Wildlife & Biodiversity

Road to COP15 Montreal: Cameroon hopes to benefit from its rich biodiversity

It also expects that the conference will result in commitments to foster technology transfer in a way that helps developing countries benefit from their resources

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
Published: Thursday 24 November 2022
Echinops giganteus is a plant that is widely used in the cosmetics and food industries. Photo: iStock.

Cameroon hopes to draw maximum benefits from biological resources it have preserved for years as the world prepares to convene at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada, from December 7-19, 2022.

The country also expects that the conference will result in commitments to foster technology transfer in a way that helps developing countries benefit from their resources.

Exploiting Africa’s vast biological resources in line with the prescriptions of the Nagoya Protocol can unlock the continent’s economic potential, according to the Cameroon Focal person for the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), Dingom Aurelie Taylor Patience. 

Nagoya Protocol is an offshoot of the Convention on Biological Diversity which specifically deals with fair and equitable benefit sharing resulting from access to biodiversity. 

Also read: Mexican indigenous groups yet to benefit under Nagoya Protocol; here is why

Cameroon plans to use biodiversity for development and in 2012, came up with a National Strategy on ABS. “The country understood the economic stakes involved,” Dingom said.

The Strategy provided a national vision to develop an ABS legal framework by 2020 to guide the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol in such a way that it benefits the local and indigenous communities.

The benefits coming from the use of those genetic resources would enhance the living conditions of local people and generate income for the state in terms of taxes.

Law No 2021-014 — governing access to genetic resources, their derivatives, traditional knowledge and benefit-sharing — was enacted in July 2021. With this, Cameroon became the second African country to come up with such a legal instrument.

It was “the beginning of a new era” for the country’s environmental policy, said Pierre Helle, the country’s environment minister. He noted that for long, communities had remained “seated on a green gold mine,” and the new law would allow them tap into that mine.

Even before the law came into force, a couple of projects had already been initiated, guided by interim measures on ABS enacted by the minister.

Also read: Legal, controlled trade of wild species can have many benefits: CITES report

These measures established the terms and conditions governing access to genetic resources, their derivatives and associated traditional knowledge in Cameroon.

In 2012, a French perfume company, V Mane Fils, partnered with a local non-profit, the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDef), to support the exploitation of Echinops giganteus.

Echinops giganteus is a plant that is used worldwide in the cosmetics and food industries.

The plant is grown mostly in the wild, but there are now efforts at planting it, given the likely financial rewards, said Louis Nkembi, the president and CEO of ERuDef.

“The plant species was inventoried, studied and this eventually led to the company signing an agreement with the government of Cameroon in 2015 to exploit a limited quantity to test the viability of this product,” Nkembi told Down to Earth.

He said the Mutually Agreed Terms signed with the community guaranteed annual raw material purchase for three years at the rate of Euro 4.1 per kilogram. The company also agreed to pay 25 per cent of the profits directly accrued from this plant to the communities.

Also read: Road to COP15 Montreal: Namibia’s unique scheme ensures implementation of Nagoya Protocol

Hence, for the first time, the wild plant began to be planted in efforts not only to promote it but also as part of the ABS process and restore the ecology of the Mt Bamboutous, where it is mostly grown.

But the effort has been stymied by the ongoing conflict in the country’s English-speaking regions.

Nkembi said the crisis has made it difficult for the farmers to continue cultivating the plant and therefore, it couldn’t enter the commercialisation phase as initially planned.

“But we remain hopeful that the crisis will eventually come to end so that we can make the evident benefits from selling this plant,” Nkembi added.

However, with funding from the company’s foundation amounting to nearly $20,000, some community projects were supported, including the installation of 150 beehives and the construction of a hospital.

The project encouraged many women to engage in bee farming.

Nkemchop Helen, a bee farmer, said it significantly improved her family income. She said:

I first got attracted to bee farming when I attended a training workshop organised by ERuDeF in Magha-Bamumbu. We benefited from some hives donated by this organisation. After reaping some benefits, I decided to open more, which now generates income for my family.

She produces about 200 litres of honey per year — selling a litre for around $10 — a sizable sum in a community where poverty is rife.

In 2014, the same company found interest in another plant — Mondia whitei — a medicinal plant which is endemic to Africa, said Nkembi.

This plant, which is endangered, is traditionally used to treat various ailments such as anorexia, stress, bilharzia and sexual dysfunction, as well as for general aches and pains.

The plant is also used as a food flavouring agent due to its vanilla-like odour. It tastes like a mixture of liquorice and ginger. Over exploitation is now threatening its very existence and part of the EruDef effort is to get locals to cultivate it.

The negotiations ended at the research phase again because of the Anglophone Crisis, Nkembi said.

“I urge you to plant as much Echinops and Mondia roots as you can. We have a ready market for them,” said Michel Mane, director of Mane Foundation. This indicates that his company remains open to the business if peace eventually returns to the area.

Despite these problems, there is significant interest in other Cameroonian genetic resources from foreign companies.

“We have negotiated five ABS contracts with French and Swiss companies,” Patience, told Down To Earth.

These include two local spices in Cameroon’s Pimbo community in the coastal regions, where a Swiss company has signed a research and development contract.

“The company says it has found some interesting results and wants to engage the commercial phase, but we want it to fulfill the contractual terms for the first three years that run out by the end of this year,” she said.

The company has to fund the development of a community farm and provide the community with solar electricity as well as potable water.

The efforts to sign two other contracts with French cosmetic and food processing companies in the country’s eastern region have been stalled, with the companies insisting they want exclusive intellectual rights to the genetic resources, she said.

She didn’t name the companies, or the resources in question, citing confidentiality clauses. But noted that she was hopeful that an agreement would eventually be reached for the communities to start making more benefits.

Also readOver 10,000 to attend UN biodiversity convention next month

“We have a project that begins next year on four other species that have been identified in the south west and far north regions,” Dingom said, explaining that foreign companies are already interested in the four species.

Dingom and Nkembi agreed that more needs to be done to ensure communities draw maximum benefits from biological resources they have preserved for years.

The experts believe that communities can best benefit if they master the ABS process, noting that the negotiations often tend to go in the way of the foreign companies.

“For any benefits to be real and substantial, both the government and the community need to have a total mastery of the process,” Nkembi told DTE.

Dingom said she hopes COP15 in Montreal, Canada results in commitments to foster technology transfer as the best way developing countries can benefit from their biological and genetic resources.

The little they (exploiting companies) give us in terms of returns pales in comparison to the profits they make, Dingom said. 

“There is money buried in biodiversity,” she underscored the need for Cameroon to “mine that wealth, the same way oil is tapped from the ground.”

This is the third of a four-part series

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