6 Two Case Studies in Africa


6.1 Case Study 1: ABS in Burkina Faso

Amidou Garané*

* Amidou Garané is a faculty member of the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This study was commissioned in 2003 by Rachel Wynberg in connection with her written contribution to The ABS Project (Chapter 5 of this book). It has been edited to focus on those aspects in which arid and low endemism countries may differ from other countries, to avoid duplication with other parts of this book and of The ABS Series.

6.1.1 Overview of the biological, social and institutional characteristics of Burkina Faso

Situated in West Africa, Burkina Faso is a landlocked country of 274,000km2 which shares its frontiers with six countries. Burkina Faso became an independent state in 1960 and today has a population of 12 million inhabitants with a density of 33 inhabitants per km2. The annual rate of population growth is 2.6%. The economy of the country is essentially based on agriculture and cattle-breeding which employs 85% of the active population. Burkina Faso is amongst the most poverty-stricken countries in the world with an Index of Human Development (IHD) of 0.330 which places the country 173rd out of 175 countries. Average life expectancy is 45.8 years and the percentage of children in full-time education is 22%.153 Burkina Faso is a contracting Party to the CBD, which it ratified in 1993.

This Sahel country is characterized by low rainfall and is affected by desertification. It is also characterized by a tropical Sudano-Sahel climate in which a long dry season alternates with a short rainy season. The country is fed by a weak hydrographical network consisting of three basins: the Volta, the Niger and the Comoé.

Desertification is Burkina Faso's principal problem, and since the mid-1970s, the country has faced recurrent waves of drought. This has hampered its economic and social development. In part, desertification has natural causes, but today it is due largely to human impacts and poverty. Burkina Faso is active both at the international (Convention to Combat Desertification) and domestic levels (adoption of a National Action Plan to Combat Desertification and a National Fund against Desertification) in its efforts to combat desertification.

Burkina Faso's biodiversity has been poorly studied up to now and few systematic studies have been done. The national monograph lists 3796 natural species, including 2389 animal and 1407 plant species.154 Numerous threats are posed to the country's biological diversity and several species are threatened. This is largely a result of natural (drought, climate change) and human factors (ecosystem and habitat degradation due to continued agricultural expansion, unsuitable farming methods and practices such as bush burning, nomadic farming, demographic pressures, overexploitation of resources).155

6.1.2 The relevance of access and benefit sharing to Burkina Faso

6.1.2.1 Extent of bioprospecting

Bioprospecting exists in Burkina Faso although its extent is hard to judge. Certainly individual researchers, companies and foreign research centres conduct research on the genes of animal or plant species of importance to Burkina Faso.

National research institutes have participated in collecting the majority of ecotypes of sorghum, millet, maize and other cereals present in Burkina Faso for the benefit of national and foreign laboratories, but there are no means of following up on use of these samples.

There is no doubt that elements of biodiversity extracted from Burkina Faso by foreign institutions have today been put to lucrative use. They have probably furnished large profits to the bioprospectors without any benefit going to Burkina Faso, the country of origin. There are, however, no official statistics on this matter.

Numerous reasons explain the difficulty in evaluating the extent of bioprospecting:

Only official scientific bioprospecting can be relatively easily controlled, including that done in partnership between official structures and industrialized countries. Such cooperation exists between the research centres of Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger and northern research centres in the resources of the frontier parks to the west of the Niger River in the framework of a sub-regional project financed by the European Union and entitled ‘Protected Ecosystems of Sudano-Sahelian Africa’ (ECOPAS).

[a] Drivers of commercialization

A number of factors favor the demand for certain genetic products and underpin bioprospecting:

[b] Legal and institutional approaches Burkina Faso has adopted to deal with ABS

Burkina Faso has adopted a number of legislative and regulatory instruments to ensure the sustainable development of its biological resources. However, none of these laws requires benefits derived from use of biodiversity to be fairly distributed – neither do they articulate any mechanisms or procedures for benefit sharing. In policy documents, such as the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan,156 there are clear references to benefit sharing, which suggest that it should be extended to all biological resources, not just genetic resources, and that benefits derived from the direct or indirect use of biological resources should be redistributed amongst interest groups. However, these points are presented from a national and internal point of view only, with only a few references to the international level.

[c] Strategic approaches adopted to ABS

ABS does not yet constitute a major priority for Burkina Faso. Illegal or unregulated access to biological resources is recognized as a phenomenon to which solutions must be found, but is not yet considered a major issue or priority area compared to other environmental issues such as desertification, or other biodiversity issues (wetlands, genetically modified organisms (GMOs)). No national programme or action plan, seminar or national debating forum has been dedicated exclusively to the distribution of benefits linked to the exploitation of genetic resources on the international level.

[d] Approaches taken by Burkina Faso towards the protection of traditional knowledge

Customary knowledge and traditional practices benefit from the intrinsic protection offered by the nature of the knowledge itself. Because this knowledge is largely transmitted by oral means, it is not accessible to everyone and thereby benefits from a specific protection. This explains why until now it has been quite well preserved. Today, however, there is a growing risk that this natural defense mechanism will be eroded as a result of the increasing interest of educated members of the traditional communities in capturing customary knowledge and practices on paper. These ‘children of the earth’ are exposing the community's traditional assets and it could result in important information being divulged. As yet, however, there is no specific legal protection in Burkina Faso of traditional knowledge, although the need to preserve traditional knowledge is affirmed by national authorities, and by various programmes and action plans.157

6.1.2.2 Hurdles encountered in implementing ABS

Burkina Faso faces several hurdles in the application of ABS:

6.1.2.3 ABS needs of Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso's primary needs are technical – derived from the relatively limited amounts of manpower and capital available for addressing biodiversity matters most necessary for ABS:

In addition, it shares with other countries the need to create a consistent national legislative framework on ABS, and to integrate it with international developments in this area, as well as a general need for institutional development, and awareness raising.

6.1.3 Conclusions and recommendations

As a country with low levels of biological diversity and endemism, Burkina Faso has a major interest in ensuring sustainable conservation of these genetic resources and better participation in the sharing of benefits resulting from the exploitation of its national genetic patrimony. No national ABS policy, however, can be achieved without the support of the international community through the existing international conventions. Any national ABS policy comes at a cost (financial and technical) that this country cannot afford on its own, given the multiple demands it faces for development. The international community should make ABS one of its priorities and obtain additional financial inputs for the country.

Additional Reference for Section 6.1

Ministry of the Environment and Water Affairs. 1998. National Forestry Policy.

6.2 Case Study 2: ABS in Lebanon

Walid Nasser and Lina Haidar*

* Walid Nasser and Lina Haidar are affiliated with Walid Nasser &Associates. This study was commissioned in 2003 by Rachel Wynberg in connection with her written contribution to The ABS Project (Chapter 5 of this book). It has been edited to focus on those aspects in which arid and low endemism countries may differ from other countries, to avoid duplication with other parts of this book and of The ABS Series.

6.2.1 Biological, social and institutional characteristics of Lebanon

Lebanon, a country of a total surface area of only 10,425km2, is an integral part of the Mediterranean Basin, and boasts a varied range of habitats with its islands, coastal lands, rivers and high mountains. This small country is biologically rich as a result of its geomorphology and microclimates. Over 9119 species have been identified, estimated to be 20% of the total existing number and including 4633 plant and 4486 animal species.159 Roughly three quarters of the total surface area of Lebanon is mountainous, with extreme variability in climatic conditions, soils and the socio-economic status of it people. Lebanon's diverse topography gives rise to many microclimates, and several types of habitats, including altered habitats. These are favourable to the occurrence of many plant and animal species. However, steep terrains are prone to soil erosion, and ultimately land degradation, if poorly managed. Moreover, the ecosystems in Lebanon have narrow ranges, and are thus vulnerable to changing environments. The coastal zone of Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to urban encroachment and loss of habitat. Overpopulation (400 inhabitants/km2) is considered a key threat to the country' biodiversity. 160

The war and its consequences have led to a general deterioration in social conditions, and an increase in the number of people who cannot satisfy their basic needs. A large number of Lebanese families live below the poverty threshold. The Lebanese monthly minimum salary is US$200. Only a small percentage of the population has access to education. A high proportion (30–50%) of Lebanese society is involved in the agricultural sector, or related activities.

6.2.2 The relevance of ABS to Lebanon

6.2.2.1 Extent of bioprospecting

The government has not initiated any bioprospecting activities, but the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and the American University of Beirut (AUB) are involved in bioprospecting projects. At the AUB, scientific research is being conducted to investigate the scientific validity of traditional uses of selected indigenous plants with medicinal, aromatic and ornamental values. The LARI is involved in research topics that include biotechnology, biodiversity, plant production and protection, plant nutrition, soil and water sciences, poultry and livestock production and is also the implementing agency in a regional project to characterize the floristic richness and study the genetic diversity and potential uses of selected species. Most research and academic institutions in Lebanon lack the infrastructure to handle biotechnology.

6.2.2.2 Drivers of commercialization

Lebanon has not adopted any incentives for the commercialization of biological or genetic resources. However, Lebanon has entered into bilateral treaties with some of its neighboring countries (Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia), to exempt medicinal and non-medicinal plants from import duties. Lebanon has also entered into a bilateral treaty with the EU to exempt plant exports to Portugal from customs duties.

6.2.2.3 Legal, institutional and strategic approaches to ABS

To date, although Lebanese law161 calls for the elaboration of a system to control access to genetic resources, manage natural resources, and conserve biological diversity, Lebanon has not taken any direct regulatory measures to control ABS. Other measures of more general law may be relevant, however.162

The government of Lebanon has prepared a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) as part of its obligations under the CBD. The NBSAP for Lebanon represents the only national agenda on biodiversity and provides the framework for biodiversity initiatives. One of the medium-term actions provided for in the NBSAP is to “develop and follow on the necessary legislation for biodiversity conservation such as the official endorsement of the NBSAP, official declaration of the National Biodiversity Committee and laws relating to access and benefit sharing.

Lebanon has not developed a national strategy to provide protection for traditional knowledge. Furthermore, the traditional intellectual property laws are ill-suited for the protection of traditional knowledge. A sui generis legal system is required to protect TK and encourage its use. However, the recently adopted Law for the Protection of the Environment has addressed the importance of traditional knowledge in rural areas and stipulates that indigenous information must be taken into consideration in the absence of available scientific information.

On the national level, the Ministry of Agriculture has facilitated the marketing of many traditional products and the Ministry of Environment has launched the Protected Area Project calling for the involvement of local communities in management. The Council of Development and Reconstruction has also launched a project with the support of the EU to give support to local communities to promote traditional practices used for production purposes.

6.2.2.4 Lebanon's ABS needs

Research to identify, study, conserve and use species is needed. Institutions have to be strengthened to carry out these activities. Training is badly needed in the fields of taxonomy, genetic resources, in-situ and ex-situ conservation, ecology, resource management, forestry, planning and data processing. There is a need to develop a regional rather than national program to regulate access to genetic resources. Finally, the issue is still at its early legal stages, and legislation urgently needs to be finalized and adopted.

6.2.3 Conclusions and recommendations

The new ABS law should be as flexible as possible to facilitate investment, encourage bioprospecting and protect biodiversity. The law should address the following challenges: balancing conflicting interests (investors, farmers, government...), benefit sharing between all the actors, preventing the depletion of biological resources, and resolving overlapping responsibilities of various ministries. Finally, there is a need to launch an awareness campaign among the decision makers and the public at large.


153 UNDP. 2003. World Report on Human Development, at 240.

154 Ministry of the Environment and Water Affairs. 1999. National Monograph on the Biological Diversity of Burkina Faso, at 25.

155 Ministry of the Environment and Water Affairs. 1998. National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, at 42.

156 Ibid., at 53.

157 Ibid.

158 Notably in the framework of the National Monograph on Biological Diversity in Burkina Faso in conformity with the CBD.

159 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan: Lebanon. 1998.

160 Ibid.

161 Law No. 444 for the Protection of the Environment (July 29, 2002).

162 See, e.g., Patent Law 240 (August 7, 2000) regarding patents on new or innovated botanical products; Forest Law (January 7, 1949) regarding harvesting permits; Forest Protection Law (July 24, 1996) designating protected areas; Law 367 (August 1, 1994) limiting trade in medicinal plants and their products to pharmacists; Decree No. 11710 (January 22, 1998) regulating the importation of natural medicinal products and food additives; and Law 157 (October 2, 2001) which created a syndicate of importers of natural medicinal products and food additives.

< previous section  < index >  next section >