Nagoya Means Bio-trade

Brazil has signed up for a “Mission Impossible” series of environmental and biodiversity protection challenges under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Program.

Latin America’s biodiversity leader signed up in February 2011 as an early adopter of UNEP’s Nagoya Protocol, which establishes international rules for the use by science and industry of genetic resources that make up the biodiversity of member states.

This means  both researchers and companies utilising natural ingredients need to review their practices to be compliant with new regulations on biodiversity-based R&D. This means changes for beauty and food companies that innovate with natural ingredients, according to the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT).

The Nagoya Protocol, an international UN agreement currently binding over 55 countries, requires ABS (access and benefit sharing) permits for R&D into the genetic or biochemical components of biodiversity.

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Japan’s Nagoya: more than just a pretty place

Such research would include, for example, exploring plant parts, extracts or oils for new cosmetics ingredients or for inspiration for synthetic material to include in fragrances.

By signing the Protocol, which came into force October 2014, the country has set itself a huge challenge just at a time when a seemingly-unstoppable, export-driven agribusiness is pushing in exactly the opposite direction.

In reality, Brazil looks toward a future of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), ‘Roundup-ready’ monocultures, and hi-tech farming methods that are rapidly shrinking the biodiversity areas, and creating a soybean province out of the vast cerrado. Huge forests of imported eucalyptus species – soon to be GMO thanks to a recent change in the law – for the pulp and paper industry are transforming a landscape now pitted with nests of circular irrigation pivots visible from space.


Brazil’s Cerrado: unique resource under threat. Foto Wikimedia

Not only has Brazil signed up for Nagoya, but embedded within it are  the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These  commit signatories to a series of verifiable steps to be taken by 2020. You can read a short summary of the the Aichi Targets later on in this article.

However, it’s not yet clear what direction domestic legislation will take and whether – like so many other well-intentioned UN Protocols – this one is destined to have any effect beyond international committee and seminar rooms.

Nor is it clear how the Nagoya Protocol will play in the context of recent changes to Brazil’s own “biopiracy law” designed to ensure that Amazonian and traditional peoples benefit from any plant materials passed to pharmaceutical, beauty care or agribusiness multinationals.

The law was changed to remove what were viewed as excessive protections for traditional peoples, that forced scientists to negotiate full commercial terms before any research began.  Curiously then, Brazil had appeared ahead of the curve, but has reined in its ambitions in line with the UNEP Protocol. You can read an article about these changes by clicking here.

Certainly, Brazil’s agriculture minister Katia Abreu (formerly president of the National Confederation of Agriculture agribusiness lobby group), has been a ready target for NGOs and green groups who believe the eco-friendly discourse of President Dilma Rousseff’s increasingly laissez-faire government is just rhetoric.

Dilma Katia

Brazil’s agriculture minister Katia Abreu (R) and President Rousseff: stiff challenge. Foto Planalto Palace.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS) to the Convention on Biological Diversity is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It provides a transparent legal framework for the effective implementation of one of the three objectives of the CBD: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources

In addition to bio-based genetic material such as cloned trees for the paper and pulp industry, it covers vaccines, fragrances, industrial dyes, additives, essential oils, oilseeds, animal hides and – potentially – some organic pesticides and fine chemicals.

The Nagoya Protocol will create greater legal certainty and transparency for both providers and users of genetic resources by establishing more predictable conditions for access to genetic resources. It is designed to ensure benefit-sharing when genetic resources leave the country providing the genetic resources.

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Nagoya woodlands: can they help Latin America’s biodiversity?

By helping to ensure benefit-sharing, the Nagoya Protocol creates incentives to conserve and sustainably use genetic resources, and therefore enhances the contribution of biodiversity to development and human well-being.

The Access and Benefit-sharing Clearing-House (ABS Clearing-House) is a platform for exchanging information on access and benefit-sharing. The ABS Clearing-House is a key tool for facilitating the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, by enhancing legal certainty and transparency on procedures for access and benefit-sharing, and for monitoring the utilization of genetic resources along the value chain, including through the internationally recognized certificate of compliance.

On paper, at least, Brazil has much to gain if it can enforce rights to intellectual property generated as a result of both traditional knowledge and scientific research into its own biodiversity riches.

Brazil is the most biologically diverse country in the world. It is classified  top among the world’s 17 mega-diverse countries, and second only to Indonesia in terms of endemic species numbers. It contains two biodiversity hotspots (the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado), six terrestrial biomes and three large marine ecosystems. At least 103,870 animal species and 43,020 plant species are currently known, comprising 70% of the world’s catalogued animal and plant species. It is estimated that Brazil hosts between 15-20% of the world’s biological diversity, with the greatest number of endemic species on a global scale. Brazil’s biodiversity is ever-expanding, with an average of 700 new animal species discovered each year.

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets include commitments that by 2020 signatory states will have the following characteristics:

  • Citizens are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
  • Biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems.
  • Incentives and subsidies harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socio economic conditions.
  • Government, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.

In addition, signatories will have the embraced the following strategic goals:

  • The rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.
  • All fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.
  • Areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.
  • Pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.
  • Invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.

True, Brazil has taken some impressive-sounding steps toward implementing the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Steps include:

  • 10% of the Brazilian Amazon biome is officially protected.
  • 33% of the Caatinga is officially protected
  • 43% of the Cerrado is officially protected
  • 99% of the Atlantic Forest is officially protected
  • 14% of the Brazilian Coastal and Marine zone is officially protected
  • traditional knowledge holders have some stake in decision-making processes at:
    • Genetic Heritage Management Council, the National Biodiversity Commission and the National Environmental Council.
    • Brazilian Program for Valuing and Protecting Traditional Knowledge Associated with Biodiversity


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