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Kuching: Wednesday, 20th March 2019 marks a milestone for Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) as it officially seals Benefit Sharing Agreements (BSA) with five indigenous communities under the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre Ordinance, 1997. Simultaneously, SBC breaks new ground for Sarawak becoming the first in Malaysia to implement the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing, a major landmark for governance of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, with benefit sharing for its indigenous communities through the sustainable use of their biodiversity.

The five participating communities are the Bidayuhs of Kpg Kiding, Padawan; the Lun Bawangs of Long Telingan and Long Kerebangan, Lawas; and the Kelabits of Pa’Ukat and Pa’Lungan.

The Nagoya protocol is an international treaty under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). The best practice adopted in the BSAs presents three-fold benefits to the participating indigenous communities - recognition and respect to the communities’ rights to its biological resources and associated traditional knowledge (TK); ensures fair and equitable sharing of monetary and non-monetary benefits arising from the utilization of biological resources and associated TK; as well as promote the importance of biodiversity conservation.

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“Malaysia is one of the mega-biodiversity countries in the world with Borneo being one of the hotspots. The potential for Sarawak to tap into the bio-economy global trajectory through bio-discoveries is immense” said Tan Sri Datuk Amar Wilson Baya Dandot, Sarawak Biodiversity Council Chairman, who was present together with Council members and representatives from the indigenous communities.

“The Sarawak government has worked steadfastly to put in place access and benefit sharing provisions in the Ordinance, 1997. The official signing of the BSAs presents new avenues for wealth generation through alternative socio-economic activities for the participating indigenous communities. In addition, this aligns with Sarawak Government’s vision to move beyond traditional industries and explore alternative economic growth resource through science that fully taps into Sarawak’s rich biological landscape.” he added.

According to SBC’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Yeo Tiong Chia, the strong association between TK and ethnobotanical research offers new opportunities. This is evident especially with the rapid growth of the global wellness industry worth US$3.7 trillion which is now three times larger than the pharmaceutical industry, making a strong business case for Sarawak to protect its rich biological resources.

Yeo also raised ongoing concerns on biodiversity and indigenous traditional knowledge which continue to be susceptible to biopiracy in many parts of the world. In order to prevent misappropriation of TK and create a climate of mutual trust essential for long term research, SBC’s flagship programme on the documentation of TK, aims at empowering the indigenous communities through greater recognition of their rights and access to their knowledge. While the research and biotech process are tedious, the returns in the long run for the planet, investors and indigenous communities remain significant.

Lead Researcher for TK Documentation Programme, Margarita Naming asserted that it was not a straightforward process as the SBC’s team had to assimilate the wishes of the respective indigenous community at every stage of the process over the past years. Periodic meetings and continuous dialogue were repeated until a collaborative understanding was achieved in unison. Partnering communities are equipped with plant propagation know-how, good wild-craft practices and sustainable harvesting principles and techniques.

With this access and benefit sharing milestone in place, SBC continues to look for both local and international partners to propel the commercialisation potential of its biodiscovery breakthroughs as it launches new exciting product lines over the coming years.

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