Forests are among the most important repositories of biodiversity and in many countries they harbor a large majority of the terrestrial genetic resources.
These forest genetic resources play a key role in the production of goods and services, in particular in the field of nutrition and health. Less than 500 of the world's 80,000 to 100,000 tree species have been studied for their respective utility and potential.
Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) mechanisms can help actualize the economic value of these genetic resources while still protecting them ― provided that forest governance and ABS policies and regulations are attuned to each other.
Synergies between forest policies and ABS regulations need to be explored and potential conflicts identified and solved.
Finding answers to the following questions is essential: Who owns and manages the genetic resources? Who owns and manages the land? What are the roles of indigenous peoples and local communities? Who has utilization rights for non-timber forest products? How do trade and industry policies relate to forests? How do they interact with ABS in domestic law?
The Initiative's pioneering work at the national level focuses on building awareness amongst stakeholders from forest policies and ABS regulations, stimulating the development of institutional and legal reforms, and fostering cooperation.
The ultimate objective is the existence of transparent, clear and efficient ABS processes in line with forest policies and strategies.
In this context, the Initiative successfully supported the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) to develop a binding ABS strategy for its ten member states. The strategy provides a framework for national ABS regulations, upgrades the role of local communities and indigenous peoples and enhances research and development for valorizing genetic resources.
The results are promising. For instance in Cameroon, through self-management of forests and agreements with corporate bodies, local communities successfully fought overexploitation and reduced the misuse of the Prunus africana tree. The local receive great benefits by sustainably harnessing their forests and thereby securing a better standard of living.