The Society for Economic Botany

Fostering research and education on the past, present, and future uses of plants by people.

Presidents Message

Takning photos on a feild trip in Frostburg

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Time is flying, many of us are already preparing for summer break and time in the field, or have already started conference travel. The 53rd annual meeting of our society in Frostburg is only a few weeks away. SEB has strengthened its international profile during the last year, and I am very happy to report that the number of members from outside the US is steadily increasing. By now more than half of all SEB members are from other countries, with the largest group coming from the Spanish-speaking world. I will this start trying to also post messages in Spanish. To be a truly international society of course does require attempting to more frequently meet outside the US, and to use technology to reduce travel costs and environmental impact.

Becoming a global society requires that we keep up with changes in international agreements related to our work, no matter whether our own governments have ratified such agreements or not. The final implementation of the “Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity” last month, has brought a great boost for the rights of indigenous and local communities. While many of us have already based their work on strict ethics codes, it seems important to give the Nagoya Protocol some more thought.

The main objective of the protocol is “the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding, thereby contributing to the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components,” including that “traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources that is held by indigenous and local communities is accessed with the prior and informed consent or approval and involvement of these indigenous and local communities, and that mutually agreed terms have been established.”

This is naturally of great importance for our community. The establishment of prior informed consent has, fortunately, been widely practiced already, although there are still projects that place only limited emphasis on permits and consent, because the process is often long and tedious. Under the Nagoya Protocol prior informed consent and providing benefits for knowledge holders is no longer only good ethics, it is also international law. It is to hope that all major granting agencies, whether private or governmental, will soon make proof of prior informed consent a requirement for funding.

The concept, that “benefits” might result from the documentation of traditional knowledge, is somewhat new to many colleagues. In globalized science, where data is easily circulated, it is only just to make sure as much as possible, that the knowledge our counterparts share with us, is not simply appropriated by parties not involved in the original study, whether for scientific or commercial purposes. In practice, this means that the establishment of prior informed consent valid under the Nagoya Protocol, needs to include an explicit statement along the lines that “any work conducted in a community iscarried out under the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, and that the right to use and authorship of any traditional knowledge all informants is maintained, as well as that any use of the information obtained, other than for the scientific publication does require additional prior consent of the traditional owners, as well as a consensus on access to benefits resulting from subsequent use.”

From our perspective at William L. Brown Center at MBG, the Nagoya Protocol is to be applied with immediate effect, and does not only cover future research, but any previous data gathered by our institution, unless a different agreement with the original owners exists.

Benefit Sharing in this context needs to also not only include the repatriation of the new data gathered, in a language and form accessible to the traditional owners, but also the translation and repatriation of the results of previous studies conducted in the same indigenous or local community, if not already done by the original researchers. In addition, informants ,should they so desire, must be allowed full participation as authors in all publications of a study, rather than simply being mentioned as a sideline in the acknowledgments.

This is certainly an important topic, and thus I am looking forward to see many discussions of the process needed to implement the Nagoya Protocol in the months to come.

And I hope to seeing many of you in Frostburg soon!

Many greetings,
Rainer Bussmann
President, Society for Economic Botany