensive national policy. To successfully push through an NGO policy, countries such as these need concrete exchanges at the community, corporate, and government levels from those who have already developed ABS models. What is needed here is not a theoretical discussion of ABS, but very practical details about the process of developing a national policy that involves stakeholders across multiple sectors.

No outsiders should build the solution for communities.

Communities need to organize themselves locally instead of waiting for someone to come from outside. Although learning exchanges can provide valuable tools to assist countries to develop their own ABS policies, this must be complementary to action taking place at the local level. Work needs to be conducted at the local, regional, and national level of each country to define what approaches will work best for each country, to implement local models of ABS that can be used as models for policy development, and to identify the needs and areas for further improvement.

The strategy to tackle problems are different from one country to another, but we share the same problems.

The priorities defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol – conservation of biodiversity and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of biological resources – set broad goals at the global level. At heart, they attempt to address the same underlying issues of biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, and poverty that are common to many countries around the world. But how do countries actually design a comprehensive legal framework to put make ABS a reality? Accomplishing this with multiple stakeholders – communities, corporations, NGOs, research institutes, and government – and working from the local to national scales is a formidable task.

This issue of designing a comprehensive ABS legal framework that can support biodiversity conservation and community empowerment is a challenge all countries face. As the Chennai group’s time at the National Biodiversity Authority revealed, despite India’s extensive experience with the legalization and implementation of the National Biodiversity Act, Indian policymakers still believe that they have more to learn to ensure that ABS policies are effective as they can be. Representatives from Cameroon commented on their struggle to scale successful ABS initiatives beyond the local level, and the fact that they could greatly learn from India’s experience.

In light of this common challenge to construct national policies and ensure that they work in practice, the exchange of knowledge and learnings across borders provides a key mechanism to ensure that ABS policy is as effective as it can possibly be in countries around the world. The learnings gained from this sort of exchange will be highly valuable to provide examples of best practice strategies that have been employed to address these common problems. It is important to remember, however, that there is no silver bullet – successful strategies will have to be adapted in order to form a national ABS strategy that best reflects the political, social, cultural, and ecological realities of each country. As Dr. Rana of the National Biodiversity Authority commented, “we cannot give you answers. The answers will be yours. We can tell you our experience, but the answers will be yours.”

For the original post at the homepage of the World Indigenous Network’s, see here. 

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