In 2005, the Dutch-German ABS Capacity Building Initiative, focusing on Africa, was born following the specific request of the African negotiating group during the ABS Working Group 3 (WGABS-3) in Bangkok.
Africa is a hot spot for implementing ABS due to the continent's high diversity, both ethnic and biological. Thousands of ethnic groups are holders of traditional knowledge on how to utilize local genetic resources for their well-being, often for health and cosmetic purposes.
The many ecosystems in Africa are home to genetic resources distinct in biochemical compositions, from abundant rainforests in the Congo to harsh deserts in the North and South. Many plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms adapted to extreme habitats have developed specific metabolisms of potential value to humankind.
Genetic resources and traditional knowledge exist across borders in several countries and regions. Hence it might not come as a surprise that the African Group ― strongly supported by the ABS Initiative ― played a major role in the negotiations for the Nagoya Protocol. African negotiators made significant contributions resulting in the inclusion of innovative ABS tools, such as the Biocultural Community Protocols or the Global Multilateral Benefit Sharing Mechanism, in the Nagoya Protocol.
Despite this active regional role, implementing ABS in Africa at a national level is challenging. In most countries, ABS rules and regulations do not exist or are, at best, insufficient. In addition, regional organizations have partially overlapping geographical scopes and mandates, rendering the creation of harmonized national ABS frameworks rather difficult.
To overcome these challenges, the ABS Initiative cooperates directly with relevant regional organizations, for instance the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC) and the African Union Commission. This cooperation has resulted in a regional ABS strategy for the COMIFAC countries and the development of a Draft African Union (AU) Policy Framework for the Coordinated Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS.
It is for this multitude of reasons that the ABS Initiative, its partner and donors will continue to provide conceptual support and capacity development in Africa ― at a regional, sub-regional and national level.