ACCESS AND SHARING ISSUES AT BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY CONFERENCE

New Straits Times (Malaysia), January 14, 2004, p. 12

KUALA LUMPUR, Tues. - Access to biological resources and sharing the benefits, such as the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples, will be key issues at an upcoming international-level conference on protecting biological diversity. Malaysia will play first-time host to the meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) from Feb 9 to 20 at the Putra World Trade Centre.

The CBD is the first global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, which came into force in December 1993 following its adoption at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit the previous year. Its target is to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of
biodiversity loss by 2010.

Aligned to this is the conservation of biodiversity as a means to poverty eradication, ensuring the continued use of natural resources for future generations, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits that arise from using genetic resources.

Some non-governmental organisations see the last issue--access and benefit sharing--as crucial because the role of indigenous communities has been little-acknowledged in the use of natural resources. When the benefits are shared equally, resources stand a better chance of being protected and sustained for long-term use. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) co-ordinator Dr Colin Nicholas said in the Malaysian context, indigenous groups were viewed as
"collectors" and not "owners" of bio-diversity resources.

"There is always talk of getting the Orang Asli to collect medicinal plants and using their knowledge, but not of them as being the owners of these resources. "The Government seems to view them as collectors only when, for the Orang Asli, land is very important. To them, having inherited the land from their ancestors, they should be regarded as the owners of
biodiversity," he said.

The Government is in the process of drafting new laws on access and benefit sharing of Malaysia's genetic resources. Malaysia is one of the world's 12 mega-biodiversity sites. Wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic Southeast Asia director James Compton said indigenous peoples needed protection from bio-piracy. "Scientists go into a biologically-rich area and look for materials to develop products, and put patents on them. The private sector profits, but the indigenous people get nothing.

"For the developing countries of Southeast Asia, the issue of access and benefit sharing also puts focus on the fact that some nations are profiting from others," he said.