Efforts underway to protect Fiji's genetic resources

Posted on 21 June 2005
The kava ceremony is an essential prelude to any serious discussion in Fiji's remote islands.
© WWF / Meg Gawler
Suva, Fiji – WWF has taken the lead in engaging responsible authorities in the Pacific to ensure that proper laws and regulations are in place for accessing genetic resources. 

“Currently plants are being taken without proper documentation and benefits do not filter down to local resource owners,” said Kesaia Tabunakawai, a regional conservation director with WWF's South Pacific office in Fiji.

“Pacific Island countries do not have proper and adequate legislation to protect their unique resources, some of which have a chemical make-up that interests scientists from around the world.”
The Pacific region has a rich biodiversity, with a high number of endemic species which are useful in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and biotechnology. 

Kava – a ceremonial drink in the Pacific made from the aromatic roots of a shrub – is a good example where international drug companies have patented certain kavalactones for medicinal purposes often without permission.
"Pacific islanders consider the kava plant part of their biodiversity, but cannot do anything about this,” Tabunakawai added. 
To raise awareness on such issues, WWF is assistanting Pacific Island nations with developing access regulations. Together with government officials, academics, legal practitioners, and other non-government organizations, the global conservation organization is also working on an action plan for developing legal policies to safeguard genetic resources and the cultural heritage of Fiji, as well as elsewhere in the region. 
National workshops have already been held in Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

These initiatives come under WWF’s global project on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing (ABS), as well as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires countries to be accountable for the protection of their biodiversity.

Under the international environmental agreement, countries are also recognised to hold sovereign ownership of their resources and responsible for developing legal measures to control accessing methods. Any benefit that arises from the commercialization of these resources is required to be shared fairly among all stakeholders. 

For further information: 
Ashwini Prabha, Communications Coordinator
WWF South Pacific Programme Office
Tel: +679 3315533 
E-mail: aprabha@wwfpacific.org.fj
The kava ceremony is an essential prelude to any serious discussion in Fiji's remote islands.
© WWF / Meg Gawler Enlarge