Providing access to genetic resources

Facilitating environmentally sound use of biological resources
Affording access to biodiversity
Controlling access to genetic resources
The continued availability of genetic resources for food and agriculture is clearly essential for global food security. The conservation of such resources is also of paramount concern given the alarming rate of loss of plant genetic diversity, and the need for new varieties to meet the food needs of a growing population and the demands of changing agro-ecological and social conditions.
The rights to use biological resources must be equitably allocated, and should recognise: (a) that it may be necessary to limit access in order to ensure conservation and sustainable use; (b) that within the constraints of sustainable use, the socioeconomic upliftment of disadvantaged communities is an important criterion upon which decisions should be based; (c) that where peoples' historical rights of access to natural resources have been removed or constrained this should be reviewed and redressed; and (d) the rights of owners of biological resources.

This shift towards national sovereignty over biodiversity has important implications for agriculture and forestry given the reliance of countries on introduced crops, and the fact that no country in the world is completely self-sufficient in genetic resources. Although many nations contain significant genetic diversity in genebanks and on farmers' fields, they will still continue to require access to the diversity available elsewhere.

Advances in biotechnology and pressures to enact stricter intellectual property legislation have heightened the need to develop a new international regime relating to the management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Of relevance is the adoption by governments of the [Leipzig Declaration] and a [Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture], negotiated under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Article 15 of the [Convention on Biological Diversity] (CBD) entitled "Access to Genetic Resources", states: (1) Recognizing the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources, the authority to determine access to genetic resources rests with the national governments and is subject to national legislation. (2) Each Contracting Party shall endeavour to create conditions to facilitate access to genetic resources for environmentally sound uses by other Contracting Parties and not to impose restrictions that run counter to the objectives of this Convention. (3) For the purpose of this Convention, the genetic resources being provided by a Contracting Party, as referred to in this Article and Articles 16 and 19, are only those that are provided by Contracting Parties that are countries of origin of such resources or by the Parties that have acquired the genetic resources in accordance with this Convention. (4) Access, where granted, shall be on mutually agreed terms and subject to the provisions of this Article. (5) Access to genetic resources shall be subject to prior informed consent of the Contracting Party providing such resources, unless otherwise determined by that Party. (6) Each Contracting Party shall endeavour to develop and carry out scientific research based on genetic resources provided by other Contracting Parties with the full participation of, and where possible in, such Contracting Parties. (7) Each Contracting Party shall take legislative, administrative or policy measures, as appropriate, and in accordance with Articles 16 and 19 and, where necessary, through the financial mechanism established by Articles 20 and 21 with the aim of sharing in a fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the Contracting Party providing such resources. Such sharing shall be upon mutually agreed terms.

Many national and international institutions and agreements have been established to address the issues of access to genetic resources. Perhaps most significant was the establishment in 1983 of the intergovernmental Commission on Plant Genetic Resources (now the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture), and adoption of the [International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources] by member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. Underpinning the Undertaking is the principle that "plant genetic resources are a heritage of mankind and consequently should be available without restriction", although this principle has been subsequently subjected to "the sovereignty of States over their plant genetic resources".

1. Countries will benefit from their indigenous resources only by some form of controlled access. Thus Article 15 of the CBD supports the understanding that countries will not "shut the greenhouse door", but will rather create conditions to facilitate access to genetic resources for environmentally sound uses by other Contracting Parties and not impose restrictions that run counter to the objectives of this Convention.

2. South Africa's genetic resources provide valuable opportunities for the nation to enhance the benefits from its vast biological wealth. The present situation, whereby foreign organisations and individuals have enjoyed almost free access to these genetic resources with little gain to either the country or the people from whom knowledge is gleaned, is a matter of considerable concern.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 15: Life on Land