Indigenous products extracted from tissues of naturally terrestrial plants or micro-organisms were worth around N$100 million in 2005 with current estimates in medium term growth of approximately N$400 million per annum.
With no local protection systems in place as yet, and with over 4 300 plant species of which 700 are endemic, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is conducting a workshop to help create public awareness on the importance of documenting and protecting intellectual property rights (IPRs), related to the use of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge for the implementation of the Nagoya protocol.
The three-day workshop that started yesterday in Windhoek and that ends on Sunday is being attended by representatives from various indigenous and local communities, traditional authorities, conservancies, line ministries responsible for IPRs and biodiversity, research institutions, institutions of higher learning and lawyers.
The Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, yesterday said that as investors are attracted to Namibia by its natural heritage and its rich traditional knowledge attached to the utilisation of these assets, it has become imperative to implement the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) in order to engage and share experiences.
“It is a well-known fact that these assets are vulnerable to overexploitation, which has the potential to uproot them with no chance to grow again. The government is thus committed to counter this threat by ensuring that biodiversity and the ecological goods and services that they provide are used for the long term benefit of Namibians, especially the rural communities,” expounded the environment and tourism minister.
As Namibia is a signatory to the Nagoya protocol, it calls on those having natural resources to allow others to access them and that the benefits derived from them be shared by both the provider and the receiver.
He said in the absence of a law, access to genetic resources and benefit sharing in Namibia has been regulated by the Interim Bio Prospecting Committee (IBPC) established by Cabinet in 2007.
Shifeta said the committee still regulates and facilitates all bio-prospecting and bio-trade activities, while at the same time safeguards them against unlawful exploitation and bio-piracy.
He urged the workshop participants to give priority to strengthening customary laws and value systems of indigenous peoples and local communities in the protection of their traditional knowledge.
The University of Namibia (UNAM) is involved with a project on documenting traditional knowledge.
The first copy of a book on indigenous knowledge on plants will be published next month by Unam Press.