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. 

Community to Community Exchange and Capacity Development Workshop for Traditional Knowlegde Holders


Community-to-Community Exchange and Capacity Development Workshop for Traditional Knowledge Holders

28th September to 4th October 2015, Bengaluru, India


#9 workshop highlights

Download the detailed reports here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Final Report

Download a French summary here: atelier bangalore inde 2015

Read a brief reflection of the event by the Word Indigenous Network (WIN) here 

Highlight #1 Common sense on the potential of Access and Benefit Sharing as a tool for conservation of ecosystems, protection of traditional knowledge and creating sustainable livelihoods.

During the inaugural session representatives of the organizers and the 100 delegates from Africa, South East Asia and the Central Asia highlighted the importance of fostering the linkages between biodiversity and health and the relevance of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). The panelists further emphasised the need to tap into the potential of ABS as a tool for conservation of ecosystems, protection of traditional knowledge and creating sustainable livelihoods.

The panelists: Dr. Unnikrishnan P., United Nations University-Institute of Advanced Studies on Sustainability (UNU-IAS); Dr. Darshan Shankar, Vice Chancellor, Trans Disciplinary University (TDU); Dr. Andreas Drews, ABS Capacity Development Initiative, Mr. T. Rabikumar, Secretary, National Biodiversity Authority (NBA); Ms. Alejandra Pero, UNDP Equator Initiative and Ms. Latifa Douch (Morocco), representative of the delegates.

Highlight #2 International knowledge exchange and sharing ideas on how to tap into the potential of Access and Benefit Sharing. 


During the first day of the international workshop the delegates were invited to share their reflections of the pre-meeting field visits. To get a better understanding of the current ABS practices in India, the delegates visited ABS-related sites in three separate groups over a period of three days. Each group shared their impressions of the field sites in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.

Group 1 – Karnataka: 

Sites: Karnataka Biodiversity Board, a Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) and three traditional communities.

Key messages of group 1: The group was impressed by India’s significant progress in the management of biodiversity through the People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs). Group 1 highlighted the accurate documentation of traditional knowledge in biodiversity registers to ensure protection. The group further emphasised the decentralised decision-making, which ensured that interests of the traditional communities are protected.

Group 2 – Tamil Nadu: 

Sites: National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) in Chennai, a Fishing community at Mahabilpuram and the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS).

Key messages of group 2: The group was impressed by the legislative framework and the three tier institutional setup for protection of biodiversity in India. This group too commended the advanced, well-structured and participatory system of ABS in India. The group however, suggested the need to have greater levels of collaboration between civil society organizations and the government to improve community rights and ensure sustainable livelihoods.

Group 3 – Kerala: 

Sites: Kerala State Biodiversity Board and the traditional Kani Community.

Group 3 too praised the decentralized structure of biodiversity conservation, which had been successfully functioning in the state. The group further stressed the remarkable levels of awareness regarding ABS among the local communities. The one area for improvement, which the group pointed at, was the need to bridge the disconnect between the various stakeholders to ensure coherence of the objectives. The group also suggested the integration of traditional governance of biodiversity with ABS.

workshop 1

Highlight #3 Innovative documentation and assessment approaches of traditional knowledge and practices.

During the session both facilitators (Dr. Unnikrishnan P., UNU-IAS and Mr. Hariramamurthy, TDU) emphasised that documentation of traditional knowledge was important primarily for two purposes. Firstly, to ensure primary health care and to protect the community from infectious and chronic diseases. Secondly, for passing on the knowledge to the younger generations of the community. As part of the session, participants work through the different steps of the documentation of knowledge  in small groups.

One of the key lessons: There was a common understanding amongst all delegates on the importance to develop new approaches to ensure inter-generational knowledge transfer. All delegates highlighted that a comprehensive documentation and protection of traditional knowledge requires an active cooperation between the traditional community, the local associations and the government. Here, a strong emphasis was placed on building trust amongst the stakeholder groups involved in the process.

Highlight #4 Innovative approaches to conserve biodiversity ex-situ and in-situ.

The interactive session included inputs from delegates from India, Tajikistan, Madagascar and Togo. The Indian panelist highlighted the need to step-up conservation efforts owing to 312 plant species in India being threatened of which 47 are medicinal plants. He recommended the use of in situ method for conservation as it was the most cost-effective method for long-term conservation. He also pointed towards the success of setting up Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (MPCAs), which are treated as “hands-off” areas with minimal interference, that have succeeded in protecting biodiversity in these areas. Group discussions

The panelist from Tajikistan spoke about the Equator Initiative award-winning Zan va Zamin project in the country, that focused on conservation of different crops by roping in women living in protected areas, who have traditionally played a bigger role in earning livelihoods from agricultural activities. The organization, which works with different stakeholders right from the national body to the local communities, had planted about 10,000 varieties of local saplings and 20 species of local varieties of apple have been conserved by the group.

The panelist from Madagascar talked about a programme that focused on mapping community based resource management. Under the project, local communities had created a micro-zoning of forest area to understand different types of conservation requirements within a forest area. This led to the discovery of alternative conservation methods and other practices such as honey bee cultivation and snail cultivation. The project had helped up to a thousand individuals in the communities, of which 60 per cent were women.

Finally, the panelists from Savandurga in Karnataka, shared how the local community had implemented the ABS system since the early 1990s with considerable success. The representatives briefly summarised their efforts towards protecting wild medicinal plants. These plants were spread over 2000 hectares and are now protected based on the help of women Self Help Groups(SHGs). The community had successfully developed 33 medicines and marketed it across the state of Karnataka.

Highlight #5 Enterprise development based on sustainable resource management and protection of traditional knowledge. 

During the second day of the international workshop, participants were invited to share enabling and restricting factors for enterprise development. The session enabled all participants to share their challenges and lessons learned.  The common enabling factors that emerged from the brainstorming session included the presence of traditional knowledge, availability of genetic and financial resources, and institutional support. The common challenges identified by the groups included insufficiency of policies and their poor implementation. Also, the lack of interaction between stakeholders—government, industry and local communities— was identified as a major hurdle.

NJ_Alphonsa presentationHighlight #6 Biocultural Community Protocols (BCPs) a useful tool to protect the customary values, rights and rules about biocultural heritage.

Alphonsa Jojan from Natural Justice highlighted the need for maintaining BCPs to ensure that the rights of communities are recognised, even if those rights are not enforced by law. She also pointed at the need for advocacy to make different countries promote BCP as has been recognized by the Nagoya Protocol.

Highlight #7 Sharing Access and Benefit Sharing experiences and Capacity Development approaches from African countries. 

Delegates from Benin, Namibia, Morocco and Cameroon, shared their challenges, ideas and experiences faced during the ABS implementation in their respective countries.

Lessons from Benin: The representative explained the importance of identifying the owners and defining what they own. This has helped them improve the ABS framework for consultation with all stakeholders in drafting the legislation.

Lessons from Namibia: The representative shared the success of the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) practice, wherein communities are incentivized to participate in the ABS framework.

Lessons from Morocco: The representative presented the unique experience of Morocco whereby the Nagoya Protocol was translated into an indigenous language Amazighe. This has improved capacity development for ABS in the country by enhancing awareness and participation of local communities.

Lessons from Cameroon: The representatives shared their success story of developing a model for sharing of benefits among all stakeholders accrued from the cultivation and sale of a local traditional spice.

Highlight #8 Implementation, implementation, implementation!

The delegates kicked of the third day of the workshop with a discussions on the use of pre-existing policy frameworks to protect local communities and traditional knowledge from exploitation. Many of the panelists believed that policies for the protection of tribal communities already exist but their implementation had been poor. They provided various reasons for this setback such as the lack of inclusion of communities in the formulation process, language barriers, the hierarchical execution of laws by the government, overwriting of laws for business purposes, the lack of incorporation of traditional knowledge in mainstream medicine and the heavy cost of the practice of the laws themselves. Most panelists and participants felt that the policy framework’s exclusion of stakeholder communities led to an impractical implementation procedure.

Examples from Kyrgyzstan showcased how traditional knowledge can be used to promote the value of the resources themselves through the use of legends and folklore. It was also noted that traditional knowledge and its protection must coincide with the international and national policies on aspects such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and only with the solidarity of both mainstream and traditional knowledge can all parties prosper.

Highlight #9 Looking beyond 2015 – building alliances to take further steps for South-South Cooperation. 

The participants were divided into smaller groups based on different themes and geographical regions. Each group was invited to collect suggestions on next steps could to fill the gaps, build awareness,develop capacities, build networks and jointly create an enabling environment as well as foster South-South Cooperation.

The important suggestions that emerged from the discussions covered creating cross-sector awareness that is culturally and linguistically relevant using dance, songs, etc, developing a decentralized network of region specific local communities, conducting peer-to-peer, cross-regional and cross continent exchange of knowledge and experience; engaging with policy making at different in order to include national and international platforms; and finally, developing an international forum for ABS that could facilitate exchanges between countries and ensure follow-up action in order to achieve the ABS objective.

The concluding session brought together representatives of various countries and organizations to share their experience regarding the overall workshop. Representatives agreed to take the lessons learnt from the community exchange program back home and implement them in their respective countries. Also, it was visualized that a non-institutional community-driven fourth tier of health care be created in order to achieve the two-fold objective of promoting traditional knowledge while also ensuring universal health care. In order to strengthen networks between different communities and regions, it was suggested that participants could use the online platform, WIN, hosted by Equator Initiative for documentation and build on community-community exchange. Finally, it was announced that the outcomes of the workshop would be presented as a report at different international platforms to take the ABS initiative forward.

Download the daily reports here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Final Report

Download the french summary here: atelier bangalore inde 2015

Download the press clippings here: Community to Community Exchange workshop_press clippings_3rd_october

Take a look at more press coverage in This Week Bangalore and in Bangalore News Networks

Read a brief reflection of the event by the Word Indigenous Network (WIN) here