‘Traditional knowledge among Namibia’s greatest assets’

Ellanie Smit
Genetic resources and the traditional knowledge of Namibia’s diverse people are among the nation’s greatest assets for development.

Meanwhile, using biological and genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge without sharing the benefits is, henceforth, regarded a punishable crime.

Speaking at the launch of the access and benefit-sharing (ABS) festive season awareness campaignevent, environment minister Pohamba Shifeta said the Access to Biological and Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge Act intends to regulate access and protect the rights of communities. Administrative structures are in place to enforce such principles, he added. “Gone are times where the lack of legal certainty for access and benefit-sharing served as an excuse to exploit communities that nurture biological and genetic resources and preserve the knowledge associated with their use.”

Shifeta said many of the country’s resources - specifically indigenous plant products - continue to be utilised for cosmetic or pharmaceutical purposes, without proper benefit-sharing arrangements. He said that devil's claw, for example, which has proven medicinal properties, is also important to the national economy - as between N$20 million and N$30 million worth of it has been exported to countries like Germany and France annually over the past years.

Apply for permit

“Over the years, these resources provided a supplementary income to vulnerable rural communities with limited agricultural harvests or livestock to fall back on.”

Shifeta said the expectation from now on is that those who intend to access Namibia’s biological and genetic resources and/or associated traditional knowledge must apply for an access permit and follow all procedures related to compliance of this legislation.

“Implementation of this legislation will undoubtedly provide learning

experiences as well as identify any gaps that we may not have foreseen during the development of the ABS legislation.”

Value of resources

The chairperson of the council of the Traditional Leaders Authority, Chief Immanuel /Gaseb, said ABS is not a new issue to Namibia or traditional communities who are the right holders of the knowledge used for medicinal purposes.

“However, it is only recently that we have begun to think more critically about the value of our unique natural resources.

“I hope that events such as this awareness campaign will help the notion that our genetic resources can reduce poverty and enhance the livelihoods of our people, particularly in our hard-pressed rural areas.”

/Gaseb added that people most need to know and fully understand the value of the resources they are using on a daily basis.

“Their lack of knowledge and long-enduring poverty makes them vulnerable to greedy wholesalers and dealers who are very happy to pick their raw materials at rock-bottom prices. By organising into cooperatives, grower associations and conservancies, we have seen how communities can counteract this challenge.”