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27 Jan 2016 | KSL

A Need to Protect Nepal’s Diverse Resources

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Nepal harbours abundant biodiversity. Diversity exists largely due to the unique climatic conditions and geography in the Himalayan range. Indigenous cultures and skills have played a complementary role in the management and preservation of these genetic resources.

Medicinal plants are among the diverse reserve of genetic resources Nepal boasts. An agriculture-based economy, most Nepali communities are directly dependent on the innumerable natural species which house rich genetic resources – mostly in the mountainous region. Awareness of the value of these resources and the traditional knowledge associated with them has been growing.

Nepal’s western region contributes to the bulk of herb collection. Most of the plants collected are exported while a portion remain in country for traditional medicinal purposes.

Traditional healers and their indigenous medicinal knowledge, recipes, and techniques are important components of genetic resource use in Nepal. Their knowledge and skills have been used for centuries by indigenous and local communities and passed down from generation to generation with considerable inclusion, refinements and modifications. To date, a large portion of the population still depends on these practitioners for health treatment. Their knowledge, experience, techniques and recipes have not been properly documented. As a result, such knowledge fades with the practitioner.

Genetic resource reserves hold potential revenue generation and employment potential leading to poverty alleviation in the country, should a relevant national program to monitor and protect the genetic resource pool exist. With no systematic inventories, it is unknown how many plant species are extinct or are on the verge of extinction.

The case for trade is similar. Export plant types and volume are largely unaccounted. Involvement of outside traders means large chunks of profit is taken away. Local communities are deprived of the benefit–sharing that they deserve. There is an urgency to protect the intellectual property rights of local people and their resources. Everyday knowledge, and genetic resources are being pirated or patented by multinational companies. Sadly, local communities are  the least aware about this and the consequences.

A wide range of other agents including climate change, anthropogenic activities, shift in agriculture technology, mismanagement, and chaotic cattle grazing are pushing these resources closer to extinction.

Nepal is a signatory of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), the maiden convention ensuring access as well as fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from utilisation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. Nepal has accepted a series of other international treaties and conventions including Nagoya protocol, and various other human rights and trade related ones. There is a need to identify national genetic resources and put in place an appropriate mechanism for their protection by developing laws and guidelines adopting international rule and regulations.

Currently, a bill relating to the protection of GR  is under consideration.

Following the promulgation of the constitution, Nepal aims to be on a path of economic prosperity. Endorsement of the bill under consideration is imperative, not only to ensure identification, protection, access and benefit sharing of the genetic reserve, but to also ensure the overall economic prosperity of the large communities dependent on them for livelihood.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MFSC), have contributed in raising awareness and policy making.

The Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative is one of the prominent collaborative projects in the Hindu Kush region and includes Nepal, India and China.

Its role highlighting the issue at the community, national and international level, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders has been widely acclaimed.

The integrated and collaborative sustainable development program is being undertaken in Darchula, Baitadi, Humla and Bajhang — the remote and impoverished western regional districts of Nepal.

These locations are representative of the status of genetic resources in Nepal and call for urgent enactment of legislation to create better management of valuable resources, better access and benefit sharing and for a better, brighter and prosperous Nepal.

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