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Community-to-Community Exchange on ABS and Traditional Knowledge

3-8 September 2018, Pretoria, South Africa

Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) are the custodians of their lands and natural resources. Their traditional knowledge and practices, embedded in their cultural heritage, play an important role in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as do their customary laws and local governance structures.

The Nagoya Protocol brings opportunities as the first legally binding international framework that gives certain rights to IPLCs over their traditional knowledge (and partly over genetic resources), including the right to prior informed consent (PIC). The Nagoya Protocol also encourages governments to respect the customary laws of IPLCs and community protocols.

The implementation of the Nagoya Protocol holds potential for the realisation of the rights of IPLCs to their resources and knowledge, the generation of local benefits from the utilisation of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and better recognition of the customary governance and cultural values of IPLCs. However, the explicit recognition of the rights of IPLCs implies that countries need to, among others, provide for transparent, effective and culturally appropriate processes for PIC, empower communities to enter into negotiations with users of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, ensure that traditional knowledge is protected from unlawful appropriation and support the development of truly fair and mutually beneficial agreements.

The first Community-to-Community Exchange and Capacity Development Workshop for Traditional Knowledge Holders was organised in 2015 in Bangalore, India by the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) Biodiversity and Community Health (BaCH) Initiative and the Access and Benefit-sharing Capacity Development Initiative (ABS Initiative) in collaboration with a broad range of partners. The event brought together participants from India and Africa and was regarded as highly successful. In 2018, the ABS Initiative, Natural Justice, the Indigenous Information Network (IIN) and ABS Canada collaborated to conduct a follow-up event in South Africa, extending the original scope to a South-North exchange. The event was hosted by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). South Africa is the country with the longest standing national access and benefit-sharing (ABS) framework in the region. There are several examples of ABS agreements with IPLCs, as well as numerous other initiatives concerning the protection and valorisation of biodiversity and traditional knowledge, including traditional knowledge documentation. South Africa’s experiences therefore provide an excellent opportunity to learn about possibilities and challenges in implementing the Nagoya Protocol, especially with regard to advancing the realisation of IPLCs’ rights.

Approach and Objectives

Peer-to-peer learning among experts and practitioners in communities is an effective and engaging approach to catalyse the dissemination of ideas. It can further enable better strategizing at the local level, since community members are often better able to convey and understand challenges in a practical manner. Taking into account the diversity of local experiences and innovations concerning ABS-relevant issues both in Africa and across the world, learning exchanges among experts and practitioners in communities bear great potential for IPLCs.

Against this background, this Community-to-Community Exchange on ABS and Traditional Knowledge aimed to achieve the following objectives:

  • Increase the understanding of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol and the advances in their national implementation;
  • Learn first-hand about successes, challenges and innovations related to ABS implementation from communities and other actors in South Africa;
  • Exchange and discuss the experiences of participants from other countries of the Global South and North;
  • Provide an opportunity for renewing and developing partnerships among participants from different communities and countries.

The topics covered through discussions and field visits included, among others:

  • Negotiation and implementation of ABS agreements related to traditional knowledge;
  • Local valorisation of biological resources;
  • Documentation, protection and revitalisation of traditional knowledge;
  • Research ethics and relationships between communities and research institutions;
  • Development and implementation of Biocultural Community Protocols (BCPs).


In total, 69 participants – representatives of IPLCs, civil society organisations and holders of traditional knowledge – from 15 countries in Africa, as well as from India and Canada, attended this community-to-community exchange. Representatives of relevant government bodies, public research institutions, civil society and the private sector in South Africa also participated in the discussions and activities as resource people. Simultaneous interpretation between English and French was provided throughout the plenary sessions of the workshop.