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Some Key Actors in Promoting and Developing Aboriginal Capacity on ABS

One of the most important precursors to successful ABS regimes are communities that have the capacity and resources to develop their own protocols. To this end, there are multiple organizations that help promote and develop ABS capacity-building and implementation around the world.  These organizations inform governments, practitioners, Indigenous communities, and more to understand and work together to implement ABS agreements. Canada has yet to sign the Nagoya Protocol or take meaningful steps toward domestic ABS implementation, generally citing its lack of preparedness. The government may find it useful to engage and work with some of the organizations already worked to build grass-roots capacity on ABS and who are developing Indigenous-sensitive (or entirely Indigenous) protocols governing access and benefit sharing in the context of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

The ABS Capacity Development Initiative (based in Germany) is an organization that supports the development and implementation of domestic ABS agreements and regulations.  It is currently focusing on establishing functioning ABS agreements between providers and users.  The Initiative has a variety of publications publicly available, including a “Toolkit for Practitioners”, “How Not to Negotiate ABS Agreements”, a Policy Paper on “How ABS and the Nagoya Protocol contribute to the Sustainable Development Agenda”, and “Key Concepts and Commentary.”  The Initiative has completed some ground work for those looking to implement ABS to domestic situations.  These could be used as templates or at least inform the decision of the government as it continues to decide how to proceed on ABS matters. It is also helpful for Indigenous organizations to utilize these materials as they contemplate what they would like to see in an ABS agreement.

The Union for Ethical Biotrade is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote respectful sourcing.  It provides help to private companies (who commit to practice ethical trade principles) negotiate trade with local producers across the world.  It does this by giving members independent verification, technical support and networking opportunities.  It has a membership that spans continents and cultures, from the United States to Zimbabwe.  This sort of organization offering practical support to private companies fills a critical gap. While there is a lot of pressure on governments to ensure legislation and regulations are in place to protect TK, private sector stakeholders are often going to the ones engaging in bioprospecting activities, commercializing their findings, and entering into ABS agreements, so it is helpful for them to have guidance and share best practices.

The ETC Group is an organization that works on socioeconomic and ecological issues impacting vulnerable people.  It monitors the ecological erosion, including the effect on cultures and human rights.  The ETC also investigates new technology, focusing on agricultural developments. The ETC supports partnerships with community, national or regional civil society organizations across the globe.

Among Indigenous groups, different organizations have worked for years to advocate for the respect of TK.  The Chiefs of Ontario wrote a 2006 report addressing their concern of new regulations being implemented regarding water protection without their input or any cultural reference.  Similarly, the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council (MAPC) has worked on measures to promote the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol.  MAPC, which has a long history of collaboration with ABS Canada issued the 2011 Iskenisk Declaration on ABS which was the first major Aboriginal Canadian position on the subject. Pursuant to MAPC collaboration with ABS, Canada, MAPC published the Petkoutkoyek statement on ABS that calls for Canada to develop ABS measures that adequately protect TK, and that the measures must stem from consultation with Indigenous peoples.  It earlier prepared a report on the Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol Within Canada where it discussed issues Canada faces to adopt the Protocol, along with suggestions on how to overcome these obstacles.

We at ABS Canada conducted three separate focus groups across the country (including MonctonOttawa, and Saskatoon) in order to build capacity in Canadian Indigenous communities and to gain a sense of how they perceive ABS regimes and Canada’s efforts at protecting TK and promoting biodiversity.  Our reports indicate there is a historical mistrust of government actions, leading to resolve to want to be consulted and provide input into the measures to protect TK.  The government maintains it is still engaging with interested stakeholders.  Despite the government’s lethargy in implementing protective measures, participants showed interest in taking proactive measures themselves, like developing their own community protocols and policies/guidelines to protect their interests.

The above examples show there is a great deal of useful work being done to build capacity and a repository of best practices in the context of ABS implementation. The work of various non-profits are helping Indigenous groups, private corporations, and governments as each grapples with the challenge of genetic resources and associated Indigenous traditional knowledge. It would be to the benefit of all parties to learn from those who have worked on these issues for years and to share what has worked; if Canada intends to implement the Nagoya Protocol and ABS into domestic law, it has every opportunity to do it in an equitable way that is consistent with Indigenous laws, customs, and interests.

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