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Francophone African ABS Legal Network Establishing an Access and Benefit-Sharing Legal Network for French Speaking African Countries

Morocco and 9 other French-speaking African countries are working collaboratively to establish a francophone African legal network focused on developing legal expertise regarding access and benefit-sharing (ABS). The project to establish a francophone African ABS legal network is addressing a recognized lack of legal expertise on capacity development activities related to access and benefit-sharing (ABS).

Issues surrounding access and benefit-sharing (ABS) are both nuanced and complex, and that complexity requires adequate expertise to help navigate legal questions surrounding ABS-related issues, especially because ABS has a significant impact on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and its resources.

Countries have sovereign rights over the genetic resources found within their borders, and resources that could be valuable to human progress, such as plants, animals, and microorganisms, should be shared. However, it is important that international agreements and laws are in place to ensure that those valuable resources and their benefits are shared equitably and fairly between those who provide the resources and those who use them. Traditional knowledge is also an important aspect of ABS, because indigenous peoples and local communities often play a significant role in the discovery of new active ingredients found in genetic resources.

The current project to establish a francophone African ABS legal network is building upon and expanding Morocco's GEF-UNDP project, "Elaboration d'un cadre juridique national sur l'Accès et Partage des Avantages des ressources et des savoirs traditionnels pour la mise en oeuvre du protocole de Nagoya au Maroc", which developed a national framework on access and benefit-sharing (ABS) of genetic resources and traditional knowledge to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Morocco.

With support from the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Bio-Bridge Initiative (BBI), Morocco hosted the first consultative meeting for the establishment of a network of legal experts on access and benefit-sharing (ABS) and the establishment of a capacity development program for ABS legal leadership in francophone African countries.

Two-day workshop in Rabat, Morocco with ABS legal experts

Through the creation of an African ABS Legal Network with specialized expertise on legal issues surrounding access and benefit sharing (ABS), regional and national capacity development activities will be supported by highly qualified ABS legal experts from French-speaking African countries. Advances in the field will be shared among the network.

Rabat, Morocco

Recently, experts from 10 different French-speaking African countries (Algeria, Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Morocco, Niger) gathered for the first consultative meeting of the African ABS Legal Network. The two-day workshop titled, "Mise en place d'un réseau d'experts juridiques APA et d'un programme de renforcement des capacités en leadership juridique APA pour l'Afrique francophone", was held in Rabat, Morocco from May 10 to 11. Participants in the workshop ranged from ABS legal experts to national focal points, as well as representatives the UNDP, IDLO, and the State Secretariat for Sustainable Development of Morocco. The participants engaged in active discussion over the two-day workshop, and highlighted the need for the establishment of a francophone African network, as well as the need for related capacity development programmes.

Rabat, Morocco

Through the workshops, legal experts from francophone African countries will share experiences related to the application of the Nagoya Protocol within the legal domain. The workshops will also facilitate discussion about the internal structure and strategy for the implementation of the ABS legal network, as well as defining its main priorities.

Following the primary consultative meeting of the African ABS Legal Network, project proposals are currently being developed to initiate a cooperation project involving the established African ABS Legal Network. Many of the participating countries will meet again in September at SCBD-IDLO's ABS legal workshop in Senegal where they will partake in the workshop and report on progress. The African ABS Legal Network will play a key role in facilitating international South-South cooperation on capacity development for the national implementation of access and benefit sharing, and will serve a vital advisory role on legal ABS related issues for African countries.

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Katrina Gibbs
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