The ABS Initiative supports the national consultation process on ABS with the objective to raise awareness and develop national legislation and an institutional framework. To this end, a financing agreement with the national NGO CeSaReN supports activities for awareness raising, stakeholder consultation and pilot measures with local communities. A briefing of parliamentarians in partnership with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) contributed to Benin’s ratification of the Nagoya Protocol. The Initiative also facilitated an interactive exchange meeting of key stakeholders to kick-start the development of Benin’s ABS strategy, a model which is now being replicated in other African countries.
Benin is also a pilot country of the African Biocultural Community Protocol (BCP) Initiative.
implemented by Natural Justice. A community protocol process in the Ouémé region concerning two sacred forests is still ongoing, facilitated by CeSaReN.
Benin is also part of a pilot project on the mutually supportive implementation of the Nagoya Protocol and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The project is funded by DFID under the Darwin Initiative and jointly carried out by the respective focal points of Benin and Madagascar, Bioversity International and the ABS Initiative.
In 2015, the ABS Initiative conducted a country diagnostic in Benin to assess the status quo of national ABS and Nagoya Protocol implementation. The results of this assessment are presented in five clusters below:
Participation of indigenous peoples and local communities
The results - to be found below - are the basis for a roadmap for the ABS Initiative’s national ABS implementation support.
Benin ratified the Nagoya Protocol in January 2014, ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and is Party to the CBD.
With its existing ABS strategy and a decently functioning and inclusive ABS Committee, Benin is well placed to set up a working national ABS system with a regulatory framework, a competent national authority (CNA) and checkpoints.
Domestic researchers are working with holders of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources (aTK) to valorise their knowledge (which can be seen as a competitive advantage compared to neighbouring countries in the region) and, to a lesser extent, genetic resources (GR) themselves. R&D in the fields of agriculture and healthis supported by international actors.
GR and aTK are not consistently documented in Benin, and existing GR and aTK databases and inventories are scattered and disconnected; however, a national dialogue process on TK documentation has recently started.
Traditional healers are exceptionally well organized. The Ministry of Health supports them in validating, standardising and marketing their products nationally and in West Africa. The Ministry of Environment cooperates with local communities in regard to participatory management and benefit sharing schemes. A pilot BCP process has been started by the NGO Cercle pour la Sauvegarde des Ressources Naturelles (ONG-CeSaReN).
Despite the opportunities mentioned above, the ABS implementation process in Benin encounters challenges.
Mainly due to Benin’s low level of endemism, requests from abroad for access to GR are rare. In the absence of a regulatory ABS framework, no ABS agreements have been negotiated so far. As the permitting procedures are not harmonised across the different ministries, it can be complicated for potential users to obtain the required permits and follow due process with regard to ABS regulations. The number of exemplary benefit sharing procedures is limited.
Domestic research on GR and aTK does not have access to sufficient resources and is not very visible at the international level. With a few exceptions in agriculture and health, it largely works in disconnection from the country’s development needs and has little experience in cooperating with the private sector. Without legislation for the protection of TK in place, cooperation between TK holders and researchers is limited. Moreover, traditional healers are facing challenges in testing, standardising and marketing their products. Some medicinal GR are even threatened by unsustainable harvesting.
The few potential actors in the country with the capacity to lead ABS agreements are under-resourced. Apart from the officially recognized traditional healers’ association, there are no representative networks of local communities and TK holders. Furthermore, land and resource rights of local communities are unclear.
Benin ratified the Nagoya Protocol on 22 January 2014 and adopted a national ABS strategy for the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol including an operational system. In this strategy, Benin committed to putting in place a national legal and institutional framework for ABS.
ABS is explicitly referred to in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) for the period 2011 to 2020. The country has a national ABS committee in place composed of stakeholders from nine key Ministries, NGOs, laboratories and research centres, holders of TK, local communities and the private sector. The committee’s task is to monitor the implementation of the national ABS strategy, a process which would facilitate communication across various Ministries and stakeholder groups.
A main challenge in Benin is the absence of a regulatory ABS framework. The environmental legislation addresses some aspects of ABS but the focus is on the protection and conservation of resources.
Notwithstanding the absence of explicit ABS legislation, several laws contain provisions on ABS. One example is the stipulated provision to distribute revenues from the exploitation of timber and other forest products. In addition, researchers are required to communicate their results to national authorities. For the current review of the forestry law stakeholders envisage the inclusion of strong ABS provisions.
Benin also does not have specific legislation that protects the interests and rights of TK holders. A mechanism to address the issue of shared resources and TK across different jurisdictions has yet to be established.
The permitting system in Benin is quite bureaucratic. Various institutions, such as the Ministries of Environment, Research, Agriculture and Health, are entitled to give permission to access and use GR for basic research, bio-prospecting and commercialization. Permitting procedures are not always clear and have the potential to deter users from requesting access.
Although formal ABS agreements have not been concluded in Benin so far, there seem to have been a few demands for access to GR by public research institutions cooperating with foreign public partners.
The potential for ABS-related activities and agreements is limited to around 20 domestic actors who are able to provide GR and/or aTK and to conduct basic research. Most of these actors have at least a basic understanding of ABS, but only very few are actually holding patents.
The majority of public research institutions focus on basic research. Nevertheless, they have foreign public research partners and limited contact with the private sector. One company, an NGO and several international research organisations present in Benin offer potential for developing ABS agreements.
The infrastructure to support the development of ABS agreements is limited. A newly created agency for the valorisation of research results and innovation and an international research organisation stand out as potential supporters. The competence of the national office for IPR on ABS is unclear. Overall, Benin has some competitive advantages in terms of its business environment (e.g. geographical position, stability).
Traditional knowledge associated to GR appears as a core research area, but research institutions and existing inventories are scattered. A domestic pharmaceutic research laboratory has entered into partnerships with universities abroad to research the active components of traditionally used plants, for example for Malaria. The laboratory also collaborates with traditional healers by providing non-toxicity tests and supporting healers to improve their products. However, this remains the first initiative to validate aTK so far and it cannot meet the needs at the national level.
The lack of a legal ABS framework is hindering the development of R&D on aTK. Nevertheless, there is recognition of aTK by the government for health purposes. Also, a new law is under development addressing the marketing authorisation for phyto-medicines based on aTK. This would open the window to national and regional economic opportunities.
Benin has no valorisation strategy for GR so far. However, a national research strategy is under development which will include priority themes (i.e. agro-industry, health, food safety, environment and climate change, energy, transport, digital economy).
For the purpose of promoting ABS agreements and institutionalising the relevant procedures and processes, two related options could provide a potential way forward: Develop concrete ABS agreements based on existing public and private research collaborations, and set the foundation for a valorisation strategy for GR and aTK.
Participation of indigenous peoples and local communities
Benin has undertaken several steps to pilot the role of local communities and the valorisation of TK. The national ABS policy was developed through a participatory process in which some TK holders, as well as civil society organizations that work with local communities, were involved. This policy proposes several actions related to local communities and TK, such as to clarify the rights of communities to GR and aTK, establish a framework for TK protection, and move towards legal recognition of Biocultural Community Protocols (BCPs). In parallel, the NGO CeSAaReN, with financial support of the ABS Initiative, is facilitating the development of a BCP in the Ouémé region around the management of two sacred forests. One goal is to valorise the TK associated with the genetic resources of the community through future ABS value chains.
While Benin does not necessarily have a comparative advantage where GR are concerned (a low number of endemic species and most GR shared with neighbouring countries), it does in terms of traditional knowledge. There seems to be a high density of medicinal and other TK associated with the resources of the country, some held at the level of communities and some individually by traditional healers. Furthermore, traditional healers are well organized through the governmentally recognized association ANAPRAMETRAB (l'Association nationale des praticiens de la médecine traditionnelle du Bénin). They also collaborate closely with the service in charge of traditional medicine at the Ministry of Health. Many traditional medicinal products are already being valorised at the local and national level and sold in pharmacies throughout the country and the subregion.
It is less clear how much valorisation and research is being conducted on GR for food and agriculture and aTK, although civil society organizations have been active in supporting local communities.
There is no legal framework for the protection of TK. The development of a related framework would improve the trust between TK holders and researchers and empower TK holders to valorise their knowledge.
The rights of local communities to land and resources are not entirely clear; the interface between customary land rights and legal land and use rights is highly complex. These rights would probably need specification for PIC and benefit sharing processes where GR on community lands are concerned.
So far, no organized documentation system on aTK has been installed. The information is scattered across various institutions, and the terms for access to this information are unclear. The actors have started a dialogue process around the development of a database of GR and aTK, which will have to be continued.
An analysis of the ABS Environment in Benin – assessing the status of the regulatory frameworks , the potential for ABS compliant value chains as well as the involvement of local communities – revealed promising strengths and opportunities, but also challenges that need to be addressed to implement the Nagoya Protocol and create a functioning ABS system.
Based on the results, about 50 stakeholders, among them the ABS Focal Point and members of the national ABS Committee, identified potential interventions to advance the implementation of ABS in Benin. They jointly developed a list of activities to be prioritized until 2017.
In a road map, the Focal Point and CeSaReN defined concrete milestones and steps to be taken with the support of the ABS Initiative Over the next two years:
Develop an interim ABS legislation and regulatory framework based on existing legal provisions serving the conclusion of the first ABS agreements.
Designate a Competent National Authority
Start developing the final ABS legislation; include provisions for the protection of TK.
ABS Agreements and ABS-compliant value chains
- Assess the capacities and needs of actors from the R&D sector.
- Identify value chains and actors that have potential for ABS cases.
- Establish pilot ABS cases with small and medium enterprises.
- Continue the preparation of a strategy for TK and GR documentation.
- Lay the foundations for a GR and aTK valorisation strategy.
Involvement of local communities
- Finalise the BCP process in the Ouémé region.
- Support traditional healers to establish ABS agreements with domestic researchers.
Communication, Education and Public Awareness
- Strengthen the capacities of lawyers (especially government legal officers) to develop the ABS legislation and negotiate ABS agreements.
- Promote public awareness of ABS and related provisions in Benin.
- Enhance dialogue among different stakeholder groups.