Wildlife & Biodiversity

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

Namibia allows the creation of community forests so indigenous groups can manage their own natural resources

By Absalom Shigwedha
Published: Wednesday 23 November 2022
Another bio-resource that the communities in Namibia benefit from is the devil’s claw, a herb widely used as medicine for treating arthritis, reducing pain and fever and stimulating digestion. Photo: iStock.

As the world gets ready to congregate at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada, from December 7-19, 2022, Namibia’s experiment with access and benefit sharing (ABS) gives hope that communities can benefit from biodiversity that they have conserved for hundreds of years. 

Namibia, in southwest Africa, has put in place measures to ensure that communities benefit from its rich biodiversity. 

The Namibia Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBMRN) programme, is an example of how sustainable use of natural and wildlife resources can create jobs and alleviate poverty. CBMRN was established in 1998. Under this programme, communal conservancies and community forests have been created and the members are given rights to manage their wildlife and natural resources.

Among the beneficiaries is a group of women who established the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative, to collect and sell marula kernels (Sclerocarya birrea) in 1999.

In 2005, the group opened up a factory in the northern town of Ondangwa to help extract the oil used for cooking and cosmetic purposes in local and international markets. 

Members of this cooperative bring marula nuts to the factory and are paid according to the loads of nuts they bring in. The trees grow in homesteads which are usually taken care of by women of the family. The cooperative has over 2,000 members from 26 associations.

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

This factory is the biggest supplier in the industry in Namibia. A total of 33,936 kilograms of kernels were collected during 2020-2021 and these helped the members earn as much as N$2,205,840 ( nearly Rs 1.21 crore).

In 2021-2022, 32,546 kg were collected and the total income was N$2,115,490informed Martha Negumbo, manager of the Eudafano Women’s Cooperative. 

The cooperative has worked with PhytoTrade Africa, a regional natural products trade association and Aldivia, a French oil processing company, who developed and patented 100 per cent natural marula oil with enhanced antioxidant properties.

The process of producing this oil is patented. This is the first example anywhere in the world of a patent being co-owned by producers of natural resources from a developing country and a company from the developed world.

This agreement was done at a time Namibia did not have an Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) regulatory system. Hence, it was guided by the Interim-Bioprospecting Committee (IBPC), which served to regulate access to genetic resources in Namibia at the time.

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

But it had limited powers in terms of providing legislative, administrative and policy oversight on access and benefit sharing.

Another bio-resource that the communities in Namibia benefit from is the Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), a herb. It is widely used as medicine for treating arthritis, reducing pain and fever and stimulating digestion.

It is an important product for export to the European market. In Namibia, Devil’s Claw is listed as a protected species under the Nature Conservation Ordinance and may not be harvested or exported without the correct permit. 

In August this year, 186 community members of the Mpungu constituency in the Kavango East region generated over N$129,000 from selling  Devil’s Claw.

The community sold a total of 3240 kg August 9 and August 10, according to the five-year Namibia Integrated Landscape Approach for Enhancing Livelihoods to Eradicate Poverty (NILALEG) project, which facilitated the sale.

The plant was sold to EcoSo Dynamics at N$40 per kilogramme. The herb was harvested legally from the conservancies.

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

The sale demonstrates the ministry’s commitment to its constitutional mandate, which provides for the protection of the country’s natural resources to benefit the citizens, said the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism’s (MEFT) spokesperson, Romeo Muyunda.

The plant can be cultivated, but it is difficult as it is rain-fed and grows naturally in the wild, said Allan Jiji of the Namibia Nature Foundation, a non-profit.

NNF, which was commissioned by the NILALEG project this year, managed to train about 186 young community members (137 females and 49 males) on the sustainable harvesting of natural resources, particularly of Devil’s Claw.

Sustainable harvesting means that local communities only harvest one side of the plant, to ensure that the plant continues to survive. They can harvest the other side after three or four years.

This could help meet the growing international demand for the herb for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is widely used as a medicine for treating arthritis, reducing pain and fever and stimulating digestion.

It has become an important export commodity to the European market, with an estimated total export volume of some 1,000 tons in 2019, Jiji said.

Overall, the CBNRM programme is doing well. Community conservation contributed N$10,753 billion to Namibia’s net national income, while 3,870 jobs were facilitated, according to the 2020 State of Community Conservation in Namibia.

It says conservancy residents earned N$56,005,079 as wages from enterprises, of which 29, 648,336, was from joint venture tourism, N$23,318,976 from conservancies, N$2,976,117 from conservation hunting and N$25,650 was from the small and medium enterprises such as craft shops.

Namibia’s CBNRM programme is an example of how sustainable use of natural and wildlife resources can create jobs and alleviate poverty, Kristina Rodina, the senior official at the Food and Agriculture Organization, had said.

Filling the gaps

Lazarus Khairabeb, the accredited representative of the indigenous and local communities and traditional knowledge in Namibia said:

There is a need for back-ups for laws pertaining to the conservation of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the commercial utilisation of biological and genetic resources in Namibia, if indigenous and local communities are to derive maximum benefits from biological and genetic resources.

Such back-ups are currently lacking in Namibia, he added. Indigenous and local communities in Namibia will only benefit if the government can fully exploit opportunities for developing the ABS regime, said Khairabeb.

“The international community should also help indigenous and local communites, but they can only render such assistance if the government itself is proactive in securing such assistance,” Khairabeb added.

Namibia has signed both Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol, but it is yet to set up ABS regulation. The government is trying to bridge this gap.

A regional consultation was organised to solicit inputs for the Access to Genetic Resources and Related Traditional Knowledge Act (Act No: 2 of 2017). The Act and its regulations were launched by the deputy minister of MEFT, Heather Sibungo, in November 2021.

The country also opened the Biological and Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge Office at the MEFT earlier this year to regulate access and help create rules, procedures and guidance for obtaining prior informed consent and setting up mutually agreed terms with local communities.

Currently, the ABS Office in Namibia is run by an interim team headed by the Environmental and Forestry Commissioner in the MEFT. It is technically and administratively supported by the GIZ-funded Climate Change and Inclusive Use of Natural Resources project under MEFT.

Regulatory systems need to be put in place for rural communities to fully benefit from the ABS regime, said Kauna Schroeder, the Principal Project Coordinator and the Advisor to the Officer of the Environmental and Forestry Commissioner in the MEFT.

The list of potential development contributions from a functional ABS is not exhaustive but demonstrates the scale of the opportunity, said Schroeder.

There is a need for Namibia to up its own research and development facility instead of exporting raw materials to the European Union and the US as this would lead to the exploitation of the community’s traditional knowledge, she said. 

This is the second of a four-part series

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