Samoa ABS on the move with Aopo Consultation to Develop Biocultural Community Protocol

With a vision of protecting Samoa’s sovereign rights to its genetic resources (GR) and the wealth of traditional knowledge (TK) associated with GR held by its people, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, through the Division of Environment Conservation (MNRE – DEC), has made great strides with the further implementation of the Nagoya Protocol (NP) on Access to GR and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (also referred to as “Access and Benefit Sharing” – ABS) with the completion of a one day consultation with the Aopo community in Savai’i on the 10th of March, 2020.

As the implementing agency, MNRE-DEC led a team made up of members from key partners such as the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and the Secretariat of Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) to conduct the above-mentioned consultation. MNRE-DEC’s Assistant Chief Executive Officer, Seumalo Afele Faiilagi, took lead of the consultation where he made a statement on behalf of the Ministry where he provided the overall summary of the ABS process and Samoa’s obligation under the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity (UN-CBD) Convention and the NP as a supplementary agreement which aims at sharing the benefits arising from utilization of GR in a fair and equitable way. Furthermore, Seumalo also took lead in further developing the Biocultural Community Protocol (BCP) through discussions with the community leaders – this BCP was generated during last year’s consultation with Aopo.

Discussions with the Aopo community was seen as a great success as the community leaders responded well to the presentation of their BCP and showed great interest by asking many questions related to ABS. After a presentation on their BCP by the MNRE-DEC’s Terrestrial Conservation Section’s Principal Officer, Czarina Iese Stowers, many questions were asked on the types of benefits they were entitled to as they felt unfairly treated by those who used their GR in the past.

“The community consultation with Aopo had brought together members from the village to learn about their first draft BCP,” explains Mrs. Iese-Stowers.

“The intention of their BCP is to provide them with information and guidance in support of their local initiatives and campaigns for access to their GR and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of these GR. Developing this protocol will help to provide notice for the users or the external actors about their identity and their way of life, customary values and laws and procedures for engagement.  It can be a powerful way for Aopo community to determine and communicate their own plans and priorities and advocate for respect and appropriate support for their ways of life”.

But what exactly is ABS? As mentioned above, ABS was derived from Samoa’s agreement to the UN-CBD where it was agreed to pursue three (3) key goals of the CBD which include: to conserve local biodiversity, to sustainably use the components of local biodiversity, and to fairly and equitably share the benefits between the GR users (e.g. researchers, universities, or companies) and the GR providers (government or local communities by which the GR sources belong to).

But due to the fact that not all are aware of the importance of conserving their local biodiversity, the value it holds, and the rights to the benefits generated from their local biodiversity, the ABS work conducted by MNRE-DEC pushes to remedy this through consultations to raise awareness and to help build firm BCP’s to protect the rights of communities.

The ABS process currently in place are as follows. Before GR’s are used by any outside party, the national authority (government/community leaders) needs to first provide a Prior Informed Consent (PIC) to allow the GR user to access the resource. Once the PIC is provided, the GR user and provider must set up Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT) to ensure that all benefits generated from the resource will be fairly shared onto the providers of the GR. These conditions are required by the UN-CBD.

This is necessary to avoid past concerns where communities around Samoa became victims to unfair benefit sharing where GR users from foreign countries who requested access to local GR (through District representatives and Chiefs) but did not give a fair share of benefits back to the people. It is important that the communities are also aware that if a GR user is to approach communities with regards to GR access, it is always best to report to MNRE for appropriate actions to be put in place. By doing so, community rights will be better protected leading to them being given not only a partial share but a long term sustainable share of benefits from the GR used.

As the implementing agency, MNRE-DEC plans to continue their commitment to the NP on ABS by facilitating the ABS process, reviewing user applications, forming firm BCPs, spreading more awareness on the rights of Samoa’s people, and pushing for increased fairness in the sharing of benefits arising from the use of locally owned GR. MNRE would like to acknowledge the invaluable support of their key partners, UNDP and SPREP, by helping to make ABS a reality in Samoa and assisting with consultations.

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