22 March 2006

BIODIVERSITY:Curitiba, an Indigenous Conference

Mario Osava
CURITIBA, Brazil, Mar 20 (IPS) - Indigenous people from around the world "baptised" the eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8), which opened Monday in this southern Brazilian city, to help inspire the participants to reach good decisions. The aim of the ritual was to "cleanse the hearts and minds" of the participants, explained one of the roughly 50 indigenous activists representing several Brazilian and foreign ethnic groups. Some of the activists were painted red, "the colour of happiness," not war, in this case, Marcos Terena, coordinator of the indigenous peoples' participation in the conference, told IPS. The indigenous activists came to Curitiba because one of the main points on the COP8 agenda is the right of indigenous peoples and local communities to "fair distribution" of the benefits derived from the use of biodiversity and traditional knowledge. These rights are recognised by the Biodiversity Convention, underlined Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva, who is presiding over COP8. The executive secretary of the Convention, Algerian Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf, mentioned several examples of "miracle" foods and medicines derived from biodiversity and traditional knowledge. Spirulina, a kind of algae consumed by the Kanembous, an ethnic group on the banks of Lake Chad, makes that area one of the only malnutrition-free zones in Africa, he pointed out. The algae, which has been described as "hope for a hungry world" and has been the focus of numerous medical and scientific studies, is 70 percent protein, double the protein level of soybeans, and has awakened the interest of the European Space Agency, which plans to use it on long-term missions starting in 2008. The poor use spirulina not only as food, but also to treat people living with HIV, the AIDS virus, at a cost infinitely lower than that of conventional antiretroviral drugs, said Djoghlaf. Eighty percent of the world population uses traditional or alternative medicines derived from plants. The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified more than 3,000 plants that are active against cancer, 70 percent of which are found only in tropical rainforests, he noted. Djoghlaf mentioned jaborandi, a shrub in northern Brazil that according to indigenous people is an effective remedy against asthma, pleurisy, arthritis, diabetes and baldness. The plant is also a good illustration of benefits of biodiversity that have not been distributed among the local community. Based on the shrub, the German drug company Merck produced a remedy named Salegen, which is used as a treatment for people who have problems salivating, a use that indigenous people have given it for centuries, according to a network of organisations that fight biopiracy. Twenty other patents registered around the world involve jaborandi, and there is no indication that the local indigenous people have received any benefit from the medicines based on the plant. Furthermore, jaborandi is endangered now due to use of the plant itself, rather than the more costly synthetic version. The COP8 is not expected to approve an international regime of access to biodiversity and distribution of the benefits (among the holders of traditional knowledge as well), but participants hope to make "advances" in that direction, Silva and Djoghlaf said at a news briefing. This knowledge is "not comparable to science," because "it is collective and difficult to attribute to one single community," Silva explained. Thus, remuneration must be done through common funds destined for all of the communities that collectively hold the knowledge. COP8 is important, stressed Silva, because it will address "all of the issues" related to the three basic goals of the Convention: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and access to and the sharing of the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilisation of genetic resources in a fair and equitable manner. There will be particular emphasis on working towards the target established by the international community to achieve a "significant" reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010. The pursuit of these goals demands a "pact for the implementation of the Convention" with a "solid partnership" among the different sectors of society and "ethical reflection" in order for the commitments assumed by the parties to be translated into concrete action, said Silva. In addition, the industrialised countries must live up to their obligation to provide financial resources and facilitate technology transfer to fulfil these goals, she added. "Nature speaks and humankind doesn't listen," said Djoghlaf, quoting French writer Victor Hugo, to illustrate the lack of awareness regarding the "human catastrophe" on the horizon, presaged by numerous climatic disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, drought and snowstorms that have killed thousands and threaten millions more. "We must listen to nature and act," and Brazil is the best place to do it, since it is home to the world's greatest wealth of biodiversity, it is the birthplace of the Convention - which was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro û and it has undertaken many successful environmental initiatives, he said. The Convention has already travelled a long road over the last 14 years, commented Djoghlaf, marked by 283 meetings, 192 decisions that have been compiled into a 1,039-page book, a strategic plan for the world's main ecosystems, and numerous working programmes that have been carried out or designed. Nevertheless, there is still a great deal left to be done, concurred the participants in COP8. Without passion there are no dreams, and without dreams there is no action, remarked Bakari Kante, a representative of the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), highlighting the promising prospects of a conference in which over 4,000 participants will be working to promote measures to curb biodiversity loss in the next four years. Malaysian Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Letchumanan Ramatha transferred the presidency of the Convention to Brazil through Minister Silva. The hosts of COP8 û the governor of the state of Paraná, Roberto Requiao and the mayor of Curitiba, Carlos Alberto Richa - greeted the participants and highlighted the initiatives that justify the selection of this city as the venue of the conference. Curitiba is a prime example of achievements in environmental action, urban planning, quality of life and hospitality. Around 1,000 people were expected to volunteer to attend to the conference participants, while in fact over 5,000 volunteers who speak over 50 languages among them are taking part in the effort, commented Mayor Richa. Governor Requiao underlined his government's struggle against transgenic crops. Paraná is the first Brazilian state with a law for the labelling of genetically modified products. The state's forests have been reduced to barely three percent of the area they originally covered because of the unchecked expansion of agriculture over the course of just a few decades, he lamented. COP8 runs through Mar. 31, and will include a Mar. 26-29 ministerial segment, in which around 100 environment ministers from around the world are expected to take part. (END/2006)

No comments: