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Access and Benefit Sharing

Since the beginning of mankind, we have been taking advantage of all the commodities that nature provides us. From using animals, cereals, and plants to discovering the first antibiotic - we have come a long way. Our world is rich in natural resources as animals, plants and microorganisms contain billions of useful genetic resources which are widely known and used to produce medicine, food, cosmetics, and other important things. However, a huge part of rich natural resources remains undiscovered.

For instance, there may be a plant deeply hidden in the rainforest and only local residents are aware of its benefits. Yet, its genetic composition could be useful to millions of people all over the world. In such cases, sharing and using the world's genetic resources plays a pivotal role in the progress of mankind. This explains the need for having internationally- agreed on terms for access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources in a fair and equitable manner.

Every country holds sovereign rights over animals, plants, and genetic resources found within its borders. If a state wishes to access the genetic resources of another state, it has to respect the sovereign rights as agreed upon by 172 countries at the UN Rio Summit in 1992. This Summit gave birth to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which laid down the guidelines and principles of access and benefit-sharing. As per these guidelines, a researcher/company/organization of another state could access the genetic resource only if it is allowed by the state having sovereign rights over that genetic resource. The same rule applies to the traditional knowledge that is associated with the genetic resource, as this knowledge possessed by indigenous and local communities often plays an important role in the discovery of new active ingredients in genetic resources.

In accordance with the Convention, a prior informed consent (PIC) needs to be obtained from the providing state. The PIC outlines the nature and the intended goal of the planned research and utilization undertaken by another state. The mutually agreed terms (MAT) defines contractual issues and the benefits of the genetic resource which is to be shared with the providing state. These benefits could be monetary or non-monetary such as transfer of knowledge, technology, or training. These rules are applicable to both commercial and non-commercial users (on the basis of special consideration).

The idea behind this concept is to help conserve our biodiversity by sharing the benefits of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way. In 2010, the Nagoya protocol came into being which enhanced the binding effect of the principles contained in the CBD. All ratifying countries need to translate the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol into domestic laws or regulations that reflect the interests of all stakeholders concerned.

Another important element of the Protocol is Official checkpoints which have to be designated in countries where genetic resources are being used or researched upon. Along the Research and Development chain, these checkpoints verify whether prior informed consent has been obtained by the state using the genetic resource from another state and mutually agreed terms have been established between the two states. The collected information is then sent to a specific public database where it is reviewed by the state that has provided access to the resource. This procedure allows for the tracking of a genetic resource from the provider country along with its way to the chain of research and development in different countries. It enhances innovation and commercialization. This also helps to ensure fair sharing of benefits among the states involved if a product based on that genetic resource is introduced to the market.

Access and benefit Sharing Conventions and Protocols implemented effectively hold great potential for multiple benefits for users, providers, and for the Conservation of Nature.

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