Protecting and promoting natural resources is the objective of the Law for the Recovery of Nature and Landscapes Biodiversity which was adopted on August 8th 2016. With its decree of application on Access to genetic resources and Benefit Sharing (ABS), which came into effect on July 1st 2017, the research community is reorganising itself.
What is the ABS?
With this regulation, France inscribes in its law the Nagoya Protocol, adopted by the parties under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2010. The Protocol responds to the CBD’s objective by providing a greater legal certainty and transparency for providers and users of genetic resources. It should be recalled that the Nagoya Protocol applies to all European countries since October 2014.
The law on biodiversity in France concerns anyone wishing to access genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge on French territory (terrestrial and aquatic environment). It therefore directly concerns researchers and their activities.
In concrete terms, to access a genetic resource or associated traditional knowledge in the framework of research activity, researchers must seek the prior informed consent of the supplier in order to obtain an access authorisation. The Ministry of the Environment is the competent authority to review declarations and requests for authorisations.
According to the new decree, there are two regimes of access to resources depending on the commercial or non-commercial use of resources and a special procedure in the case of associated traditional knowledge. More precisely :
– without a commercial aim, it is only necessary to make a declaration to the Ministry of the Environment.
– with a commercial aim, it is necessary to apply for authorisation from the Ministry of the Environment.
– for the use of associated traditional knowledge, an application for authorisation must be made to the Ministry of the Environment.
The decree also specifies the obligation:
– for holders of research projects financed outside their institutions: to draw up a declaration with the Ministry of Research, attesting the necessary diligence,
– for collectors who wish to do so, to draw up a declaration with the Ministry of Research to request the inclusion of the collections in the European register.
It should be pointed out that the ABS regulations implemented on the territory of the Parc Amazonien de Guyane (PAG) no longer apply as from the 1st of July 2017. The law on Biodiversity takes over on the PAG’s territory and applies to the whole French Guiana territory.
The Territorial Collectivity of French Guiana (CTG) did not wish to carry out the role of the Ministry of the Environment by delegation and not to act as the competent authority to receive the declarations and to grant the access authorisations, as the law permitted for the French overseas territories. If the supplier is then the French State, it must be remembered that the prior consent of indigenous and local populations must always be obtained in the case of access to traditional knowledge.
The ABS and the LabEx CEBA
Precisely, how do researchers anticipate these new procedures? Fanny Lavigne, a Master’s degree student of “Engineering and Economics of Development and Environment” from the University of French Guiana, tried to clarify this question during her internship, conducted under the supervision of Catherine Aubertin (IRD). “Biodiversity research activities meet the challenge of the implementation of the ABS: the case of French Guiana”, an issue tackled by the Labex CEBA’s strategic project “Rek-Abios” (Regime of Knowledge for Amazonian Biodiversity). As a reminder, the Rek-Abios project aims to highlight the regime of production, regulation and appropriation of knowledge for Amazonian biodiversity based on in-depth field surveys.
The methodology used, by Fanny Lavigne, is based on a bibliographic search and on the interviews of about fifty researchers and research technicians from various institutions in French Guiana and mostly from the LabEx CEBA network. In her report, Fanny Lavigne focused on the setting up of the ABS in the French Guiana research community and the affinities of the researchers with these new procedures. She noted that there were still some unfamiliarities on their part regarding the procedures for the ABS applications but that most of them had a good knowledge of the Nagoya Protocol and the concept of the ABS in general. Hence, this work offers a better understanding of the stakes of the ABS from its conception to its interpretation today in French Guiana.
To better fathom and implement the Decree on the Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing, the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) has published a Guide to ABS: Guide L’APA, Pas à Pas. This guide was edited by a working group of researchers and lawyers from French public research institutes, representatives of ministries and private research actors to answer the questions of the actors concerned by the ABS.