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Moving beyond the Access to Benefit Sharing

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MBABS (Moving beyond the Access to Benefit Sharing)

Reporting period: 2020-11-02 to 2021-11-01

Many countries worldwide have ratified the Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) of the Nagoya Protocol under the convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The ABS aims to ensure that benefits are returned to local communities in exchange of the development/exploitation of natural resources. The ABS encourages opportunities to exploit genetic resources and anticipates that benefits can be shared equally and fairly between the knowledge holders and industrial companies. These incentives are believed to encourage biological diversity conservation, the sustainable use of its components, which will further enhance sustainable development towards human well-being. While in theory, the ABS seem to pave the way forward to a win-win situation between the transformers of local genetic resources and the local communities, little is known of what occurs at community level.

Yet the attribution of Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) remains a dilemma for most developing countries and only a few have signed the protocol and implemented the legislation. At stake are endemic natural resources which are extracted or transformed to enter the national or international markets. As these natural products gain high added value in the cosmetic or pharmaceutical companies and corporations working in market chains, local communities seldom benefit from these lucrative transactions. In addition, these transactions have direct negative impacts on the communities which depend on the transformation of these resources for their economic survival and lose control of access over the resources.

An EU-funded fellowship (Moving beyond Access to Benefit Sharing-MBABS) explores how Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) mechanisms are implemented at a micro level for the utilization/exploitation and development of natural resources, medicinal and aromatic plants by pharmaceutical/cosmetic corporations. This interdisciplinary study draws insights from ethnobiology/anthropology, botany-ethnopharmacology, human geography and law. The objectives, including training, are to explore how the ABS mechanisms are implemented at a micro level for the utilization/exploitation and development of medicinal, aromatic plants and herbal formulae by pharmaceutical/cosmetic corporations and to assess the short- and long-term impacts on the livelihood of farmers, growers, and rural women.
Research was conducted in Morocco to elucidate the mechanisms of Access to Benefit Sharing implementation as a contingent plan due to Covid 19 mobility restrictions that prevented traveling to India. However, research is also been conducted in India tentatively from a distance due to traveling restrictions. Morocco has ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1995, the Cartagena Protocol in 2011; yet, it has not signed the Nagoya Protocol. Several organisations have contributed to entangle, clarify the complex issues of returning benefits to communities and a law project has been drafted over the past three years; however, to this day, Access to Benefit Sharing (ABS) in Morocco is pending. However, the data collected so far from the presidents of cooperatives related to Argan supply and Argan oil production in the Souss Massa region and preliminary results suggest that the cooperatives have lost control over the Argan resource; that the trade of Argan nuts is not only in the hands of middlemen but that in addition, corporations will also go to the extent of purchasing trees to secure the resource at the source, a situation that has been greatly aggravated since the Covid crisis. It is therefore urgent that some form of legislation be implemented to ensure that the rural women can pursue their activities and earn an income.

So far, the preliminary results and the activities related to the MBABS project have been presented in seminars at the "Conservatoire des plantes a parfum, aromatiques et medicinales” (CPMAI), at the CRIA DASE seminar series, in a speaker pitch session at the IUCN World Congress (France); they will also be presented at the forthcoming seminar at the Azimut seminar series. Workshops will take place at the University of Lisbon in the course of 2022. In Morocco, the results of the study will be disclosed to relevant institutions to contribute to ABS policies. It is anticipated that when the results from India will be validated, relevant organisations will be contacted so that ABS policies in India can be influenced. Articles and policy briefs emerging from the research are ongoing and will be published in relevant journals in 2022.
Advancing the knowledge related to ABS implementation and regulation is vital. Given the important contribution that women bring to the cooperatives, returning Access to Benefit Sharing to the cooperatives, is pertinent for rural women and local communities. The ABS implementation would not only prevent the escape of control over the Argan resource and would ensure that women control the supply, market, and maintain sovereignty over the resource. It is anticipated that the MBABS project will make an important contribution towards achieving this goal.

Key words: Access to Benefit Sharing, Argan, legislation, local communities, natural resources, rural women.