Beware of access sans benefit sharing, says review

T. V. Padma | South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Is India’s access and benefit sharing (ABS) more of an access regime sans the benefit sharing component?  A post-Nagoaya protocol briefing paper prepared by Kanchi Kohli and Shalini Bhutani for the NGO Alliance on CBD, India, says yes.

After all these years of various Acts, committees and draft guidelines, the country does not have any benefit sharing cases to speak of. In fact, its only laudable benefit sharing agreement – between Tropical Botanical Gardens Research Institute in Kerala and the Kani tribe, on a herb that is a source of an anti-fatigue substance.  But that was much before the country had a national biodiversity authority. The agreement expired in 2003 and despite attempts to keep it going, finally ended in 2008.

The plant from which an Indian institute developed the Jeevani drug and entered into a benefit sharing agreement with the Kani tribe. Credit: WIPO

OK,  there is one more benefit sharing case – with PepsiCo India. The company paid India’s National Biodiversity Authority  about 62,400 Euros  for a sea weed (Kappaphycus alvarezi) accessed from the Gulf of Mannar. Pepsico signed an agreement with NBA, to access and export the sea weed to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines for commercial use in food and cosmetics industry!!.

In reply to a 2010 query under India’s Right to Information Act, NBA said the money is “yet to be ploughed back to the benefit claimers”, as the guidelines  for depositing the money were yet to be finalized.

As of 2011, India’s National Biodiversity Authority approved 607 cases for access, IPR and transfer of research results. Of these, 437 were permissions for applying for IPRs.

BUT none of these cases had mandatory consultations with local biodiversity management committees.

Meanwhile,  the country’s own local people are often not involved in  such agreements, their review says.

Makes me wonder… whose access and whose benefits?