Workshop promotes the role of access and benefit sharing (ABS) in reaching agriculture and development objectives

From 21-24 November 2022, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) held a workshop in Addis Ababa titled ‘Mainstreaming access and benefit sharing in agricultural Research and Development: a workshop for researchers, practitioners and policymakers in selected African countries and organizations’. Co-organized by the African Union Commission, ILRI and the CGIAR Genebank Initiative, the workshop drew 35 participants from a variety of national and international organizations. It was held to raise awareness on access and benefit sharing (ABS), which refers to how genetic resources may be accessed and their benefits shared between people and countries in reaching pan-African objectives of sustainable agricultural development, food security and climate change adaptation.

The workshop was composed of four main parts. The first part began with a panel discussion on the importance of genetic resources for achieving development and climate objectives. The discussion revealed that most stakeholders face the same issues and work towards similar goals. Although most panelists have been able to generate best practices for ABS, the absence of coordination and collaboration presents a major obstacle, raising the need to improve and harmonize seed systems across Africa. Panelists also highlighted the need to harness the potential of new technologies to sustainably conserve and use genetic resources as well as drive industry competitiveness and benefits to farmers. 

Following the panel discussion was a poster session showcasing best ABS practices in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. The first part of the workshop then concluded with a series of presentations delivered by Hartmut Meyer, Olivier Rukundo, Justify Shava, Josephat Otieno and Alice Muchugi. The presentations covered a wide range of topics, including how to facilitate a more inclusive ABS approach, best practices for implementing ABS systems in agricultural research and development, and ILRI’s experience with ABS procedures.

The second part of the workshop centred on sharing experiences related to ABS. This began with three presentations on projects and initiatives with a strong ABS component. Christian Tiambo’s presentation titled Consortium Agreement on genomic reference resource for African cattle (GRRFAC) highlighted how the agreement can better reflect the multilateral nature of the GRRFAC initiative and facilitate the flow of information among members. Tiambo then presented on behalf of Mary Mbole-Kairuki of AU-IBAR on establishing linkages between genebanks and databanks across Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Tunisia and Uganda. Finally, Desterio Nyamongo of KALRO and John Wasswa of Makerere University discussed the recently finalized Open Source Seed project in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, which will allow farmers to select improved seed varieties that can be multiplied and shared at the local level as well as released and commercialized at the national level.

Following the presentations, participants split into four small groups to reflect on the challenges facing ABS as well as possible solutions. Some of the major challenges participants discussed were limited awareness among research organizations, a need for more benefit-sharing through national systems, and limited coordination and synergies among authorities. Possible solutions included inter-ministerial/departmental ABS committees, benefit-sharing through national genebank and local seed bank collaborations, and facilitating a more inclusive ABS approach. 

The third part of the workshop aimed to develop a set of principles for improving national ABS systems. This began with a presentation from Abdulrazak Ibrahim, an officer at the Forum for Agricultural Research (FARA) and secretary of the African Seed and Biotechnology Programme (ASBP), discussing how ABS processes, mechanisms and tools contribute to the ASBP and can be better integrated into the program. Ibrahim’s presentation was followed by small group discussions on guiding principles for mainstreaming ABS in agricultural research and development. The Guiding Principles drafted by participants can be found in Annex 3 of the workshop report

The final part of the workshop was dedicated to reviewing the template Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) developed by the African Union Commission. John Mulumba, director of plant genetic resources at the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organization, presented the draft MTA and highlighted aspects that deserved further consideration. Three small groups then worked on different sections and proposed revisions. Various participants discussed how the MTA should address ownership over genetic resources and property rights of derived material. Other participants discussed how to define biological resources when the material being transferred has not been identified yet, such as a soil sample. The template MTA and revisions proposed by the small groups can be found in Annex 4 of the workshop report.

Mulumba concluded the session by explaining that the final version of the template MTA will be validated by March 2023. He encouraged the workshop participants to continue working together on ABS issues for the benefit of Africa. 


Teaching by example. Photo by BecA-ILRI Hub/Tim Hall.